The most stunning turquoise water imaginable–that’s how I’d describe Rio Celeste. Just a few months after we moved to Monteverde, a friend showed us pictures of the mineral-infused river located in Tenorio Volcano National Park. This last February we finally made it there, and though the azure waters wowed us, perhaps more memorable were our lovely hosts at Casitas Tenorio in Bijagua  and the neighborhood where we spent a few nights.

Bijagua is cowboy country and sits just south of the Nicaragua border between Miravalles and Tenorio Volcanoes. This area was hit hard by Hurricane Otto last November–massive brown mudslides tore up the green mountainsides, and parts of the valley are still scarred by floods that destroyed it. From the center of Bijagua, we drove up a rocky dirt road past brightly painted, modest, one-story cement homes with rocking chairs on the front porches. Much as I love Monteverde, the economic and cultural influences of foreign residents and visitors is often apparent. Bijagua felt more like of a regular, small Tico town.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by our Australian-Costa Rican hosts, Pip and Donald, who were in the middle of meeting with two women who had lost their home in the hurricane. The government had given the women a rental apartment but they still had no furniture, so their clothes, for example, were being stored on the ground. We later learned that Pip and Donald have played a pivotal role in the community’s hurricane-relief efforts with donations they have accepted from former guests and other generous souls.

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A Collared Aracari joins us for breakfast in Bijagua.

The casitas, or small cabins, at Casitas Tenorio are beautifully designed with many thoughtful touches: murals full of local birds and plants, beautiful wooden tables cut from local trees, unique architectural designs for each cabin, traditional leather rocking chairs, and some of the most impressive towel folding we’ve seen yet–even a snail–in a country where bath towel folding is taken seriously.

Most impressive was the large deck in the main building where our hosts served us breakfast each morning as we repeatedly jumped out of our chairs, awed by the birds feeding on the bananas placed on bamboo platforms in the yard below. Among the many birds we saw were Black-mandibled Toucans, little bright-yellow and black Euphonias, and Collared Aracaris with their impressive serrated beaks. Our hosts placed bird and mammal identification cards on our tables so that even novices like us could identify what we were seeing. Never have we seen–and dare I say–never will we see again, so many stunning birds in a single setting.

Dragging ourselves away from the birds did take some effort, but we eventually made it to Tenorio Volcano National Park. From the park entrance, we hiked about a mile along well-built trails through a mossy tropical forest to a 260-stair descent to Rio Celeste’s stunning turquoise waterfall. Over the next mile-and-a-half of trail, we were rewarded with a blue lagoon, bubbling sulfuric pools and passage over one-person-capacity suspension bridges. We finally arrived at the head of the blue river which turns out to be formed by the confluence of two clear streams. One of these feeding streams contains particular minerals composed of aluminum, oxygen and silicon, while the other is highly acidic. When combined, these unique mineral particles grow and reflect blue sunlight.

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Tim crosses one of the suspension bridges during our Rio Celeste hike.

On our last morning at the guest house, we explored Casitas Tenorio’s one kilometer loop of trails with our hosts’ young daughters. We designed a kid-naturalists’ treasure hunt, and along the way the kids checked off boxes for their finds. For the requisite mammal on their list, the kids spotted a sloth; a mandarin tree fulfilled their fruit requirement; and a termite mound with termites that we confirmed tasted like licorice counted for an insect.