Since arriving in Costa Rica, we have both become early risers as it is the coolest part of the day, the light is great for photography and the birds and monkeys are always most active. This day was no exception, however we had an additional reason to look forward to it. We were going zip lining on one of the highest, longest and fastest series of cables in Costa Rica. We were all a little nervous and jittery but full of expectant anticipation.
Breakfast was served at 7:00 in an open air buffet rancho beside the pool. The smooth jazz of Kenny G seemed a perfect accompaniment to the cool”ish” breeze, tropical smells and bird songs with which we ate a satisfying breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, yogurt, homemade bread and of gallo pinto. Gallo pinto translates to spotted rooster in Spanish and is a very common portion of typical (“typico”) Costa Rican meals and is based on leftover rice and beans.
We had booked our tour for 10:30 and arrived early after a 45 minute drive about half of which was over a very dusty and rough road and all the while we could feel our anticipation growing. There were even howler monkeys in the parking lot trees to welcome us!
We chose Arenal Sky Adventures based on their excellent reputation for state of the art equipment but also for the dramatic setting, length, speed and height of this zip line. There are a total of 7 cables, of which the longest is 760 m (2493 ft) and the highest is 200 m (656 ft). When you get to the parking lot this mammoth tower rises above your head and is the end point for the second to last cable aptly nicknamed “Big Daddy”. You could be forgiven for being just a little apprehensive.
After receiving our equipment (helmets, gloves and zip line handle) we lined up with about 15 other people to head up the mountain. There was an initial safety demonstration and then we boarded the gondolas for an awe inspiring trip in itself. As we ascended 750 m (2460 ft), Lake Arenal gradually appeared below us, while Arenal Volcano emerged above the rainforest canopy. For anyone who has never experienced the wonder of walking hanging bridges, riding cables or climbing to the canopy of a true rainforest – it is an unforgettable experience. The immense size and density of the trees, the expanse of leaves and the life on top of the canopy is unlike anywhere else.
The gondola drops you off an a platform which marks the start of a journey back to the base which takes you back and forth across ravines, far above the canopy, and eventually ends through a seemingly far too narrow tunnel cut through the trees. There is a chance for a few pictures before we begin. You can’t bring any large cameras with you for obvious reasons but we had a small pocket camera which we fastened securely in a pocket. All of the helmets are equipped to hold a GoPro video camera which can be rented ($42 USD) or you can bring your own. There is a professional company photographer throughout who takes many many pictures which you can purchase afterwards for approximately $50 USD.
So here we are just before the first “real” cable. We have just completed a short and simple test ride from one end of the platform to another and we’re ready to go. At this point emotions ranged from severe apprehension to giddy excitement and everything in between. However once you are released on the first cable the adrenaline begins to kick in and then when you clear the trees and are suspended on what appears to be a tiny cable speeding towards the opposite side of the canyon at what seems like breakneck speed you first wonder OMG what am I doing (up) here! Hopefully you gradually start to take in the absolute beauty, excitement and joy of the experience.
Getting to the end of each run was another experience not to forget as it seems that there can be no possible way that your body can stop in time to avoid being crushed like a bug. But everyone arrived safe and sound after every run and had huge grins on their faces. Unbelievable!
We have to put a big plug in for the guides or “Experience Creators”. There was a group of four who accompanied us throughout the whole experience and they were all exceptionally professional, fun, personable and very responsive to the level of anxiety or comfort of each individual. Their demeanor belied the obvious enjoyment and pride they took in their jobs.
At a cost of $77 USD per person this wasn’t a cheap morning but we both felt that it was worth every penny. The total experience lasted about 2.5 hours and by the time we reached the end of the 7th cable we both felt as if our bodies had pumped as much adrenaline as we could handle for one day. We aren’t quite the 20 year-olds that Erik and Keegan are. All four of us could not stop grinning and talking about our experience for the rest of the day – all of the three hour drive back to Playas del Coco. It was definitely a bucket list experience for us!
Our drive back was relaxed with plenty of memories being relived and created while it was all fresh in our minds. We stopped for lunch in the early afternoon at Tinajas Arenal just outside of Nuevo Arenal. You may recognize this photo from an earlier blog as we first experienced this wonderful family operated restaurant set on a very scenic point at the end of Lake Arenal last year. As was the case in our previous experience here, the food was excellent offering typical Costa Rican dishes with an international twist and featuring mostly local organic ingredients.
We want to end this post with another piece of advice on driving in Costa Rica. For the most part our experiences in driving here over the past three visits have been positive and allowed us to explore much more slowly than would otherwise be possible. We did make a mistake on this road trip however. We had a quarter of a tank of gas when we left La Fortuna early in the morning. Rather than take the time to find a gas station in town we just planned to fill up when we got to Nuevo Arenal about 30 kms away. Imagine our horror when we got there after lunch only to discover that the station was closed and had no gas! With the warning light on we made it to the next major town of Tilaran where we filled up but not until after about 20 very nervous minutes. In Costa Rica there are not many gas stations once you are off the main roads so it is best to keep your tank at least half full at all times.
This was a terrific road trip and it reminded us how enjoyable having your own vehicle can be and the freedom to explore it brings. However there are many other ways to get around this diverse country so the best advice we can offer is to experience as much as you can in the way that you feel most comfortable. There are also several great blogs such as MytanFeet and Costa Rica Travel Blog that offer expertise and advice for all.
Thanks for reading! Pura Vida!