Day 4: Flying High on the Sky Trek Canopy Tour
The first sound I heard was the wind. Whistling through the Tree House's central trunk and branches, it heralded the beginning of a chilly day and an exhilarating canopy tour. Bundling up in the only sweatshirt I had brought to Monteverde, I went down to breakfast with Mallory.
After another satisfying meal, we checked out of the Tree House Hotel and moved to our next lodge, a quaint, rustic retreat just a mile outside of town. We settled in and then returned to Santa Elena for our 10:30 van pickup. We waited with bated excitement until Sky Trek staff picked us up.
Climbing up the bumpy road toward the Sky Adventure facilities, I recognized it as the route to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. As we pulled into the adventure park, it was confirmed: the reserve lay only a few miles farther up the winding dirt road.
The Sky Trek canopy tour is sold in conjunction with the Sky Tram aerial tour; ascent to the canopy tour towers must be made via the company's scenic aerial tram. With our harnesses and helmets in place, we marched en masse over a hanging bridge before descending to the aerial tram's base station.
Mallory and I climbed into a tram car, very similar to an enclosed ski lift. A guide joined us, and explained that we would climb to 5,300 feet above sea level along 2,500 feet of cable. Crossing the continental divide, we would travel from the Pacific to the Caribbean side of the central mountain range, observing spectacular Pacific Ocean views over the Gulf of Nicoya.
We lurched into motion, and began the climb upwards into the mountains. Below us, Nicoya Gulf looked close enough to reach out and dip my fingers into. We stared around us, and our guide pointed to distant volcanoes rising above the landscape: Arenal, Tenorio, Miravalles, and Orosi, with the plains of Guanacaste far off in the distance.
Fifteen minutes later, we disembarked from the aerial tram, and began our canopy training. In addition to the traditional harnesses, the Sky Trek canopy adventure uses pulley brakes, which passengers must maneuver themselves. As I would soon find out, this is the fastest canopy tour in Costa Rica -- expect to fly through the air at up to 40 mph -- and the braking system would be a welcome friend.
After our short training session, we climbed up the tour's first tower. The 10-cable tour boasts five towers, each serving as a start and stopping point for high-flying fun. The view from the treetop tower was incredible, and if we had been at a slightly higher elevation, I was sure I would have been able see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
I prepared for my first cable, attaching my safety hook and the redundant but welcome second safety hook. Grabbing onto the two-handled pulley, I indicated to the guide that I was ready, and he pushed me off of the platform. The first cable is always the most exhilarating (some may say terrifying), and my breath caught in my throat as I stared down at the valley far below. The Sky Trek canopy tour reaches heights of 525 feet, and the trees under my feet looked like tiny toys.
Coming to the end of the cable, I braked hard by jerking my pulley from side to side. Landing with less finesse than an elephant on a trampoline, I checked to make sure I was still in one piece before basking in Mallory's congratulations. The next two cables were as thrilling as the first, and when we arrived at our fourth cable, a surprise was in store.
"You'll do this one together," our guide explained, "because the wind is so strong that you won't make it across on your own." With more weight, our trip across the valley would be quicker and more secure. Mallory and I buddied up -- my longer legs put me in back -- and we set off across the cable. In addition to increasing our speed, riding tandem served to increase the volume of our screams. We flew across the canyon, and the wind rocked our vulnerable bodies back and forth on the sturdy cable. Nearing the end, we began to brake hard and were rewarded with an appreciative nod from the guide: we had stopped in plenty of time.
Six cables and two tandem rides later, and we were safely on solid ground. The 75-minute tour had been an exciting, speedy and thrilling ride through the canopy. At such high speeds, we had not seen much wildlife, but the views from above had been spectacular. On the ride back to Santa Elena, both Mallory and I worked to calm the adrenaline that pumped through our veins.
We arrived downtown at 4:30, just an hour before the Hidden Valley night tour was to begin. Our stomachs grumbling from a missed lunch, we opted to postpone the night hike and indulge in an early dinner. We enjoyed a long and leisurely meal, and then returned to the Tree House for some live music. Before long, yawns overtook us, and we walked back to our hotel. Burrowing under the layered covers, I hid from the chilly night air and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.