Rincon de La Vieja Canopy Tour
I began my morning balanced on a bridge over a white-capped river. Verdant forest surrounded our group, and the river canyon was covered in emerald moss. I was so busy taking in my surroundings that I almost missed the guide's explanation on our very first challenge: a rope bungee – upside down!
You could call me a zip-lining addict; my need for airborne speed has led me to several of Costa Rica's most popular canopy tours, and my favorite is in Rincon de la Vieja. Set in a lush river gorge, this gripping tour mixes zip-lines with gorgeous scenery and a varied set of activities.
Connected to the cable, I contorted into a head-down "froggy" position that would make Spiderman proud. Suspended 50 feet above the river, I nodded once and the guide released the rope, sending me hurtling downward. Just ten feet before the water, the bungee rope went taught and a second guide swung me to safety on a small, rocky outcropping.
A huge, hanging rope dangled at arm's length, and I knew it was Tarzan time. Fighting the urge to pound my chest, I grabbed on with both hands, took a flying leap and crossed the river to the other side, where a massive rock wall awaited. Hooked to a safety belay system, I started up the sheer rock, grabbing on to each handhold as a guide above provided upward aid. Soon, I was at the top of the gorge, just 25 feet from the bridge where the adventure had begun. I felt exhilarated!
What followed were 24 platforms, 12 zip-line cables, another climbing wall, swing seats and plenty of thrills. The course is designed to be extremely secure, but my mind forgot this every time I clung to the sheer rock face, inching along to the next cable. What I'm most proud of was the courage I mustered to fly the final cable upside-down. This was completely optional, but I couldn't resist. I spread my arms and the guide pushed me off, my whoops of delight encouraging him to bounce the cable for an added adrenaline rush. As soon as I finished, I was ready to start again.
Canopy tours in Costa Rica range from tame to spine-tingling, and may incorporate several exciting physical elements. On some, you can fly arms outstretched -- Superman-style -- rather than the typical seated position. Tarzan swings would be more accurately labeled Tarzan drops. You stand on a platform 20-40 feet off the ground and jump into free-fall before the swing catches you, making giant arcs above the ground. Rappelling usually involves a large tree, rock wall or other vertical challenge that you'll scale backwards using a combination of blind jumps and free falling. No matter which tour you choose, you're bound to have fun.
Zip Tips You Can Use:
- Always wear long shorts or pants and a shirt that covers your midsection, as the canopy gear can chafe exposed skin.
- Many tours involve short hikes between platforms, so wear comfortable walking shoes. Avoid flip-flops or sandals, as they can fall off mid-flight.
- Frightened children (and small adults) can zip tandem with experienced guides on most canopy tours.
- First-timers should look for a canopy tour where the guides stop you. Self-braking zip lines are fun and safe, but can be a bit nerve-racking for your initial tour.
- Tarzan swings, rappelling and Superman cables are sometimes required elements for reaching the next platform. If you have any doubts about a tour's extreme challenges, ask before setting out.
- If you decide for any reason not to complete the tour, most canopy adventures have a "chicken route," or a way to walk back from the first few platforms.
- Book your tour for the morning during the rainy season (May-November). You can zip-line uninterrupted amid light showers, but heavy thunderstorms may cancel the tour.
- Cameras are welcome, and it's fun taking video of your fastest flight, but if you're worried about equipment, inquire if a professional photographer will be accompanying your tour. Digital SLR cameras capture great shots, and you can buy a photo CD for $5-$10.