Opinion is split over whether or not zip lines should be such a massive attraction in Costa Rica. I must admit that before I arrived, I had visions of them spoiling the natural beauty of the forest – the constant buzz of metal on wire and occasional yelp of excitement masking quetzal calls and sending elusive agoutis scurrying through the undergrowth.
A little research suggested to me that zip lining is actually a sustainable and eco-friendly activity. In fact, the Costa Rican tourism board has used the slogan ‘No artificial ingredients’ in its advertising campaign, and there are noticeable efforts to encourage visitors to think ‘green’, stay in eco-lodges and help preserve the hugely diverse range of habitats and species.
Having said that, if you’re in the forest to see animals, you won’t get very far doing a zip lining tour. Even on the slower sections when you’re walking between towers, you’ll be so distracted by the excitement of the next line and the need to watch your footing that the budding Attenborough in you will have to take a back seat. Some canopy trips are designed to offer views and wildlife-spotting opportunities. Be sure you know which you’re letting yourself in for.
Monteverde is arguably the best place in the country to do zip lining. There are many different companies that offer trips, but a few of the big contenders are Sky Trek, Selvatura and Extremo. The first two are well-established leaders in the industry. Sky Trek has nine lines, totalling 3 km, and includes a scenic tram ride up into the mountains. Selvatura has 18 viewing platforms and 15 cables that stretch over 3.3 km, making it the longest of any canopy tour in Costa Rica. Its cables are built into the forest canopy rather than above it, and for me, it’s got the edge on Sky Trek because of its Tarzan swing.
After much deliberation, we booked with Extremo. They’re a relatively new company, but they’re very popular and widely rumoured to be the best for thrill seekers. It’s $40 for a half-day trip and a bargainous extra $5 for the ‘Superman’. You will kick yourself if you don’t do this!
After a worrying wait for the minibus and a late pick up, we were ferried to the centre. There were about 10 of us in the group and we each picked ourselves a helmet and harness. I’m not generally good with heights and I was pretty apprehensive. Thankfully, they talked us through guiding ourselves along the line using the gloved hand and how to break near the end. The trick is to break soon enough so as not to wind the instructor who’s waiting at the next tower with a double footed flying side kick to the ribs, but not so soon that you come to a premature stop a few metres from the end of the line, necessitating a hand over hand body pull while the rest of the group laugh at you and try to capture it on camera.
Going forwards was a skill some people found confusingly difficult to master, but if you listen to the guides’ advice you really shouldn’t have a problem. The first few lines are relatively short and close to the ground to give you a feel for it. I felt very safe and secure in the harness and the jelly legs only kicked in on the iron grid walkway sections in between the lines when the harness was no longer attached to anything.
Here’s another piece of advice: if you’re the kind of person who’s uncomfortable sitting in the lap of a man you met five minutes earlier, you might want to keep an eye on what’s happening ahead and arrange yourself next to those in the group you’d most like to be tied to. Yes, they ask you to do some of the lines in pairs and no, they don’t faff around waiting for you to decide who you’d rather go with. As I’d gone on ahead to take photos of my sister on the preceding line, I found myself in a very cosy position with a stranger who only had a chance to tell me his name and shake my hand when our feet touched solid ground!
The Tarzan swing was one of the highlights. You travel a long way through the forest and back, narrowly missing trees, before the staff somehow catch you in an elasticated mechanism and then unhook you while you’re unnervingly close to the edge and still shaking with adrenaline. Unfortunately for our group, there was torrential rain by this point, which prevented me from also videoing the Superman. Extremo‘s website has a great video of someone who was luckier with the weather. It shows pretty clearly the 1 km of line that you ride suspended from your back with your feet tied up behind you and your arms out wide.
With heavy rain stinging my eyes, my heart rate up to about 300 beats per minute and lightning piercing the sky, I can’t say that coming so close to the experience of free flying was as relaxing as in my dreams, but it’s a feeling I won’t forget and one I hope to repeat one day.
Check out more Costa Rica pics in my Photo phile!