With the best intentions after a long night of drinking and watching the volcano erupt last night, we got on the road at 9.30am to Monteverde. Saying bye to Freddie and Teresa was hard … only after 36 hours, they treated Lev and I like family … they definitely made Arenal better than we ever could imagine.
Getting from Arenal to Monteverde is not easy … in fact, it is the dog’s breakfast of driving. It was slow going because the roads are absolutely terrible.
Lesson #1 in Costa Rica : If you’re driving, spend the extra money and get a reliable 4X4 or comfortable SUV with A/C.
It took about 4 hours through winding and poorly paved roads through the mountains but thankfully on arrival the weather was much cooler and the clouds were rolling in.
My tourist rant: … Monteverde is the epicenter of all things Zipping, as much as I despise the average tourist ruining the tranquility of the canopy (since if the tourists had half a brain, they would hire a guide and walk softly and learn about the canopy, and listen to the animals, and observe the nature, not go screaming thru the canopy scaring off the wildlife in a 1 mile radius for pure amusement on a cable strung between old growth tree platforms, that are not natural nor eco-positive, just a profit for a land owner), I really enjoyed the Zip-lining.
- As for the question about which canopy tour is the best?
From my research, there are 5 companies that operate in Monteverde.
- Original Canopy Tour
- Aventura Canopy Tour
- Extreme Canopy Tour
- Selvatura Canopy Tour
- Sky Trek Canopy Tour
Aventura, Extreme, Selvatura and Sky Trek are Costa Rican owned and operated. Original Canopy Tour is the smallest, most expensive and is Canadian owned. Me and the guys went with Selvatura Canopy Tour, since it came highly recommended.
Lesson #2 in Costa Rica : Say you’re a student … always. Even if you have no ID, if you’re convincing and confident, you can pull it off. The student discount at Selvatura is $10. The original price is $45. I’m always down with saving 22%.
The zip lining itself was amazing. For anyone who is looking for a definitive activity in Costa Rica … this is it. The longest zip lines was more than a kilometer. First of all we got all our gear – helmet, harness, safety harness and gloves. Think completely gay construction workers from the YMCA videos … note Artum’s lovely teal plaid pants.
We were talked through the basis of zip lining and how to do it safely. Basically you get hooked in, lean back, put your strong arm behind you lightly holding the line, put your weaker hand on the harness and put your feet up in the air to stop yourself spinning. The first couple zip lines are an introduction being only a hundred meters and about 20 ft off the ground. It’s really designed to get newbies comfortable with what they were doing before heading onto the bigger zip lines. I actually got stuck on the first zip line – I’m sure there is a video of me having to pull myself 40 metres like something out of a Mission Impossible video. I’m definitely glad for my arm strength, not having to suffer the ignomy of having one of the guide come get me … they told me that at least once a day, they have to climb and push people.
As you can see the thrilled look on Prince’s face … zip lining in Monteverde is the business.
The longest line at Sel is more than a kilometer long and you have to go in pairs, to ensure that you have enough weight to get down the entire line. God forbid you get stuck half a kilometer on the line.
The view looking over the upper rim of the forest canopy is amazing!
After the zip lines, there is also a Tarzan swing. In the Tarzan Swing you basically take a leap of faith and swing down and out over the top of the trees. The first fall is definitely the hardest, since you have to fall from the platform. In the “Superman” line you are strapped in such a way that you are attached to the line from your back and just hang out facing down (imagine a Superman flying pose). It’s not unlike any other thrill ride (bungee jump, sky jump, lake jumping etc). It is definitely an adrenaline rush to top out the zip-lining.
For an overall review of all things zip lining, I found an amazing write up at Monteverde: Life in the Cloud Forest
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There are 2 different systems of zip lines in the Monteverde area and all the companies have 3km of cables:
System 1: is the typical system you find virtually everywhere in Costa Rica. A climbing harness, a padded glove used for breaking, a safety cable and a pulley. These systems go from platforms in trees. From tree to tree. All the tours are professionally guided and everything is explained before you begin. The main thing is that you are responsible for breaking and these systems go from tree to tree. Aventura Canopy, Extreme Canopy and Selvatura Canopy all use this system and have 3 km of cables with 14 to 15 cables.
THE TARZAN SWING! All three companies that use system 1 have a Tarzan Swing. Super crazy, Super Fun and Terrifying. A Tarzan Swing basically is a high tower and a tree with a rope tied from it. Hook the rope in to your climbing harness and jump off the tower. Free fall and then swing out over the valley. It is voluntary but you paid for it, So go for it!
System 2: Sky Trek uses a system that includes a climbing harness and safety cable but they use a pulley that you hold on to with both hands. NO BREAKING. The breaking is done for you and is completely mechanical. They also have only 2 cables that are from platforms in the trees. After the the first 2 the cables go from platforms on the ground or from large towers. Sky Trek has 3km of cables but they only have 11 cables, so instead of making 14 or 15 short cables, Sky Trek made 11 big ones.
Sky Trek does not have a Tarzan Swing but they do have the fastest, the longest and the highest cables in the area. There longest cable is 770mts long! 150mts High! 55kph fast! The last few cables on Sky Trek are CRAZY BIG!
Sky Trek, Selvatura and Aventura also have a series of suspension bridges that suspend you over the forest canopy. All three companies have 8 suspension bridges in a 3km loop. ONLY Sky Trek and Selvatura have bridges and zip lines in PRIMARY Cloud Forest. So which one is the best? Well that depends on what kind of experience you are interested in.
Selvatura Canopy Tour: Great cables, Costa Rican owned and operated, super Tarzan swing. The suspension bridges are large and the best in the area. Both the cables and bridges are entirely in PRIMARY CLOUD FOREST. Cons: large groups and touristy feel.
$30 student $40 Adult or $40 Student $55 Adult for both cables and bridges
Sky Trek Canopy Tour: Out of this world Cables! Crazy long cables with outstanding views of both the Caribbean and pacific slopes. Easy breaking system. Costa Rican owned and operated. Good bridges but more like hanging bridges. Both the cables and bridges are entirely in PRIMARY CLOUD FOREST. Cons: NO TARZAN SWING, Disney feeling, the most expensive.
$37 students $44 Adults $42 Students $52 Adults for both cables and bridges.