It was a typical Wednesday morning in laid-back La Fortuna, most tourists’ base camp for visits to Arenal Volcano, in north-central Costa Rica. Teenagers dragged their feet through gym class at the town’s high school, visitors checked out the wealth of souvenir shops – and 130 feet overhead, Tico Times staff members hurtled through space at more than 60 miles per hour, attached to giant bungee cords and praying for their lives.
Yeah, that last part surprised us, too. But thanks to Pablo Herrera and his new Arenal Bungee company, a walk-in bungee facility smack dab in the middle of La Fortuna, foreigners and nationals alike now have a new way to enjoy the famous view of the volcano that looms over La Fortuna’s main street. In an unassuming downtown lot featuring a 130-foot tower, the daring (or the mildly insane, depending on your point of view) can now try out a bungee jump into a 12-foot-deep pool of water, a tandem swing or a giant catapult known as the “Rocket Launcher.”
“I did my first bungee jump in 1991 … I was hooked,” Herrera, 32, told this jellylegged, post-catapult reporter as he looked up at the tower. A native of nearby Ciudad Quesada, he wanted to bring a bungee project to the region but couldn’t find a bridge that would work. Eventually, he decided to build a free-standing structure with help from experienced companies.
A team from the North American Bungee Association visited for a month to help Herrera design his “luxury leap,” he said. The tower opened for business in late February.
Unlike many bungee experiences that require reservations and a trip to a canyon or bridge, Arenal Bungee is just around the corner from La Fortuna’s selection of hotels and restaurants – meaning visitors can step off the street, talk themselves into an adventure and find themselves airborne without too much time to think twice. Such was the case when yours truly and TT advertising representative Ricardo Rojas wandered through town updating the paper’s “Exploring Costa Rica” guidebook and found an unexpected new addition to the town.
Not quite ready for the bungee jump, during which the jumper’s head grazes the surface of the pool below, we opted for the Rocket Launcher, which flings you into the air to enjoy the terror and bliss of zero gravity.
The first step toward being catapulted is signing a hefty waiver. Next up: a trip to the scale, during which your weight is helpfully inked onto your hand with giant numbers you end up not minding as much as you’d think, since they’re there to ensure the staff uses the appropriate cables for your size.
Finally, you trek partway up the tower to a platform where you’re trussed like a Christmas turkey and attached, via a tight harness, to two gigantic bungee cables.
As a staff member ensures you’re held in place, the bungee cables are gradually tightened until you’re poised for flight like a pebble in a slingshot. With my arms outstretched as if I’d stumbled into a medieval torture device, I noticed a mother and daughter smiling at me from the road just beyond (and seemingly far, far below my platform). I wanted to shout, “Wish me luck,” or “Tell my family I love them,” but was worried nothing but gasps would emerge if I opened my mouth. I was instructed to cross my legs at the ankles and hold my arms up in front of me like Superman, since grabbing the cables during my release would probably result in a nasty friction burn.
Just as I began to rethink my bravery, the helpful staff member behind me barked out a rapid “¡Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco!” and let go, freeing the taut cables to shoot me up into the air – again, just like a pebble in a slingshot, but with the much-appreciated distinction that in this case, I was attached to the apparatus and couldn’t fly off to crashland in the nearest herd of cows.
“People don’t shout during the catapult,” staff members told me afterward. They’re too busy concentrating on what exactly is happening to them. I can attest to this. The breathtaking surge upward, during which your speed goes from 0 to 62 miles per hour in less than three seconds, according to the company’s Web site, is followed by an even more astonishing moment in which you are hanging in midair with no support, your legs scrabbling beneath you. Then, of course, gravity kicks in, and, as you fall, the elastic cables catch you and send you skyward again.
As your speed decreases, you can enjoy the view of Arenal and the nearby fields, and the gazes of the people on the ground. You can also execute some flips between the cables if you’re so inclined.
Herrera said that in the few weeks since he’s opened, he’s received plenty of foreign tourists, but has been most surprised by the enthusiasm of Costa Ricans ready to dive or fly.
Perhaps this is because of the accessible prices: $39 for the bungee and Rocket Launcher (over 18 only, or 15- to 17-year-olds with parental consent) and $24 for the swing (12 and up), a great option for people looking for slightly less adrenaline. Two people are strapped into the swing, lying horizontal to the ground, and are then pulled forward and released to survey their surroundings while describing a 48-meter, 180-degree arc. Combos are also available, such as $180 for unlimited activities during two days.
Herrera said his 5-year-old daughter doesn’t agree with the age restrictions.
“She already wants to jump,” he said of the bungee.
To find out more about the activities, or to make sure they’re ready for you by making a reservation, visit www.arenalbungee.com or call 479-7440. There’s a 10% discount for online reservations.
Herrera and his crew will be waiting for you daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., open after dark for those looking for the ultimate combination: extreme sports with a view of Arenal’s molten lava.