A lofty breeze sends fluorescent kites swirling in the air, kids teeter after errant balls, and, being a Sunday afternoon, nearly every square foot of open grassy field has been claimed by at least a dozen soccer teams.
La SabanaPark, on the western edge of downtown San José, is a refreshing spot for strolling, lunching or biking around the 72 hectares of verdant green spotted with clumps of tall rainbow eucalyptus trees offering a comfy spot to snooze or escape from the summer’s baking sun.
Visitors now have another option to view San José’s largest park – gliding as high as 11 meters aboveground between thick, sturdy trees.
The “Urban Canopy” is another branch of the already popular canopy tours wired by Grupo Montaña Verde of Green Mountain Tours through the north-central areas of Monteverde and La Fortuna, and the northern-Caribbean town of Tortuguero.
With eight cables, the longest spanning 200 meters across the park’s lake, and a ride speed of 20 kilometers per hour, the attraction is comparable to one you’d find up in the cloud forest preserve in Monteverde, which houses almost a half-dozen different canopy tours.
The main difference here is that a few hundred meters away you won’t find lush jungle and white-faced capuchin monkeys whipping among tree branches.
Though La Sabana’s 72-hectare expanse can make it feel like an isolated reserve, a few hundred meters from the canopy, cars, public buses and transport trucks whiz by toward Escazú to the west or bustling San José to the east.
“This attraction is a good influence for the public to enjoy right here in San José,” said Juan Carlos Bonilla, press and public relations head for the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute (ICODER).
“It’s half the price of other canopies … and it’s right downtown if you don’t want to go all the way to Monteverde,” said Armando Loynaz, general manager of Green Mountain Tours.
The company acquired the rights to the zipline after winning a public bid on the project through ICODER. Not a single tree was whacked to hook up the La Sabana line, which was designed to cause minimal environmental impact, according to Loynaz.
The park is a designated zona verde, or green zone, seeking to preserve and promote open green spaces for public use.
Though not surrounded by misty mountain air, monkeys or poison dart frogs, the zipline’s unique urban location offers a different advantage. Daydreaming kids or parkbench lunchers can gaze upward as gliders fly by emitting whoops and hollers. It’s entertainment for both participant and onlooker, unclouded by dense green forest.
The canopy’s equipment is minimal: a series of metal cables strung among connecting trees, each of which has a metal-grate platform wrapped around its midsection, where gliders stop with the help of a trained worker, are unhooked and re-clipped onto the next cable to continue gliding.
The only thing that seems missing is a ladder or ramp to get up onto the first canopy platform. That’s because the ladder rises out of a mobile truck that pulls in to start the day and drives out after hours. This alternative allowed the company to avoid having to build any permanent construction and increases safety, preventing late-night park lingerers from climbing into the canopy, Loynaz said.
Riders sail through a series of eight cables descending slightly with gravity from the initial platform 11 meters off the ground to the final platform, which sits just four meters high. Midway through the ride, zipliners are greeted by a “monkey ladder,” or suspended mobile bridge, which, despite being connected to a cable, is likely to up your heart rate as you wobble across.
The longest and final zipline sends riders out over the park’s lake, passing over the shooting fountain, as well as locals-made miniature peddling around in water boats below. This open, unobstructed area is ideal for taking photos, which proves more difficult when kite-sized leaves flop out from all angles in front of your lens.
After the last zip, riders rappel, or descend by rope, safely to the ground with the help of a guide below to help the rider land gently back on terra firma.
At the lake’s edge, kids sit in little rock clusters and ducks waddle with the occasional duckling in tow up the bank’s edge. The smell of charcoal from nearby cookouts rises, and you can hear the jingle of the bells on the ice cream carts as they weave through the park, awaiting eager kids and the end of soccer games.
“It’s good to maintain the natural beauty of the park. I think (the canopy) will help the park to protect the lake and all the plants and animals,” said San José resident Evelyn Sánchez.
The ride costs ¢3,600 ($7) for Ticos and $20 for foreigners, and is open to ages 5 and up (kids under 12 ride with an adult or guide). For information, call GreenMountainTours at 215-2544.