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Friday, February 23, 2024

Ziplining in Arenal brings out the monkey in the man

LA FORTUNA, Alajuela — The miracle of flight: With a leather glove for a brake, you hook your harness to a 700-meter cable, jump off a platform and fly between two mountains over a stunning river valley.

It never gets old.

Father and son come in for a landing.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

I’ve done it in Puerto Jiménez, Montezuma, Rincón de la Vieja and Monteverde, and on Thursday I did it in Arenal. My sons Jordan, 25, and Nathan, 19, and Nathan’s mom, Rhona, were in Costa Rica for a two-week vacation, and I had to take them on a canopy tour somewhere.

I opted for Arenal’s Sky Adventures, known for its cool Sky Tram and the new-fangled handles on its ziplines.

Steepest stairs ever — a ladder hanging in the trees.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

Jordan, Nathan and I chose a $59 package that included three ziplines, a controlled rappel and whitewater tubing. Rhona had a back problem and didn’t want to make it worse, so she skipped the tubing and booked the $77 “Sky Trek” ziplining.

The Sky Tram.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

As it turned out, the rain that had fallen constantly since we arrived in Arenal forced the closure of the whitewater tubing on Thursday — the river was too big, too dangerous.

Waterfall rappelling.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

Jordan ended up going kayaking on Lake Arenal, Rhona went on “Sky Trek” and Nathan and I did “Sky Limit” — a challenge course with ziplining, sketchy bridges, crossing ravines on cables, traversing suspended ladders and usually rappelling off waterfalls, though the water was too strong for that too.

The highlight was the Tarzan swing over a 10-meter waterfall — not the most terrifying but the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. You get roped in and you step to the edge of a steel mesh platform, the rope tugging at your harness like it’s going to accidentally pull you off early.

Nathan launches into flight on the waterfall Tarzan swing.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

But it pulls you off right on time, and you experience an exhilarating free fall until the rope catches, then you swing in a giant arc into the air, overlooking a second waterfall below.

Waterfall Tarzan swing.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

My personal “Fear Factor” was crossing the bridges. They started us off easy, with walking along a cable with cables for handholds — not too hard and (significantly) not too high above the ground. I started singing the James Bond theme: “Dun-duddle-un-dun-dun-dun, dun-duddle-un-dun-dun-dun, duh-duh-duh-DUH-DUH, duh-duh-duh….” The Sky Tram had reminded me of the scene in “Moonraker” where Jaws attacks James Bond on a cable car over Rio.

The author demonstrates his daring.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

The guides at the other end picked up on this and laughed, and then they started doing the “Mission Impossible” theme (“Doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, DOO-DOO!”)

Nathan watches Angela bust a move on the high wire.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

Soon I found myself facing a terrifying single cable suspended between two trees, this time high above the ground, with nothing to hold onto but one cable. I let Nathan go first, and he amazed me by crossing his right foot over his left and his left over his right to navigate the cable.

Strapping in for the zipline, Nathan looks ready to pilot a jet.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

He was a born tightrope walker. The rest of us planted our feet firmly on top of the cable and slid them side to side. Nathan said this was the easiest part for him.

As we were walking from one feature to the next, the guides pointed out a big, pregnant jumping pit viper sunning herself alongside the path. One guy in our party said walking past that snake was the most terrifying thing he did all day.

Pregnant jumping pit viper.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)
Yellow eyelash pit viper.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

But it would have been less scary for me to grab this snake by the neck than to walk across the long hanging bridge with the plank on the right and none on the left, then a plank on the left and none on the right. Where the walking planks were missing were the rungs of ordinary steel ladders that had somehow been strung together with other ladders and suspended a terrifying height above the ground.

You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out: A scary hanging bridge.
(Courtesy of Stephannie Garro, Sky Adventures)

“If I can do this, I’ll never be afraid of anything again,” I said to Nathan, who was behind me now, probably wondering what was taking me so long.

“That’s the spirit,” Nathan said.

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Contact Karl Kahler at

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