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Costa Rica Canopy Tours

For anyone visiting Costa Rica, exploring the enchanted rainforest is an absolute must. Vibrant butterflies, swinging monkeys, poison frogs, scarlet macaws – the abundance of Costa Rican wildlife seems endless, especially when viewing it from above.

Considered one of the country’s best outdoor activities, “canopying,” allows you to fly over treetops while hanging from harnessed ropes. Platforms perched 20-40 meters high (65-131 ft) offer excellent lookout points for those wanting to see the rainforest from a bird’s eye view.

Developed in the early 90’s, this relatively new sport is often referred to as “canopy tours,” “zip-line adventures” or simply “canopying.” No matter your age or athletic ability, nearly everyone can soar among the tree tops in Costa Rica’s rainforest.

History of Costa Rica Canopy Tours
In the 1970's, US scientists researched Costa Rica’s rainforest by way of zip lines rather than ladders or climbing equipment. This method, of “jungle rappelling” allowed them to study the flora and fauna without damaging the surrounding environment.

By exploring the jungle from above, scientists were able to study the canopy ecosystems in greater depth than ever before. Today, this technique is practiced in the Biological station La Selva in Costa Rica. This popular method of research was developed into a sport in the 90’s, soon becoming one of Costa Rica’s greatest tourist attractions.

Types of Canopying

  • Tree platforms are wooden “balconies” perched throughout the rainforest. Built 20+ meters (65 feet) above the ground, these platforms can be reached by way of ladders, steps and ropes. This method allows one to sit and wait patiently for signs of wildlife.
  • Cable-joined platforms are reached by way of either climbing to the first platform or being winched up by a guide. From this starting point, you slide in a sling along the cable from one platform to another. Although exciting, this type of tour is more about the adventure than the viewing of wildlife.
  • The rainforest aerial tram functions more like a ski lift, passing one mile (1.6 km) over several sections of the canopy. The brainchild of biologist Don Perry, the aerial tram is considered an effortless way to view nature. It holds six passengers at a time, including a guide who points out highlights of the rainforest. A great place to experience these gondolas are east of the area Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo.

Canopy Tour Locations

There are dozens of canopy tour companies throughout Costa Rica, with numerous spinoff outfitters that do not adhere to the safety guidelines. Below is a list of some of the more popular locations to find canopy tour companies.

For sky trams and sky trek tours, head to the area of Areal. Tours there offer slow paced gondolas that lead to observation decks. There you will experience stunning views of the rainforest and Arenal Volcano before either returning to the base by way of a sky tram or you can zip your way back down along a canopy tour zip line. Located 30 minutes from La Fortuna, this area is ideal for sky tours, but is only offered to visitors over 8 years of age.

Canopy tour companies in Monteverde boast the highest platforms and longest rappels in Costa Rica. As the pioneering location of the sport, this area has guided over 1,000,000 visitors through the rainforest by way of suspended cables. This area is also considered one of the safest places in Costa Rica to try out the patented system.

Rainforest excursions that involve a rope ascent or traverse to a tree platform are located near Orotina at Monteverde and Iguana Park. There are other tours at Rincon de la Vieja, Drake Bayand and Ciudad Quesada.

In the city of San Jose, there are areal tour companies that will take three kilometers by truck to a small exhibit and gift shop. There are hiking trails in this area that can be explored before or after a six hour tram ride.

Safety tips
Like any adventure sport, canopying must be attempted with common sense. Ask your guide about safety precautions and risks, and be sure to research companies prior to paying for your canopy tour. While some zip-line tours pack an adrenaline punch, other tours like the sky tram and bridge walk tend to offer a more relaxed experience. Keep in mind that these tours, fast or slow, are not for anyone who is afraid of heights.

Plan accordingly when enbarking on a canopy tour adventure. Although equipment is supplied by the tour companies, be sure to bring a raincoat, camera, binoculars and insect repellent.

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