Zip lining is almost synonymous with Costa Rica, so when my husband and I were planning a Costa Rican vacation, I decided I had to try it despite my fear of heights.
Zip line tours are available throughout Costa Rica, but we decided to try Sky Adventures in La Fortuna, the town at the base of the famous Arenal Volcano.
Sky Adventures features a sky tram and zip line tours making it a good choice if you’re traveling with someone who doesn’t want to zip line. The tour begins with a relaxing tram ride through the rainforest. The more adventurous members of your party will start their zip line journey from the platform at the end of the tram trip, but visitors can also opt to take their return trip on the tram for a lower price. All visitors will enjoy the breathtaking views of the Arenal Volcano and rainforest from the observation platform at the top of the tram.
If you’re planning to zip line, the tour company will provide you with a harness (to clip to the line) and gloves. I also recommend wearing a jacket with pockets to secure your camera and glasses while on the zip line. The zip line tour begins with a demonstration of zip lining technique. The lines at Sky Adventures are long (the longest is a half a mile long) and have a gradual decline, so to ensure that you make it all the way across the line, you need to be as aerodynamic as possible. This involves what our tour guide described as the “sexy position,” but it reminded me of a sloth hanging upside down from a tree branch. You grasp the hook that’s attached to the line and curl your knees towards your chest. The challenge is maintaining the position for the duration of your ride down the line.
The next step of zip line training is practicing on two lines about 100 feet long. While the practice lines give you a chance to get used to the zip lining technique, they don’t really give you a sense of what it will be like to travel at 40 miles per hour 750 feet above the rainforest floor.
The good news is that if you decide zip lining isn’t for you after you try the practice lines, you can climb up a short ladder to the tram platform and ride back down. The bad news is the ladder is your last chance to turn back. Once you go down the first long line, the only way to get back down is to go down the rest of the lines.
The next five lines are long lines. A guide will travel down the line ahead of the group to help zip liners when they arrive at the destination platform, and another guide attaches zip liners to the line at the top of the line.
The third line (the first line long line) was completely exhilarating. I didn’t have time to think about how far off the ground I was because I was going so fast. My husband enjoyed the view of Lake Arenal, but I closed my eyes for most of the ride partly because the wind was blowing in my eyes and partly because I was scared.
The next two lines were a breeze, but I ran into trouble on the sixth line. My arms were tired from hanging on to the clip, and I was having a hard time keeping my knees against my chest. The result was that I rocked back and forth as I traveled down the line, and as I rocked, I slowed down. I stopped about 40 feet short of the platform.
The guide had instructed us on what to do if we stopped on the line. I knew I needed to let go of the clip and grab the line. Otherwise I would slide back even further away from the platform. With my fear of heights, this was a terrifying prospect, but I did it.
Next, I was supposed to pull myself, hand over hand, across the rest of the line. I started to do this, but I didn’t have the upper body strength needed to get very far. My hands slipped, and I dropped off the line. Of course, I was still attached by the safety harness, but I was lying on my back with no obvious way to get back on the line. Our guide had not told us what to do if this happened.
I was too stunned to be scared. Within a minute, the closest guide had pulled himself out to me, clipped his harness to mine, and pulled us both back to the platform. This was no easy task, but he later told me that all the guides practice this rescue maneuver every day. I was glad to hear this because we still had two lines to go, and the next line was the longest line, extending nearly half a mile.
I continued to rock on the seventh line, but I kept my feet high enough that I made it within a foot of the platform before I stopped. Fortunately, this was close enough for the guide to grab me and pull me onto the platform.
To my delight, the final line was only 82 feet, and its sole purpose seemed to be providing a background for souvenir pictures. Naturally, I bought the photo of myself as proof of my survival. As I landed on the last platform, the guide who rescued me gave me a big hug. He told me I had experienced the toughest part of zip lining and invited to start work at Sky Adventures the next day. Although I politely declined his generous offer I found that my zip lining experience made me less afraid of heights. I think it must be because I came face to face with my fear and zip lined away from it no worse for the wear. Without a doubt, I will zip line again.
Some logistical information. Reservations are required at Sky Adventures. Your travel agent or hotel concierge can assist you. Costa Rica’s official currency is colones; however, many Costa Rican destinations accept (and may even prefer) US dollars. Most tourist attractions accept Visa and Mastercard, but your credit card company may charge you an additional fee for each foreign transaction.