Friday, March 4, 2016

Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

A theme of my Costa Rica trip was fear -- fear I discovered and fear I released. The dizzying heights of the rainforest canopy taught me I am extremely uncomfortable in those situations. It's not really fun for me to zipline. I know this now; I did it once and I don't need to do it again. I similarly felt the rush of fear while crossing the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges, though not nearly as intensely.

When you arrive at the park you are given a map, but it's fairly easy to navigate the trail without it. You continue walking the loop, staying to the left. At each bridge you find an exit trail to the right in case you need to leave. I should mention that I walked the trail in flipflops because I lost my running shoes the previous day. I would recommend closed-toe shoes; it was a challenge getting through in some spots. The trail is well-maintained, with bricks arranged on it to prevent the trail from getting muddy.

The bridges have signs that specify that not more than 15 people should cross at a time. At one point, I reached the beginning of the bridge and waited for it to clear. Behind me was a tour group, whose guide told me to cross. "It's fine," he said. There were more than 15 people on the bridge, and it wasn't worth taking a chance for me. I quickly crossed before the tour group behind me stepped onto the bridge. As people crossed, the bridge would wobble from side to side. Some people thought it would be fun to run onto the bridge and jump up and down to shake the bridge. I waited for them to cross before walking onto the bridge. It's all in good fun, yes, but I preferred to just cross in peace. I discovered I am not a fan of heights, and that's OK.

The serenity and beauty of the park will impress you. Overhead you'll spot howler monkeys jumping from tree to tree. We even spotted a baby howler monkey following its mother around.

You'll also see a waterfall if you take the short trail to it. You can't really swim in it because it's closed off, but it's beautiful nonetheless.

Expect the entire walk to take about two hours if you really stop to look around and watch for animals. If you prefer, a guide can take you on a tour so that you don't miss any wildlife. Guides will also point out the flora and tell you about the history of the area.

After the hike, we checked out the view from the cafe and gift shop. Arenal volcano towers over the area and, if you're lucky, you can spot its peak through the clouds. We had been told in previous days that people hadn't been able to see the volcano because of the cloud cover, but we were able to see the entire Arenal volcano from our hotel room and from the park.

I would highly recommend a visit to Arenal as part of a Costa Rica tour. We only spent a day in La Fortuna, but I would recommend more than two days if you want to experience more of what the area has to offer.

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How to get to the park:

It would be helpful to have a car, but a tour would be a great way to get around if you don't have one. The park was about a 20-minute drive from La Fortuna. We took an expensive cab ride ($60) roundtrip, which is what it would have cost to have a shuttle pick us up. This was probably not the best idea, but we didn't have a car and we had limited time that day. The cab driver drove us to the park, stopping along the way to check out Arenal Lake and a sloth in a tree, then waited two and a half hours as we explored the park. On the way back to our hotel, he stopped so we could see a toucan he spotted in a tree. Park tickets were $24 a person.