February 25, 2012
We packed up our things and left Poas Lodge around mid-morning to make the 70-80 mile trek over to La Fortuna, a mecca for adventure junkies and home of the mighty Arenal Volcano. Mark, the manager and part-owner of Poas Lodge, suggested that we take the scenic route over to the land of adventure. Part paved road/part off-road; it turned out that this out-of-the-way path was an adventure in itself. Along the three-hour trip, we passed La Paz Waterfall Gardens (a must-see next time!), panoramic overlooks, quaint little towns, and copious waterfalls. (Tip: Don’t forget to look behind you (unless you’re driving) to see waterfalls and vistas you may otherwise miss.) By the time we checked in to the Lost Iguana Resort & Spa, we were ready to stretch our legs. At the front desk, we were told that guests received a discounted entrance fee ($18/person vs. $24/person) to the Arenal Hanging Bridges. Better yet, they provided free shuttle service to the park.
The Arenal Hanging Bridges are a series of 16 bridges, paved trails, and a tunnel that wind almost 2 miles (3.1 km) through a 600+ acre private nature reserve. Ten of the 16 bridges are actually static beam bridges, supported by heavy-duty concrete piers, or columns. The remaining six are hanging, or suspension, bridges that traverse up to 320 feet (98 m) across the tropical rainforest below. These secure bridges offer a bird’s-eye view of the primary rainforest and Arenal Volcano in the distance.
The nature reserve is home to some 200 bird species and a multitude of animals and plants. The park offers a bird watching tour and a natural history tour. The bird watching tour provides you with an expert bird guide who helps you spot and identify the multiple bird species that call the park their home. On the natural history tour, the tour guide focuses more attention on the plant and animal species throughout the park and provides help in spotting evasive critters like snakes, howler monkeys, and the endangered ocelot.
By the time we arrived at Arenal Hanging Bridges, both tours were finished for the day. In spite of this, we still decided to meander through the reserve on our own. Our trek started out with some excitement as a fire ant decided to sink his mandibles into the soft flesh between the big toe and long toe on my left foot. I now know how these wee insects earned their name; that tiny area on my foot literally felt like it was in flames. The sting eventually subsided, but it wasn’t the last time I regretted wearing flip-flops on a nature hike. Although most of the trail is paved with paving blocks, the damp environment made getting a good footing precarious at times. A good pair of hiking shoes would have easily solved this problem.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to spot much wildlife. I believe this was a result of two errors on our part; (1) we didn’t have a guide and (2) we started the hike late in the day. However, any disappointment we may have felt over the lack of spotting that elusive ocelot or resplendent quetzal was immediately offset by the overabundance of astonishing vistas provided by courtesy of the suspension bridges. I could have stood in the center of these hanging platforms just gazing at the panoramic scenery for hours. About halfway through the hike, there was a small trail that deviated from the main path and took us to a small, albeit beautiful, waterfall. Toward the end of the journey, we enjoyed hearing the distinctive guttural calls of a group of howler monkeys, though we never spotted one of them. Overall, the Arenal Hanging Bridges provided a very enjoyable way to behold a tropical rainforest from a different perspective; one high above the forest floor.
Travel Tips for Arenal Hanging Bridges
- Wear close-toed shoes, preferably hiking or walking shoes.
- Get an early start to catch a glimpse of the wildlife.
- Take the guided tour to spot birds and other creatures you may easily miss spotting on your own.
- La Fortuna, Costa Rica (marriageconfessions.com)