Waterfall Canopy Tour @ Jaco Beach, Costa Rica


The Bottom Line: One morning here and you’ll really appreciate that pool side chair back at the hotel.

“Listo.” The guide yells as he steadies himself and leans out over the platform suspended a hundred feet above the rain forest. A few seconds later an answering, “listo,” ready, comes back from the surrounding trees. There’s a quick final check of my harness, and he gives me the thumbs up. I grab the pulley a little harder, and lift my feet off of the platform sitting back in my harness. Gravity and inertia quickly takes over and before I realize it I’m hurtling along the ½ inch steel cable.

Within seconds I’m zooming along at an ever increasing speed. Trees and branches flash beside me a, green blur. Passing through a last set of branches I see the other platform ahead. The guide there gives me the signal and I gently begin to apply the brakes as I’ve been shown how to. As I approach the platform I raise my legs and easily land safe and sound on the wooden structure.

The guide quickly unhooks me from the cable and attaches me to the safety line wrapped around the tree trunk. Adrenaline pumping and legs wobbling, I brace myself against the trunk and get my camera out to shoot the next person to cross. That was a rush. I can’t wait to go again, and again.

Canopy Tours have become almost synonymous with Costa Rica. The first was established years ago by a couple of Canadians. It is now known as “The Original Canopy Tour.” Now it seems that almost every month a new operation is being set up and/or expanded somewhere in the country.

While it is probably not the best way to experience the country’s flora and fauna. You’re travelling too fast and honestly making too much noise to really see anything. Nevertheless it is a rush in and of itself and something not to be missed. For the more sedate, there are also a couple of companies offering aerial walkways, suspension bridges, and even an aerial tramway.

Waterfall Canopy Tours just north of Jaco on the Pacific Coast is the one I tried, and is typical of the operations. The guides there though will proudly disagree with me on that point. They are as proud of their company as they are professional. As far as they’re concerned theirs is the best in the country. At the very least it’s better than the competing Tree Tops Canopy Tours about twenty minutes drive south of Jaco.

Basically you travel on a system of steel cables suspended fifty to a hundred feet above the ground and move from tree to tree. Special pulleys and safety harnesses similar to those used in mountaineering and caving allow you to move quickly and easily. The cables are attached to large trees and wooden platforms have been built on them to allow a brief rest and a place to “change” cables.

It may look dangerous and exhilarating, but actually it’s quite safe. The guides are all trained professionals and the equipment does work. There were three guides with our group of ten and they were always in complete control.
Waterfalls has thirteen platforms of varying heights and with differing cable lengths. There are several unique attractions that this company offers. First as the name suggests is a waterfall which is the start point for your adventure.

The second unique surprise comes about midway through the tour. Most of the platforms, as I said are simple wooden discs, attached to the tree trunks. They are safe, and roomy enough for the whole group, but as one member of my tour commented, she now knows where the term “tree hugger” was invented. One of the platforms is a little more elaborate though. As you slide over to it you realize it’s a large tree house. Once inside you find a three story elaborate construction, complete with a bedroom with double bed and champagne bucket.

Waterfalls offers a special romantic couples overnight tour. It starts with a sunset waterfall picnic. This is followed by a special personal canopy tour and a gourmet meal served in the tree house. Your guides will then discretely leave you for the night, although there’s a “walkie talkie” if you need them. They return with breakfast the next morning.

For the normal tour, you leave the tree house and continue on with each cable becoming slightly longer and faster. The second last one is another unique feature. There is no cable, it’s been replaced by a Tarzan swing. Pounding your chest and screaming at the top of your lungs as you cross is strictly optional.

The last cable is an optional one. It is four hundred feet long and you really pick up speed as zoom along it. There are stairs for those who’ve had enough at this point. The guides also have a quick discussion to determine if anyone may find it too difficult. As I said they take safety very seriously. Everyone in our group including a child made it. I can personally attest that it is fast. Almost too fast, I was really enjoying it.

The finale is a controlled rappel ninety feet back to terra firma. Then it’s take off the harness and bask in the bragging rights you’ve just earned. The total tour usually takes about two hours dependent on the size and skill level of the group.

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