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Costa Rica: Arenal Hanging Bridges

by Kathy 2. May 2013 20:24

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Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike


Arenal Hanging Bridges consists of a series of bridges and trails through a tropical rain forest. We had arranged to take the Natural History Tour with an expert naturalist guide to learn about, and see, a variety of plants and wildlife. We would be hiking almost 2 miles and crossing 16 bridges, 6 of them hanging bridges.

While we were all huge fans of our GPS “Lola,” she caused us a bit of stress on the drive to the Hanging Bridges, as she kept estimating our arrival at WAY past the starting time of our tour. Turns out that Lola was just very confused; but I had my handy-dandy paper map and printed directions as a back-up.

We ended up arriving 50 minutes early (whew!).

We even had enough time to enjoy a relaxing (and good!) lunch at the small restaurant, which offered a spectacular view of Arenal Volcano:

Sebastian with his Grandpa David:

Our guide on the hanging bridges tour was Indira, who not only was full of knowledge, but she had an eye for spotting critters that we never would have seen on our own.

We started off by crossing the longest hanging bridge--almost 300 feet (the length of a football field):


In the foliage above the bridge, we saw two howler monkeys. The photo below is not good because of the bright sun above the trees, but there is a monkey in there (trust me):

As we were exiting the bridge, we were surprised by two tayras crossing the trail. They scurried away so fast that I didn’t get a photo, but here is a picture taken from the internet:

Indira said that she had only seen tayras here once before in the entire seven years she has been working as a guide. We had never even heard of a tayra before, so this was our lucky day!

The plants that grew in this moist, tropical environment were almost as fascinating as the animals. Only 15% of the light and water make it through the rainforest canopy. This elephant ear philodendron was climbing a tree, searching for sunlight:

Around a few more bends in the trail, Genevieve spied a white hawk resting on a tree branch.

Here is a view through Indira’s telescope:

We delicately stepped over a long trail of leaf cutter ants hauling their bright green treasures home to make fungus to eat.

The soil in the rainforest is very shallow. Only the top 6 inches provide nutrients, so the tree roots stay near the surface. Because they are not clinging to much underground, the trees develop various characteristics to keep themselves from falling over. Some grow humongous buttresses, like this tree:

Others, like this stilt palm, grow what I call a “broomstick” skirt:

Beneath the tree branch on the tree below was a spot of orange and green that turned out to be a rufus tail yuccamaw:

A close-up:

Through Indira’s telescope:

This bright flower, with its thrusting pistil, was doing its best to be pollinated:

We paused for a family photo on the second hanging bridge:

Sebastian peered over the edge at the river below:

Beyond the bridge was a dirt embankment with some holes in the side.  This large hole was the home of a motmot bird, which builds its nest in a 6 to 15 foot tunnel in order to survive:

Ben and Sebastian on the trail:

As you can see above, much of the trail consisted of concrete blocks with a criss-cross design, and the holes were perfect for catching toes and causing stumbles. I was glad that Indira was keeping an eye out for interesting wildlife because I had to spend a lot of time watching where I was placing my feet instead of looking up in the trees.

On the side of the trail was a baby viper, curled on a log.  With our untrained eyes, we would probably have glanced over it, thinking it was a pile of animal excrement:

Through Indira’s telescope:

Sebastian, crossing over the third hanging bridge, called Walking Palm:

On both sides of the bridge were palm trees growing these amazing horns and flowers on the sides:

From here, we also had a great view of the next hanging bridge—the highest, at 150 feet above the ground:

Here is Indira, carrying her telescope off of the third bridge:

She paused to show us some berries, and explained that berries are full of tanins that affect the color of the birds that eat them:

Now for the tallest hanging bridge, called Waterfall Bridge—this one felt more open than the others, and it provided fabulous views.

David ventured out to challenge his fear of heights:


JoAnn, on the other side:

At the end of the bridge, Indira found a small, nonpoisonous vine snake:

Sebastian took a turn holding it:

He said the snake felt a little freaky when it slipped under his watch band:

Crossing the fifth hanging bridge:

Continuing onward, we found a baby boa constrictor by the side of the trail--not quite as small as the vine snake, and we had no desire to hold it!

Indira also pointed out some small berries related to the coffee plant, except that these were poisonous:

The final hanging bridge was called Arenal View Bridge, and it did provide a lovely view of Arenal Volcano:

Arenal Hanging Bridges had been the perfect introduction to the tropical rainforest here. We would be staying in a lodge at the base of the volcano over the next four nights and couldn’t wait to experience more of the wonders in this area.



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