“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”. – T.S. Eliot
After our horseback ride and lunch, it was time for our next adventure: A two-hour guided tour of Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park with a naturalist. The trail is about two miles long, and follows a footpath through the innermost parts of the rainforest as well as passes high up through the jungle canopy over 6 hanging bridges (the highest one being 148 feet/45 m above ground) and four lower bridges. You can do the walk without a guide however having a trained eye and a professional naturalist was amazing as we learned a ton about the diverse flora and fauna in the area and saw lots of interesting things we would have missed on our own.
We met our guide, Gustavo at the entrance and were on our way. As we were walking, Gustavo told us a little history about the park. The park was built on the property of the Castillo Rodriguez family who had inherited this pristine land from their family. Wanting to share its immense value and beauty, the land owners formed a partnership with Los Puentes Colgantes de Arenal to develop the land with the mission of preserving this unique ecosystem while also opening it up for sustainable tourism. Construction on the park began in 2000 and Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park was opened in 2002 with complete transfer of management back to the Castillo Rodriguez family in 2014.
As we left the beautiful gardens surrounding the entrance of the park, we were mesmerized by the almost deafening sound of cicadas. Unlike where we live, cicadas live year round in this part of Costa Rica thanks to its ideal climate. Gustavo told us that after the cicadas hatch from their shells, they live for only 5-6 weeks and it is a 9 and 13 year cycle. That is why they lay eggs all the time since it takes so many years to hatch. The magic of nature never ceases to amaze me.
While we were walking, I stopped to ask Gustavo about the importance of colors. Many of the most brilliant colored insects in Costa Rica are poisonous (such as the “Blue Jeans Poison Dart Frog) and the brilliant colors are a warning to predators or else a way to attract them. Flowers also have an interesting role in colors. For instance, the Heliconia flowers which are common throughout Costa Rica are fuzzy and look like a bird of paradise. Most people mistake the large, red pieces as the flowers. However, the small yellow parts are the actual flower and the red part is a modified leaf. It is a natural way of attracting pollinators.
After we left the garden, the real fun began. Our first hanging bridge. I tend to have a fear of heights when climbing up ladders and looking down yet for some reason the wobbly hanging bridges didn’t seem to bother me. They reminded me of the crazy bridges I’ve hiked on in rural Nepal or New Zealand. My daughter didn’t like the bridges so much but managed to pass through them while I stopped to take pictures and look for wildlife.
When we reached the bridge, Gustavo pointed out a viper nestling about 10 feet above us in a tree. Vipers are highly poisonous and if you are bit, you must seek medical attention immediately. They like to hang out in trees so as a general rule of thumb, you should never ever grab onto a tree trunk or branch in Costa Rica. Snakes are everywhere and they are hard to see due to their amazing camouflage.
There was a vaporous mist hanging over the rainforest and Gustavo explained it was due to the high humidity and rain in the region. In Arenal, they have over 500 inches of rain per year and no dry season like the Pacific side. The trees fight for survival of the tallest by growing as high as they possibly can to reach the sunlight. It is such a magical place inside the jungle!
After we climbed over our third bridge we heard the cry of the howler monkeys. They live in groups of 15-25 and the males howl to mark their territory and ward off competitors. You can hear them as far as two miles away. It is quite incredible.
We reached a gorgeous waterfall and pulled over to take some pictures. It was hot and humid but so lovely.
I remembered the time this past January when I was in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica and had no choice but to bathe in the waterfall. The refreshingly cold water rushed down at breakneck speed and I had a hard time not being knocked over by the force. But it was such a memorable experience and feeling of liberation.
I also remember seeing the infamous leaf cutter ants during my treks through the jungle in the Osa Peninsula. We got a chance to see them here as well and learn more about their intricate structure. Gustavo told us that for every 1,000 workers there is one soldier ant. The solider ant is bigger and can be easily identified (check out photo below). The soldier ants work to protect the worker ants from lizards, frogs, and birds by bitting them.
Leaf cutter ants can travel up to 1/2 mile per day to collect leaves and they carry the leaves back to their giant nest. They work every single day bringing leaves to the house while the queen stays inside the nest and constantly lays eggs. Apparently a queen can live for over 20 years! I had no idea that ants could be so fascinating!
As we were leaving the park we saw this beautiful orange and green bird. I’m not able to remember what kind it is but it sure was beautiful.
All in all we loved our day at Mistical Park. I was surprised that it wasn’t more crowded as it is truly a remarkable place. Sadly, it was our last day in Arenal before heading to another destination. The next day we would return our car and catch a ride to the famous aqua blue colors of Rio Celeste. We could hardly way!
This short video gives you an amazing aerial view of the park and its divine location at the foothills of Arenal Volcano.
If you go:
Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is open seven days a week and is located 2.5 km East of the dam of Lake Arenal on the pave road, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela, Costa Rica.