Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Costa Rica Part 8: The Hanging Bridges of Mistico Arenal

A hiker pauses on a bridge shrouded with mist and suspended high over the jungle. This hanging bridge, Puente Vista Arenal, is one of several spanning the deep arroyos of Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. Our Caravan tour visited this mountain jungle on our way to the northwest coast of the country. To locate Mistico Arenal on a Google map, click here.


A map of the park shows the walkway and its many bridges. The pedestrian-only trail wanders along the steep mountain slopes and crosses deep arroyos on six suspension or "hanging" bridges. In addition there are nine shorter bridges. Had the day been clear, we would have been able to view Arenal Volcano, one of Costa Rica's several active volcanos. However, the swirling mists provided a charm of their own.

A tiny snake lies curled on a plant growing in Mistico Arenal's garden. We encountered this fellow near the entrance to the hanging bridges walkway. The snake was so small that I could easily have missed it if our guide had not pointed it out. The creature was only a few inches long and, curled as it was, I could have easily mistaken it for a caterpillar or even something inanimate. I have been unable to determine the species and, if there are any reptile experts out there, I would greatly appreciate an i.d. This was about the only animal I saw in the park, although others in our party saw various creatures.

The misty jungle was thick with vegetation. This shot will give you a feel of both the place and the day. Periodically, we were spattered with rain from the squalls that moved through the area. In the early 20th century, the land comprising Mistico Arenal was undeveloped jungle, and very inaccessible. The property was inherited through marriage by Doña Landelina Rodriguez and Don Adrian Castillo. The couple loved the area and wanted to preserve it to share with others.

Puente Vista Arenal

We approached Puente Vista Arenal from underneath.  The bridge is 45m high and 75m long (148 ft x 246 ft). Because of the vegetation and mist, it was difficult to see where the bridge started and where it ended. We hoped it would be sturdier than it looked from a distance.

A small waterfall tumbles down the mountain slope. There were many of these and they joined together into raging streams in the canyons below. Don Adrian and Doña Landelina hired a company called Arenal Hanging Bridges to convert their dream into reality. The first step was to build an access road up to the area from the Arenal dam, far below. Construction started in 2000.

A few of the jungle's wide variety of leafy plants. Vines, ferns, and broad-leafed vegetation abounded. Construction of the road, the trails, and the hanging bridges was completed in 2002. It must have been quite a task, given the precipitous terrain and wet conditions.

View from a hanging bridge

I peered over the railing of Puente Vista Arenal. Upon closer inspection, the bridge seemed quite sturdy. However, it did have a rather unnerving tendency to sway when crossed by several people at a time.

Another view from Puente Vista Arenal. The puente (bridge) gets its name because, on a clear day, Arenal Volcano can be seen from here. What we could see was a deep, misty arroyo stretching off into the distance. Just to the right of the photo's center you can see another hanging bridge.

Looking directly down, you can see a white cascade of water rushing through the arroyo. The water looks closer than it actually is because I used my extreme telephoto zoom. The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges were opened in 2002 and, until 2014, were operated by a development company, called Arenal Hanging Bridges. The company operated in partnership with the property's owners.

Huge seed pods hung from this palm. I have never seen anything like these pods on any other palm. They were about 1.2m (4 ft) long and didn't grow from branches but directly from the palm's trunk. In 2014, the Arenal Hanging Bridges departed. The family owning the area took over under their own company, called Nalavi Verde SA.

Palm fruits hung on long strings from one of the seed pods which has opened. You can see the unopened pod shown previously, hanging from the trunk of the same tree. The seed strings looked like sparks curling down from a bursting skyrocket.

Puente La Catarata

Two people from our Caravan group cross a deep arroyo on Puente La Catarata. This bridge is 45m high and 92m in length (148 ft x 302 ft). The hanging span gets its name from the waterfall (catarata = cataract) that tumbles down the canyon far below. The weather had briefly cleared, allowing a ray of sunshine to bathe the bridge.

Catarata Morpha is the waterfall that can be seen from the hanging bridge. The water cascades through a narrow slot before tumbling down into the base of the gorge.

The rain forest trail

Tangled with vines, a large tree towers over the forest trail. In the distance, a couple of hikers wend their way through a tunnel of emerald foliage. The canyon wall rises steeply on the right and drops off even more steeply to the left.

Vivid clusters of red berries stand out among the greenery. Although the jungle is beautiful, it tends to be somewhat monotonous in it colors. The berries were a welcome relief from all the different shades of green and brown.

The thick roots of this tree spread out above the ground to help support its weight and height. The root structure looked similar to that of a ceiba tree, but I am not sure of this identification. In Guatemala, Yucatan, and other parts of Central America, the ceiba is revered as the Tree of Life. The roots represent the underworld; the trunk represents everyday reality; and the canopy represents the heavens.

I emerge from the white mist engulfing the bridge. Puente El Pilón stands 21m high and 53m long (69 ft x 174 ft). At each end of every hanging bridge are a pair of tall steel girders. The wires suspending each are strung from these girders.

This completes Part 8 of my Costa Rica series. I hope you enjoyed this visit to Mistico Arenal and, if so, you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

  1. Your pictures are made even more enjoyable by the excellent, informative narrations.


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim