Canopy tours are all the rage in Costa Rica, largely because they are such an exciting and unique way to experience tropical rainforests. It's estimated that some two-thirds of a typical rainforest's species live in the canopy (the uppermost, branching layer of the forest). From the relative luxury of Rain Forest Aerial Tram's high-tech funicular to the rope-and-climbing-gear rigs of zip-line operations, a trip into the canopy will give you a bird's-eye view of a Neotropical forest. There are now canopy-tour operations in or close to nearly every major tourist destination in the country, including Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, La Fortuna, Tabacón, Montezuma, Punta Islita, Villablanca, and Rincón de la Vieja, as well as on Tortuga Island and around Guanacaste and the Osa Peninsula.
Most canopy tours involve strapping yourself into a climbing harness and being winched up to a platform some 30m (100 ft.) above the forest floor, or doing the work yourself. Many of these operations have a series of treetop platforms connected by taut cables. Once up on the first platform, you click your harness into a pulley and glide across the cable to the next (slightly lower) platform, using your hand (protected by a thick leather glove) as a brake. When you reach the last platform, you usually rappel down to the ground. (Don't worry -- they'll teach even the most nervous neophyte.)
Although this can be a lot of fun, do be careful because these tours are popping up all over the place and there is precious little regulation of the activity. Some of the tours are set up by fly-by-night operators (obviously, I don't list any of those). Be especially sure that you feel comfortable and confident with the safety standards, guides, and equipment before embarking. Before you sign on to any tour, ask whether you have to hoist yourself to the top under your own steam, and then make your decision accordingly. Most canopy tours run between $45 and $65 per person.
Top Canopy Tours
Arenal Hanging Bridges, Arenal volcano area
Canopy Safari, Manuel Antonio
Cartagena Canopy Tour, Northern beach area, Guanacaste
Chiclets Tree Tour, Playa Hermosa
Hacienda Guachipelin, Rincón de la Vieja, Guanacaste
Hacienda Pozo Azul, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí
Rainforest Aerial Tram Atlantic, en route to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí
Selvatura Park, Monteverde area
Sky Tram, Arenal volcano area
Vista Los Sueños Canopy Tour, Playa Herradura
Waterfall Canopy Tour, Montezuma
Witch's Rock Canopy Tour, Papagayo Peninsula, Guanacaste
Canyoning tours are even more adventurous than canopy tours. Hardly standardized, most involve hiking down along a mountain stream, river, and/or canyon, with periodic breaks to rappel down the face of a waterfall, or swim in a jungle pool. The best canyoning operations in Costa Rica are offered by Pure Trek Canyoning and Desafío Adventure Company, both in La Fortuna; and Psycho Tours, which operates outside of Puerto Jiménez. The latter is arguably my favorite adventure tour in the country.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.