In Costa Rica, zipline tours (also called canopy tours) are popular tourist attractions: they hook you up to a harness and then you glide through a network of wire cables high up in the trees. Although I liked the idea of getting a bird’s eye view of the rain forest, I had no interest in dangling 100 feet off the ground. Then I learned about a much more appealing option: a hanging bridges tours, where you walk across a series of suspension bridges. There are a few different hanging bridges tours throughout the country, but I decided that I would visit Rainmaker, the original hanging bridges tour, when I was in Manuel Antonio.
Rainmaker is located about 30 minutes outside of Manuel Antonio, just outside the small inland village of San Rafael Norte. It’s a 1,500 acre reserve of rain forest that was purchased in 1993 by the Gutierrez family with some help from Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. Sadly, before the sale went through, Mauricio Gutierrez drowned on the property while trying to save a local child who had fallen into one of the waterfalls. In the midst of the tragedy, a logging company was then trying to buy the space, but the Gutierrez family decided to make Mauricio’s dream come true and save the land. Aside from the trails, six suspension bridges (originally built for scientists) and a little lodge where they prepare and serve food, the land remains completely untouched.
Last Monday, the van picked us up at La Mansion Inn at 7:45 AM, collected some other hanging bridge enthusiasts from neighboring hotels, and brought us to Rainmaker. We enjoyed some delicious starfruit juice (good luck finding that back at home) and then set out with the guide to explore. He explained to us some basics of the rain forest and then he warned not to touch the trees on the sides of the trails — which do look tempting because in the rain forest every tree seems to be surrounded by different layers of vines — because we might happen upon a snake. Luckily no one came across any snakes!
Our guide introduced us to leafcutter ants, which walk in a fairly orderly procession back to their colony carrying leaves or flowers (like the ones pictured on the left) on their backs. They’re pretty impressive — they’re like those ants in the cartoons who steal the entire picnic. When you look at the line of ants, you notice that some aren’t carrying anything and that’s because they dropped their wares. The quality control is very strict and once you drop something you can’t pick it up and have to return empty-backed. I really felt for those ants who dropped their flowers/leaves/wares because that totally would have been me.
Then we started along the trail. We did a “practice” bridge first, called as such because it wasn’t too high off the ground. The hanging bridges sway a little but they aren’t too scary, even if you have a minor fear of heights like I do. The scariest one is the highest and longest one (pictured at top) — it also has the best views as you catch a glimpse of a sliver of the ocean (pictured right). If you absolutely hated heights, then this tour would not be for you. But as long as you can handle it, you are in for a really unique experience and I highly recommend it. The trail and bridges take you deep into the rain forest, which is a really cool feeling. You don’t get that when you’re in Manuel Antonio Park and I definitely didn’t get it when I was in Arenal, hiking around the volcano.
A hike is the best way to think of this tour — it’s not a thrill jaunt like the zipline. And it’s way more about flora than fauna, although our guide did find a poison dart frog (pictured left). The frog looks beautiful but it’s actually very dangerous and secretes poison through its skin, although our guide bravely held it long enough for all of us to photograph it. (He was our favorite and most knowledgeable guide in Costa Rica.) We also saw some butterflies but those were impossible to photograph as they wouldn’t stop flitting about.
But most of our attention was focused on the abundant greenery. The foliage at Rainmaker is so dense that you don’t even have to worry about sunscreen, although you do get quite hot as it’s very humid and the tour is a bit of a workout. Towards the end of the tour, we had the chance to swim in a waterfall. It was a small, picturesque pool (pictured below) that was just the perfect place to cool off before lunch.
Then we returned back to the lodge for a well-deserved meal. I wasn’t too excited about the lunch, because a few days before we had taken a tour to Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge and our included a tipico lunch that was a little to tipico for me. But this turned out to be one of my favorite meals in Costa Rica. It was traditional, but not certainly not boring. The main dish was a yellow rice with shredded chicken, and there were homemade tortillas, salad and beans to go with it. Soon after we started eating, it began to rain heavily. I guess they don’t call it Rainmaker for nothing.