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Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges, Costa Rica: See Sloths, Snakes + Spiders!

Walking along the hanging bridges in Costa Rica is among the top adventure experiences this Central American country offers.

It’s a great way to explore the rainforest canopy – high, high, high up in the trees – and to get a bird’s eye view of the diverse rainforest ecosystem.

You see lots of Costa Rica’s colorful birds and exotic wildlife. (Sloths, anyone?) And there’s the thrill too of walking across swaying suspension bridges.

Hanging bridges are found in several parts of the country – particularly in the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Arenal area.

One of the best places in Costa Rica to experience the lush rainforest and get up close to its flora and fauna is Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park.

Arenal Hanging Bridges, Costa Rica
The Arenal Hanging Bridges are among the best hanging bridges in Costa Rica

Arenal Hanging Bridges

Come see this snake!” summoned our guide, Kimberly, with great excitement.

It’s one of the most poisonous in Costa Rica!”

We warily nudged closer to her and stared at the eyelash pit viper.

Found in Central and South America, the eyelash pit viper is one of the world's most venomous snakes.
Found in Central and South America, the eyelash pit viper is one of the world’s most venomous snakes

We were walking the two-mile nature trail in the Mistico Park, which is a 618-acre rainforest nature reserve.

And the snake Kimberly pointed out definitely caught our attention!

It’s named for the little horns or eyelashes above each eye,” Kimberly explained.

It’s probably waiting for a rodent or bird to wander by to kill for food.”

Greenish in color with yellow flecks, the snake looked rather harmless, curled up on twigs and dried leaves on the side of the trail.

But, no, Kimberly told us, the snake could be very dangerous.

If bitten by the eyelash pit viper, your foot or leg might have to be amputated. You can even die.

Three women walk across a steel suspension bridge in the rainforest.
Beauty and mystery co-exist at Mistico Park

About Mistico Park

The Mistico Hanging Bridges Park is found at the base of the majestic Arenal Volcano, near the small town of La Fortuna.

View of the Arenal Volcano from our resort near the Arenal Hanging Bridges
View of the Arenal Volcano from our resort near the Arenal Hanging Bridges

The family who owned the property, previously part of a larger farm more than a century ago, restored the land to its natural state. They turned it into private reserve and ecotourism project so visitors could safely enjoy and discover the rainforest in a sustainable way.

The park offers several other activities like horseback riding.

But the main hanging bridges trail that we explored with our tour guide is the highlight.

The trail through the Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is set up as a self-guided one, so you can visit independently (if you’ve rented a car to get around on your own).

Or you can choose to go on a guided hike on a private tour – which is how we visited.  

Just beyond the park’s entrance, you come across the Rufous Hummingbird Gardens.

Hummingbirds love the moist tropical rainforest – and Mistico is home to 33 species of them. Stop to enjoy the flowering gardens and flitting hummingbirds before beginning your nature hike.

Arenal hanging bridges hike

Map of Mistico Park, Costa Rica
Map of Mistico Park

The main nature trail is a two-mile loop that crosses 10 fixed (regular) bridges and six “hanging” or suspension bridges.

The highest bridges are almost 150 feet above the forest floor.

The 300-foot-long Waterfall Bridge is the tallest hanging bridge – at 148 feet high. The Arenal Bridge (also a suspension bridge) is 147 feet high. That’s pretty high!

From up high, you get a whole different perspective of the forest around you. Walking at this height allows you to observe different plant species, birds and butterflies more closely. It’s a totally unique way to see the rainforest!

A couple walk along one of the Arenal Hanging Bridges in Costa Rica.
Hanging bridges in Costa Rica give you a bird’s eye view of the rainforest

The trail itself is paved and very well maintained. And the hike is quite doable for nature lovers of all ages. There are no steps and no steep hills.

Because of the trail’s design, you feel like you’re walking deep into the heart of the rainforest.

You don’t feel like you’re in a park. You’re surrounded by a sea of greenery, where the air is filled with the sounds of cicadas and birds. There’s a sense of mystery – you never know what’s around the corner in this natural paradise.

Narrow paved trail through the rainforest at Mistico Park
Hmmm, will your guide spot a snake around this corner?

If you go on your own, it takes roughly 60 to 90 minutes to complete the hike. Informational signs along the way help explain a little about the plants and wildlife.

Guided Arenal hanging bridges tours take longer – two to three hours – with stops along the way to listen to your guide share fascinating information about the rainforest and all the critters that inhabit it.

Touring the Arenal Bridges at Mistico is not so much about the excitement of wobbling across the swaying metal suspension bridges, though there’s plenty of that.

It’s also about experiencing and learning about the rainforest and spotting the birds and animal life within it.

And we got our money’s worth of that!

Oh my! Sloths, snakes and spiders

Kimberly carried a large powerful telescope, which she set up on a tripod at various points along the way to show us close up the wildlife, birds and insects she spotted.

Our guide Kimberly peers down from a hanging bridge in Arenal Hanging Bridges Park.
Our guide Kimberly peers down from a hanging bridge in Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

She also took photos on our little Canon G11 camera using the telescope – getting photos the camera never could without this aid.

Around 350 different species of birds live in the park, from highland species like bellbirds (which have loud bell-like ringing calls) to lowland species, such as toucans and large crested guans.

A rainbow-billed toucan with yellow throat at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
If you’re lucky, you might spot a rainbow-billed toucan at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

Between September and December, you can see raptors and eagles in the air on their annual fall/winter migration from North America to Central America.

Animal species include snakes, lizards, spider monkeys, racoons and ocelots. Rare tapirs, pumas and jaguars even wander through occasionally from Guanacaste province – though we didn’t see any of them!

First creature we spied?

A three-toed sloth curled high up in the branches of a tree.

We needed Kimberly’s help to spot the sloth

We were surprised to see that it was greenish. That’s because sloths are covered in algae, which help them blend in with the green forest canopy.

As we continued our stroll along the trail, we noticed many holes, about two inches in diameter, in the side of the red muddy banks.

What do you think lives in there?” asked Kimberly as she shone her flashlight inside one of the holes.

The answer was obvious when a tarantula began to poke its furry legs outside.

Tarantulas live in the holes along the side of the Mistico nature trail.
Tarantulas live in the holes along the side of the Mistico nature trail

The gossamer web of a large Golden Orb spider also caught our eye – especially when Kimberly cautioned us to be careful of it as we walked underneath.

And, yes, we also came across another snake, this one a brown-and-black jumping pit viper (poisonous too). Thankfully, it didn’t jump!

Some of the birds were harder to spot. But we did make out a broad-billed motmot trilling in the trees.

The colorful broad-billed motmot has a blue tail, greenish body and reddish head and chest.
The colorful broad-billed motmot has a blue tail, greenish body and reddish head and chest

Costa Rica ecotourism experiences are the reason many visitors go to the country; it boasts a remarkable variety of bird and wildlife species. 

We saw some of the most interesting ones on our Mistico Hanging Bridges tour.

If you’re looking at things to do in Arenal, these Costa Rica hanging bridges won’t disappoint.

Bonus: On a clear day, you’ll also be blessed with great views of Arenal Volcano.

Details about the hanging bridges of Arenal

We know you want to know how high all the different bridges are!

So here are the details (length and height). Fun factoid: Many bridges are named after snakes, birds and spiders found in the park.

Facts about the 16 Arenal Bridges:

Great Curassow Bridge (26 feet long): Non-suspension –  11 feet high

Collared Peccary Bridge (65 feet long): Non-suspension – 26 feet high

Jacamar Bridge (59 feet long): Non-suspension – 33 feet high

Arenal Bridge (246 feet long): Suspension – 147 feet high

Monkey Ladder Bridge (16 feet long): Non-suspension – 3 feet high

Bully Tree Bridge (174 feet high): Suspension – 69 feet high

Waterfall Bridge (300 feet long): Suspension – 148 feet high

Rainbow Beak Toucan Bridge (33 feet long): Non-suspension – 10 feet high

Mystic Bridge (33 feet long): Non-suspension – 10 feet high

Anthill Bridge (285 feet long): Suspension – 92 feet high

Heart of Palm Bridge (49 feet high): Non-suspension – 46 feet high

Fer-de-lance Bridge (157 feet long): Suspension – 79 feet high

Olingo Bridge (56 feet long): Non-suspension – 26 feet high

Guan Bridge (36 feet long): Non-suspension – 26 feet high

Tarantula Bridge (26 feet long): Non-suspension – 5 feet high

Tayra Bridge (368 feet long): Suspension – 79 feet high

Which is the best hanging bridge?

Our vote goes to Arenal Bridge.

It’s the first suspension bridge that you come across on your hike (and the second highest of all the bridges). It has the best views.

It could be that it made such an impression on us because it’s the first bridge. Whatever, looking down through the holes in the steel underfoot – at the green forest floor far below – was quite an eerie sensation!

We also got an amazing view of Arenal Volcano from this bridge too.

Planning your visit to Mistico’s Hanging Bridges, Arenal, Costa Rica

Two men walking across a suspension bridge in the Arenal rainforest in Costa Rica
Visiting the Arenal Hanging Bridges is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica!

Hours (self-guided visits):

If visiting on your own, you need to pre-book a time. This is to help control the number of people arriving at any one time.

Time slots are available hourly starting at 6:00 am until 3:00 pm. There are also two additional slots at 6:30 am and 3:30 pm.

Arenal Hanging Bridges entrance fee:

Entry costs $26 USD for adults. For seniors 65 and older, it’s $21.

What to wear and bring:

Footwear: For safety, you must wear closed-toe shoes (like running shoes). Without these, you won’t be allowed entry into the park.

Clothing: Wear light clothes, preferably long pants and a T-shirt. Carry a light rain-jacket – you’re in the rainforest, so that means it could rain!

Sunscreen: It’s shady in the rainforest, but you should still put on sunscreen before you go.

Insect repellent: Yes, it’s wise to bring bug spray. (We weren’t bothered by mosquitoes, but we sprayed ourselves before going.)

Drinking water: Pack a water bottle with you, as there’s no drinking water on the trail.

Camera: Mistico features some of the best hanging bridges in Costa Rica – you’ll want to capture these memories, right?

More information:

See the Mistico Park website for more details.

Arenal Hanging Bridges tour

Tour company:  

We toured Arenal Hanging Bridges with Jacamar Naturalist Tours.

Our Costa Rica tour was booked through our resort, Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa. It’s one of the best resorts in Costa Rica, by the way (with beautiful hot springs)!

Another great place to stay: We also loved getting off-the-beaten-path at Costa Rica’s Papagayo Peninsula (moonlight golf buggy rides and secret beaches…)

Do you need a guided tour? 

While the Arenal Hanging Bridges trail is set up so you can walk or hike it on your own, we’d recommend going with a guide.

If we hadn’t visited with a guide, we would never have spotted all the various critters and creatures Kimberly pointed out.

Other tourists without guides walked past us without noticing much of the wildlife, except when Kimberly kindly alerted them, saying “Look at this snake here!” or “Did you see the spider above you?”

Guided tour cost: 

The half-day Arenal Hanging Bridges tour with Jacamar Naturalist Tours currently costs $72 USD p.p. and includes roundtrip transportation from your nearby resort.

Tour time:

The tour is about four hours long (including driving time to get there and back).

The actual amount of time we spent at Arenal Hanging Bridges was just over three hours. Our pick-up time for the tour was 7:30 am. We were back at our resort by 12:45 pm.

Combined Arenal Hanging Bridges and waterfall tour:

Many tours combine the Mistico Bridges with La Fortuna Waterfall.

For example, here’s a highly-rated full-day tour from La Fortuna combining three activities – hiking Arenal Volcano, the nature walk in Arenal Hanging Bridges Park and viewing the waterfall.

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Save for later! Here’s a good pin for your Costa Rica board!

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges

Photo credits: 2, 6, 8, 10, 15, 16 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 3, 5, 7 Mistico Park


Thanks go to Jacamar Naturalist Tours and Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa for setting up this tour of the Arenal Hanging Bridges for us! Our reporting as travel writers (who follow professional codes of ethics) is all our own, however.


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Laura Marie

Wednesday 12th of April 2017

Some beautiful animal photographs here! I haven't been to Costa Rica before but if I do I would love to enjoy some quality wildlife time.

Great post!

Laura xo

Janice and George

Wednesday 12th of April 2017

Thank you... You'll certainly see lots of animals and wildlife in Costa Rica!

Suze

Saturday 8th of April 2017

You've really captured these animals on film beautifully! I'd be freaked out by the tarantula but I'd love to walk along that bridge

Janice and George

Tuesday 11th of April 2017

The tarantulas were a little creepy. We only learned toward the end of our walk that there were a ton of them in those holes all along the path.

Irene Levine

Monday 3rd of April 2017

What beautiful wildlife photography!

Janice and George

Tuesday 4th of April 2017

Thank you -- it's always interesting to see how one's photos turn out afterwards :-).

Shikha

Monday 3rd of April 2017

We did a similar jungle walk on a suspension walkway high up in Borneo and I too recall feeling nervous but sounds like you saw some amazing wildlife! I would have been freaking out most un-elegantly if I'd have seen that snake for sure!!

Janice and George

Tuesday 4th of April 2017

We went to Costa Rica to see the wildlife -- spotting those two venomous vipers was one of the highlights on that Arenal Hanging Bridges tour! Though they looked so much less dangerous than we'd imagined...