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
“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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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?
See the Mistico Park website for more details.
Arenal Hanging Bridges tour
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.
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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Here’s a good pin for your Costa Rica board!
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.