Visiting the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna, Costa Rica is a fun, unique experience that the whole family can enjoy. With a few different options for hanging bridge experiences in the La Fortuna area, my friend and I opted to visit the Mistico Arenal Hanging bridges, which did not disappoint.
ENTRANCE, PARKING & TICKETS
There is an entrance fee which you can book online before or at the park entrance. I’d book online if you are in the busy season to reserve your time slot in advance. The ticket prices are $26 USD per person ($16 for 11-18 years old, and free for children under 10 years old).
There is a large, free parking lot next to the entrance. This area also includes a cafeteria, souvenir shop, and bathrooms. Make note that there are no bathrooms once you enter the park so make sure to use them before entering. As of April 2022, you are required to wear a mask in the outside entrance area until you enter the park.
The trail takes about 2 hours to walk the entirety of the bridges (My friend and I completed it in 1 hour 40 minutes), but there are a few exit ways if you need to cut your visit short. Initially I was imagining just a few bridges you walk between, but this park is much larger than I expected. Most of the hike is actually on a paved trail and offers some pretty good wildlife viewing. The bridges don’t disappoint, but I was pleasantly surprised that there was more to the experience than just a few bridges.
HIRING A GUIDE
You can opt to hire a guide for an additional fee ($40 USD total per person), which will help you spot more wildlife that you would never see otherwise. The guides also have telescopes so you can really see the wildlife up close, which is sometimes nearly impossible to see with just the naked eye - let alone with a phone camera. You can even take photos with your phone through the viewfinder for some nice close up shots. Guides we saw on our trip were spotting things right around us, like tree frogs and snakes, that we would have just walked right past. Another pro of getting a guide is that you can learn more about the flora and fauna of the area.
Besides cost, the biggest downside to having a guide is that the groups we saw looked rather large, and you are stuck walking at the pace of the group. Some of the hanging bridges can build up quite a bit of traffic, and we had to wait in long lines for a few of the early bridges. Going with a big guided group delays everything further as you have to wait for everyone in the group to cross each bridge, take their photos on the bridge, etc. Guided tours also leave at set times throughout the day.
My friend and I opted to do ours independently so we could have flexibility, as we were also driving to Manuel Antonio later that day and didn’t want to get stuck spending too much time there. At the beginning of the trail, a lot of guided groups were stopped looking at wildlife. We were able to spot most of the animals they were looking at on our own, and come away with pretty good photos. As we went on, we passed up most of the big groups, but we didn’t see as much wildlife without the guides. This wasn’t an issue for us as we already saw a decent amount of wildlife near the front end of the trail and were able to enjoy the bridges at our own pace.
THE HANGING BRIDGES
The hanging bridges are the highlight as they offer a unique way to see the layers of the jungle and offer vantage points you wouldn’t normally see. The bridges themself were very well constructed but a bit creepy. It definitely felt safe, but walking across swaying bridges like that always creeps me out a bit. The views were really nice as well. The first bridge had a distant view of the volcano, and the rest offered nice views of the jungle canopies.
In the middle of the trail there’s an offshoot to a cool little waterfall that is worth the extra steps down and back up. The trail overall was a mix of a gravel paved trail and the hanging bridges. We didn’t see much wildlife on the actual bridges, but it’s also not ideal to be taking photos anyway as you are constantly moving back and forth on the bridges.
The first bridge especially had a very long line to enter as they limit the amount of people on the bridge at one time. The rest of the bridges didn’t have as big of a line since the groups began to get dispersed. Another advantage of not going with a group was to walk the trail at our own pace and not get stuck with a big group of strangers, waiting for them all to take their photos on the bridge. That could definitely slow down your experience.
Once beginning the trail, we were immediately greeted by a family of howler monkeys with babies that were hanging in the trees above us on the trail. We actually spotted them before a guide did, and then the guide led his group over to where we were standing where we were able to listen to him talk to the group about the monkeys. Similar to when we were in Manuel Antonio, we saw several guides stopped, pointing out wildlife, so we eavesdropped and looked where they were pointing their telescope to find the animals ourselves. Although we found most of them, some animals were still hard to see without the telescope.
We were surprised with how much wildlife we saw on our visit. Some wildlife that we saw included tree frogs, howler monkeys, a toucan, a crested guan (a large bird) and a tree viper (spotted by a guide).
This is a great activity to see more of the jungle while also getting to see a decent amount of wildlife. They also offer a night walk tour which would be a fun experience as well. It’s a great family activity and something to consider when visiting the La Fortuna area in Costa Rica.