What it's Like to Zipline Through the Rainforest in Puerto Rico

Rene Cizio

A fun trip to Puerto Rico ziplining the El Yunque Rainforest ends with a loss, a laugh and a recommendation for your car keys.

Pre-COVID, we took a quick trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico to do some adventuring starting with ziplining through the rainforest.

I'd heard it was among the best ziplining in the world, so being a total amateur, of course, I booked us a tour.

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It takes about 45 minutes to get from San Juan to the ToroVerde zipline site in the rainforest, but there are plenty of interesting sights along the way to pass the time.

For example, have you ever seen the zipper-like road barriers in Puerto Rico? These barrier transfer machines move the freeway dividers to create more or fewer lanes according to traffic patterns. SO COOL. Attached like one of those wooden snake toys, the center concrete barriers slither across the roadway, adding and taking away lanes to accommodate the traffic.

Watching it do its work I was enthralled, my daughter, not so much.

The joy of traveling with a teenager

My daughter, Autumn, sitting beside me, didn’t see any of it. She was too busy on her phone. She was conducting very important business fire-fast texting her friend, probably complaining about me for taking her on this awesome vacation. Just kidding. I have no idea why she was glued to the damn device the entire time we drove into the rainforest. My driving was about to get her attention, though.

Right after I yelled at her for not paying attention or helping me navigate, I got a ticket for failing to pay the road toll because I was too busy yelling at her to pay attention that there was a road toll.

By the time I noticed, we’d already gone through the pre-paid line, and my ticket was in the mail.

Things started to get interesting once we entered the rainforest

We drove multiple obscure roads we’d never find again. Halfway up, the roads gave up on being paved or wide enough for two cars. Fun! It became a steep, one-way incline sided only by bamboo trees.

Why no guard rails? We could fall right over the side.

“I know,” I yelled at Autumn for the fifth time, “Now shut up before I drive us off on purpose.” She was 19, so it’s ok. She knew if I hadn’t already killed her, it wasn’t likely to happen now either (But do not force my hand, child. Nobody knows what I’m capable of).

Her panic increased my euphoria. When things are truly insane, I laugh… hysterically. So, while we were driving up, up, up this rainforest mountain while dodging drivers zipping around the turns coming down like it was a damn roller-coaster, I laughed like a madwoman.

Finally, when neither of us could take the stress for one more minute, we made it to the top of the mountain.

Inside, we suited up for our ziplining adventure. Essentially this involves getting comfortable with young men on their knees in front of you, strapping you up. I was born ready.

I hoped he did a good job because I was about to go vaulting off the side of a mountain with nothing other than these straps and the wire some random Puerto Rican tied to a few trees out there.

These zip lines have been voted the tallest, longest lines in the continental United States, and it was Autumn’s first time ziplining. Go big or go home.

We began our hike to the first line with a group of about 10 other people, two we’d never forget.

Surprise, it’s a hike

Nothing pisses me off more than when there’s a hike they don’t tell you about. Hiking is bullshit when you don’t know you’re about to go on one. This wasn’t a simple little skip through the rainforest, either.

When the stairs are made of sticks, you’re screwed. We had to hike all the way to the top of the rainforest, so we were at the highest point and could zip down. To indicate how far we had to go – we’d take a truck back at the end.

Zip-a-de-do-da

Once we made it to the first zip line, we surveyed the view. The first line ended across the valley at a sight that was too far for me to see – or it ended in a 500-foot plunge to death. The choice wasn’t really up to you.

If you don’t make it all the way across, our instructor said, don’t panic (me, panic?) you’d only be hanging above the abyss for a few minutes until one of the instructors could get to you and help you scoot across the line to safety.

My first thought was: No freaking way. The second thought was: Quick, laugh, so the kid doesn’t get scared. “Hahahaha, cool, got it.”

My bulk finally pays off

He said that heavier people usually had good momentum and didn’t have to worry about making it all the way across these unusually long ziplines. It was the lighter weight people that sometimes didn’t make it all the way.

I knew my heft would give me plenty of momentum – see, there was a reason for all that pizza. It’s about survival, people.

Autumn, however, I was worried about. She looked nervous, so I laughed for reassurance. “Hahaha, you’ll be fine.”

He hooks you to the line, and you push off the edge of the cliff. You’re soaring through the air, flying actually above a canopy of trees, vines and probably killer animals.

You can feel the heat coming off the line above you, but don’t put your hands up there, or they’ll get cut off (probably).

This is a view very few people will ever have

Once you get past the screaming in your head and look around, it is the most surreal and beautiful thing you’ll ever see.

The El Yunque Rainforest has over 240 species of plants and trees shrouded under constant cloud cover (the rain bringers). The highest mountain peak is about 3,500 feet above sea level, coupled with over 20 feet of rain a year, creating a jungle-like setting with lush foliage, wildlife, waterfalls, and rivers.

Just think of that while imminent death is upon you. Think of that instead.

Autumn got stuck once about 20 feet from the end of the line. Her fall in that spot would have been more rocky than far, so she could have possibly survived. Regardless, one of the guys was able to help her to the end, and she was fine, and we got a good laugh out of it later.

Overall, I’d rank it among the best ziplining in the world. I’ve ziplined at least one other time, so I know what I’m talking about.=

Wait, where are my keys?

My favorite part of this adventure ziplining the El Yunque Rainforest is the couple from Texas. After the final of eight zip lines, they realized that they had lost their car keys somewhere along the journey.

They may still be out there looking for them; I should inquire.

With that, Autumn and I jumped back in our own car and zipped back down that mountain laughing all the way.

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Digital nomad, solo road tripping through the USA in my van. I write about travel, adventure, culture, and self-improvement. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL
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