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Ziplining Above the Rainforest

Canopy ziplining has rapidly emerged as a popular tourist activity in the Caribbean since its commercial introduction in the early 1990s. The sport combines the exhilaration of a thrill ride with an opportunity to view spectacular scenery from a unique perspective.

Known also as a flying fox, aerial runway, zip wire, or Tyrolean traverse, a zipline course enables a participant secured in a harness to glide along an inclined cable with the help of a freely moving pulley.

Long before ziplining was a recreational pursuit, however, it served as a means of transportation. The first zipliners were residents of isolated mountain communities who used heavy ropes tied to trees to cross rivers and canyons. Mountain climbers eventually employed the technique. European alpinists are generally credited with developing the early equipment that ultimately formed the basis of ziplining.

Academic origins
Ziplining in Costa MayaYoung and agile scientists were most likely responsible for laying the groundwork for today's ziplining courses. In the 1970s, they were the first to use ziplining techniques to facilitate their field research in the rainforests of Central America. Those resourceful academics took advantage of the tools of the climbing trade, such as harnesses, cables, and pulleys, to make their way into the rainforest canopy. The next logical step was the introduction of the "Tyrolean traverse", or glidepath along a horizontal cable, to travel from tree to tree. Of course, it wasn't long before even the scientists realized that they couldn't keep all the fun to themselves.

Costa Rica, with its extensive system of national parks and proud tradition of environmentalism, emerged at the forefront of eco-tourism and ziplining. By the early 1990s, canopy ziplining had gained a foothold in Costa Rica's eco-tourism industry. The concept proved to be a hit, and new complexes soon spread throughout the Caribbean and beyond.

Safety first
Recently built zipline courses meet the highest safety standards. Industry organizations, such as the Professional Ropes Course Association and the Association for Challenge Course Technologists, have come forward to provide guidelines to tour operators.

As a participant, you can expect to be given a safety helmet and a pair of thick leather gloves. For your comfort and protection, you should wear snug-fitting closed-toe shoes, such as sneakers. Plan on wearing a t-shirt to protect your skin from being chafed by the riding harness. If you have long hair, you'll want to secure it in a ponytail. You'll also want to make sure that any possessions you're carrying are contained in pockets that are buttoned up or zipped tight. With just a few precautions, you can ensure that your ziplining experience will leave you wanting more.

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