Back to Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour

Thursday 13th October 2011

by Joanne C. Hillhouse
It’s been weeks since I zipped through the forest as a guest of the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Company and, still, it makes me smile. Part of the appeal was the time spent with one of my nephews. Part was the fear factor that comes of being suspended from cables several hundred feet in the air, travelling at high speeds (thanks to a pulley system you don’t really understand the physics of).

Who knew fear was such a rush!?
“If you’re scared of heights, it’s perfect,” said ARC employee Nian Blanchard as he gave me a preliminary tour. Perhaps he heard the hammering of my heart as he continued, “something that’s a little scary but fun is always good, like going to an amusement park.”
I’ve been to amusement parks with their multiplicity of pulse pounding rides. This was altogether different.
Part of what makes it distinctly Caribbean is how much the activity makes you feel a part of the natural environment, a real life ‘Survivor’; the wind whipping at you, the blood pumping through your veins as you quite literally fly through the most forested area of Antigua.
The lines run from one massive tree to another; mini tree houses cut unobtrusively into the natural decor. You’re prompted to push off from one tree, legs extended, careening towards another tree – half certain you’re about to face-plant into its implacable trunk. First few zips, you can’t even look. But once you open your eyes and maybe even look down at the dense greenness all around, you’ll discover the bird’s eye view is as much a part of the appeal as the adrenaline rush.
And the truth is while it feels the good-side-of-dangerous, it never feels unsafe. Part of that is the safety talk and mini-demonstration before moving out. You’re well harnessed, gloved, and helmeted, and there’s a natural breaking mechanism for the times when you can’t remember how to “Stop!”
If you manage to stop short of the platform, and lack the upper body strength to, hand-over-hand, pull yourself in, which I had to do at least once, the rangers will come get you.
The high point of your zipping adventure is ‘The Screamer’ – a line 325 feet wide, 300 feet high. By the time you come up on ‘The Screamer’ you’ll have conquered a few more manageable lines and feel amped for something more challenging. Your gut will clench as much in trepidation as anticipation, as you leap, open your mouth and “OoooooooOooh!”
The few remaining zips after this can feel anticlimactic. These, and one admittedly daunting drop later, it’s over – unless you decide to venture forth and tackle the suspension bridges, Leap of Faith, and other challenges along the obstacle course.
Kids aren’t allowed on the obstacle course, so my nephew and I parted ways with the rest of our group and began the lengthy climb up, up, up. Yes, it’s a bit of a climb, but there are strategically placed water-stops along the curving wooden stairway to the top and you take it at your own pace. We took the last flight with renewed energy, proud of ourselves and eager to share our adventure.
The Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour company averages about 80 visitors per day, appealing to tourists looking for an adventure beyond the beach, and, increasingly, locals hankering for a staycation experience. This, Blanchard said, includes church and youth groups, and companies looking for team building experiences. What I discovered just from the make-up of my tour group is that it’s also good for couples and families.
It you yearn for the ultimate eco-adventure, and are in good health; check it out. A scenic drive through rural Antigua will get you there, and you’ll find it, quite literally, thrilling!  
Previously published in ZING, the LIAT In-flight magazine; posted with the author’s permission.

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