Pleasures don’t come much simpler than a zip line. But something magical happens when you stretch a cable over a great span and glide—using only gravity and a harness—across a gorgeous natural landscape like a bird on the wing.
Historically, zip lines were purely functional, often used to deliver goods across great distances in mountainous countries. Then, in the 1970s, researchers in Costa Rica began to realize the potential of these cables and began stringing them up through the rainforests as a way to get around more quickly and easily. It wasn’t long before they started to see the great tourism potential of their newest mode of transportation, which allows for both an adrenaline rush and a great learning experience.
Enthusiasts will assure you that riding on different zip lines can be like tasting the subtle nuances in unique bottles of wine. Thanks to variables like length, height, altitude, angle and speed, each zipline has its own character. You might encounter one that’s meandering, scenic and family-friendly. Or, like a barrelling roller coaster with a one-track mind, there are others that are speed demons, rushing back to Earth at up to 100 mph.
And, like in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Once confined to tropical destinations like Central America, commercial zip lines and canopy tours made their way to America for the first time in 2002. Now you’ll find them everywhere from a slate quarry in Wales to an underground mine in Kentucky to a former Olympic stadium in Utah to an archaeological park surrounding Angkor Wat.
We’ve collected some of the longest, fastest, steepest and most unique zip lines in the world—now get zipping!
1. Gravity Canyon Flying Fox—Taihape, New Zealand
There’s something too cutesy about the local Kiwi name for a zip line—a flying fox—that doesn’t quite get at the exhilarating experience of racing through Gravity Canyon at speeds ranging between 80 and 100 mph. Best of all, you’ll be doing the whole thing facedown, Superman-style, either by yourself or in tandem with one or two of your friends.
2. Amazonia Expedition—Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Reserve, Peru
Tucked into the westernmost stretches of the Amazon rainforest, Peru’s Amazonia Expeditions eco-resort is very remote. But the four-hour speedboat journey from the airport in Iquitos is well worth the trip: The Amazon’s longest zip line canopy tour is affiliated with the only tour company allowed to operate within the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Reserve, renowned for its record-breaking biodiversity. On this zip line, you have the unique ability to control your speed, so you can slow down, speed up or stop altogether if you see a great wildlife photo op.
Price: $1,295 for eight days all-inclusive
3. Dragon’s Breath Flight Line—Labadee, Haiti
You’ll have to head to Royal Caribbean’s private Haitian island to try out the longest overwater zip line in the world. Starting 500 feet above the beaches of Labadee on Dragon’s Breath Rock, this 2,600-foot zipline glides you over the turquoise waters of Buccaneers’ Bay at speeds of 40 to 50 mph, landing you safely on the soft white sand on the other side.
4. Flight of the Gibbon—Angkor, Cambodia
There aren’t many places in the world where you can combine a zip line adventure with a history lesson. Opened this June, the brand-new Flight of the Gibbon is perfectly situated for both in the Angkor Archaeological Park, a 154-square-mile UNESCO World Heritage Site containing the famed Angkor Wat temple. The course boasts ten zip lines, four sky bridges, and 21 platforms high up in the trees, from which you’ll be able to spot reintroduced gibbons.
5. La Bestia at Toro Verde Adventure Park—Orocovis, Puerto Rico
Many zip lines claim to give riders a bird’s-eye view, but few deliver on the promise as well as La Bestia ("The Beast") at the Toro Verde Adventure Park, an hour outside of San Juan. You’ll be strapped face-down into a special harness, allowing you to glide, arms outstretched, exactly like a bird—or Superman. And you’ll reach superhuman heights along the way: At 853 feet above the jungle floor, La Bestia is considered one of the highest zip lines in the world.
6. Mega Zips at Mega Cavern—Louisville, Kentucky
Built in a former limestone pit mine that stretches for 100 acres under Louisville, Mega Zips at Mega Cavern is the first and only underground zip line in the world. These mines were dug in the 1930s and operated for almost 42 years, leaving behind 17 miles of corridors in deep, man-made caverns with ceilings over 90 feet tall in places. The guided tour lasts two hours, with narration about mining and geology and rides on six different zip lines, including a racing zip.
7. Miss Sky Canopy Tour—Nosara, Costa Rica
Costa Rica has become synonymous with the sport of zip lining—in fact, it caught on about 30 years earlier in Central America than it did in the U.S. So it’s no wonder that the country is home to the longest zip line canopy tour in the world. At about 7 miles long and boasting 21 separate runs, Miss Sky Canopy Tour in the Pacific Coast province of Guanacaste is nearly twice as long as its nearest rival. More importantly, the course weaves through a lush tropical landscape of waterfalls, mountain ridges and forested valleys.
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