The first rope bridges – predecessors to suspension bridges such as the Golden Gate – were built in South America during the Inca Empire.
Built to connect cities which were separated by deep, wide gorges (some up to 100 meters wide, they were constructed using huge stones as anchors, plant fiber ropes as cables and guardrails, and woven footpaths. The cables were replaced every year by local villagers to fulfill public service obligations. Because of this high level of maintenance, some of the bridges carried foot traffic as well as livestock for hundreds of years. One of these is still in use, and is still maintained yearly by local residents.
Two types of Monkey Bridges are built today.
One, patterned after Vietnamese bamboo ‘Monkey Bridges’ which were used until recently by villagers for crossing channels, is built, using rope, as a scouting project.
The Vietnamese bridges consisted of two bamboo poles attached with vines. One of the poles served as a walking surface – kind of like a tightrope – and the other pole served as a handrail.
In the scouting design, a length of manila rope serves as the walking surface, and there are usually two rope hand rails.
The term ‘monkey bridge’ appears to have originated in the 1990’s by a Vietnamese author who thought the bamboo bridges looked like they were not built by humans.
The second type is literally a bridge for monkeys, consisting of a rope which connects trees, simulating the way trees were once connected by natural vines, in rain forests in Costa Rica. Titi monkeys, an endangered species whose numbers have declined due to their being hit by cars while crossing roads and being electrocuted by electric wires, use these single-rope bridges as safe transportation. “Kids Saving Rain Forests” is an organization who encourages students to sponsor building of these bridges.
On a smaller scale, ‘squirrel bridges’ have been built in Scotland to provide squirrels with an alternative to crossing heavily trafficked streets.
Tree Top Walks
Suspension bridges using steel cable have been built at canopy level over dense forests, allowing visitors a previously unavailable close-up view of birds, monkeys, and trees. Similar walks are sometimes included in high rope challenge courses.