Paragliding is becoming quite the popular pastime for Colombia travelers these days: it’s a growing day-trip trend from Bogota, Medellin and Bucaramanga, as visitors to Colombia bid to break the bonds of gravity and laugh in the face of the gods…or at least hover in the sky for 15 minutes! However, in spite of the growing popularity of the activity in these places, if you want to go paragliding in Colombia, there is really only one choice worth speaking of…San Gil. And, more specifically, the Chicamocha Canyon…
San Gil is Colombia’s adventure playground, as adrenaline junkies flock to the pretty Santander pueblo in search of fast-flowing rivers, clear skies and deep caves, to ride down, float in, or scramble through! Paragliding is one of the most popular of these activities (and perfect if, like me, you like the sense of the extreme with less of the actual extremeness!), and there are two options when paragliding in San Gil.
The first is the basic flight: this leaves from near the village of Curiti and costs around 60.000 COP for about 15/20 minutes in the air (prices, especially if you have a group, are often negotiable – give it a go!). This flight takes you up over a flat plain of tobacco plantations, with distant views of the ridges and valleys of Chicamocha (as seen in the below picture) – it’s great fun, but the problem is simply this: once you’re done, you’ll want more!
That’s where the big-boy option enters the frame – at 170.000 (although, as a group of 5 we were able to bring it down to 150.000 per head), paragliding the Chicamocha Canyon ain’t cheap…but it sure is worth it! I’ve been mildly addicted to paragliding ever since my first experience in Bucaramanga last year, but this experience was unlike any other paragliding in Colombia that I have done. The views are breathtaking (and I mean that often literally), and the location for the launch (on a small ridge jutting between arms of the canyon) means that the height of your flight is practically double that of any other, as you soar effortlessly (don’t say that to your flight partner…there’s actually quite a lot of effort!) above one of the largest canyons in the world!
Just hanging out waiting for your flight is a pretty special couple of hours (before and after flying, and we were a big group, it doesn’t always take as long): the views along the canyon are just as spectacular as you’ll find at the official Chicamocha Park, and the peace and solitude is immense. However, it’s the flying you’re here for, right?! And fly you do, as you run over the edge of the canyon (securely strapped in,and with a trained pilot to do all the work) and the wind catches your wings, taking you up so high that the landscape is almost rendered childlike in it’s minuteness down below…
Make sure to ask your pilot for some aerobatics (if you’re not soft of stomach that is!): during my 40-plus minutes in the air, we looped-the-looped multiple times, which was…disconcerting to say the least! Apparently it looks better from the ground! The experience is a novel one: being in the air is strangely calming, as the silence and the air on your face lull you into a calm. It’s also the best way to experience one of Colombia’s most beautiful and incomparable landscapes…the stunning Chicamocha Canyon. So when you pay a visit to San Gil, make sure you have one priority: paragliding the Chicamocha Canyon!
Practical guide: San Gil is about 5/6 hours from Bogota by bus, and Bucaramanga (along the stunning Chicamocha road) in just over 2. The best hostels in town are Sams VIP and Macondo, both of which will happily arrange paragliding flights for you. make sure to negotiate for a discount, especially with a group (prices in the article). The drive to the takeoff site in Chicamocha is about an hour each way, and you’ll be in the air for 40 minutes to an hour, weather depending. There’s no real need to book long in advance, just make your enquiries the day before. Happy gliding!