Where: Sao Conrado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Best sights: beach surfers the size of ants and the thrill of free flight over the world’s most beautiful aerial city
Remember to bring: an instructor (tandem handgliding is the best bet for beginners) and a camera to clip onto the craft to capture the moment
Watch out for: the big drop if you are paragliding and the wind lets you down!
Flying without wings
Thrill seekers can get their fix in the southern beaches of Rio, where tandem hang gliding and paragliding can be enjoyed with some of the city’s most experienced flyers. There is a rivalry between the two sports, so it might pay to be diplomatic when you approach the guys drinking coffee a block back from the beach; hang gliders tend to look down on paragliders with contempt, and para gliders look down their noses at hang gliders with their fixed wing crafts.
Compared to the restriction of 80 kilos for most tandem hang gliders, the lack of weight restrictions for paragliding might decide which sport you try. Weekends tend to be more expensive; prices can be cheaper by up to 30% for weekdays. Bargain hard, especially with groups of two or more, and pick your pilot carefully if it’s your first time.
After arranging the fee and pilot, you will drive to the top of the Sao Conrado where a wooden platform at the top is the launching point for hang gliders, and underneath the is a rocky area for paragliders. As you suit up, the pilot will be testing the winds, its general direction and speed, and you’ll be coached on how to launch off the limestone mountain.
If you hang glide, the launch is a bit more sedate, with the pilot right next to you as you run down a wooden deck as fast as you can before hurtling off the edge. If you are paragliding, the pilot is behind you, and you must stand in front and run straight off the edge of the rocky cliff with no guarantee that the winds are going to catch the parachute that’s stretched out behind you! You might find the pilot shouting at you in Portuguese to go faster and faster as you frantically try not to look down at the limestone rock that drops 1000 feet down!
Whichever sport you chose, the first instant after you leap off the edge is a sudden rush of air, followed by the smooth sensation of falling gently into a spiral that rapidly takes you away from the mountain and out above the rainforest and luxury villas below.
As the pilot manoeuvres the parachute or hang glider, the descent becomes slower and he catches the rising up-currents of air that rise up off the Atlantic Ocean. By heading out to sea, the ocean waves crash far below you and the surfers look like tiny ants riding the waves. Its common to see birds fly right up to you to see the curious sight of two humans strapped to a flimsy cloth device! If you request it, a lot of the pilots will tie your camera to a special string so you can take a photo of yourself and the pilot; the surrounding green forests and the stunning coastline south of Ipanema make beautiful photographic subjects too.
For twenty minutes the pilot will implement longer and larger turns to preserve the altitude, but soon it will be time to land on the beach. With a few swift moves the pilot brings the parachute around and shouts at you to prepare your feet for landing (no tray tables here to stow!) and then the sand rushes up and boom! You’re back on terra firma.
Though it is expensive, the ride is amazing and shouldn’t be missed; there aren’t many more places on earth more scenic or spectacular to see from the air than Rio De Janiero.
Hang Gliding and Paragliding companies in Rio:
By Dave Lowe