Paragliding Paradise in Colombia
Hanging out, waiting for the sun to set at Ruitoque
Richi and me. It's time to launch
Imagine a site where the thermals begin at 10:30 every morning. Where the launch is an acre or more of smooth soft grass. Where the wind blows straight on. Where Chulos climb marking every thermal. Where the temperature is warm enough to go to cloudbase in a thin jacket. This is the Aguilas launch on Ruitoque near Bucaramanga.
Aguilas is 3700' MSL with a 750' vertical to the main LZ, a comfortable 6:1 glide away. Several bailout LZs can be reached easily if you sink out. The road to launch is in the process of being paved. The prevailing NW wind picks up as the day heats up and there are several knolls triggering thermals. When I was there, cloudbase was 5-6,000 feet but it can be much higher.
On the weekend a party atmosphere prevails at the onsite snackbar with a barbeque, snacks (those tasty Colombian empanadas!), and a gathering of the local pilots, many giving tandem flights to the stunningly beautiful Bucaramanga girls.
We flew on 10 days during our visit to Colombia. 7 flights were from the Aguilas launch. There were a few pianos, local slang for sled rides, some good thermal flights after 11:00 am, and some ridge soaring on the one afternoon launch. My maximum altitude from this launch was 6,300 feet, (2,400 over launch) and the longest flight was 2 hours and 15 minutes. Several flights were ended only because conditions were picking up and ears were used to descend from cloudbase to land before the wind picked up around 12:30 or 1:00 pm.
The Chulos were amazing lift markers. All you had to do was look for the columns of birds and fly there to go up, up, up.
The local pilots were friendly and helpful. Some of them fly every day here and log more than 1,000 flights a year. Their intimate knowledge of the site and their flying skills were spectacular.
On weekends you can count on there being a few youngsters eager to help you fold your wing. These are the future pilots of Bucaramanga.
A little over a mile southwest of the Aguilas launch is the Vuelo Libre launch. You can fly here from Aguilas by following the ridge (it’s just past the waterfall) or follow the dirt road with your vehicle.
A huge gentle sloping field faces the prevailing afternoon wind, providing a great place to launch, soar the 5 miles of ridge, and top land. It would be the perfect location to practise kiting, too, if it weren't such a wonderful flying site that you don't want to stay on the ground. The locals learn to fly at Vuelo Libre.
Vuelo Libre is at 4,000 feet MSL. The same LZs are available below the ridge, but the wind is consistent and laminar, making for a great top landing site. Out front the thermals persist until the sun gets low in the sky.
Russell packs up in the last light of the day
Some days Vuelo Libre is soarable until the sun goes down...or longer. As your mother used to tell you, when the street lights come on, it is time to go home.
All four of my flights here were more than an hour long. When I got in front of Vuelo Libre on my last day, I decided to fly back to the Hotel Club Campestre. I almost made it, but ran out of thermals and encountered some sink and a headwind. Fortunately, I found a great grass field with a few grazing horses to land in. Unfortunately, the great field and the horses belonged to the local mounted police.
Not long after landing, I found myself in the interesting predicament of having to explain why I had fallen from the sky on the inside of their carefully guarded compound.
They were friendly, but thorough in their questioning, and after some discussion, some paperwork, and many a sidelong glance, they called me a taxi and sent me on my way.
As this was my last flight before the trip home, I was really glad to find such a beautifully groomed field to fold my wing tightly for the final packing.
Sitting by the pool with a cold drink and an ice cream cone, I could look up to Ruitoque and watch Russell and Morgan still flying high above the ridge as the sun sank in the west.
Examining the GPS profile of my flight later, I discovered that if I had applied speedbar for the final glide from 5,500 feet, I would have had no problem penetrating to the golf course at the Club Campestre. Live and learn.
Every day at Ruitoque begins and ends at La Gitanilla, the tienda on the road up Ruitoque. Pick up some bottled water and snacks on the way up.
Stop in on the way back down for a cold Aguila and some animated discussion of the day’s flights. You will meet lots of local pilots and their girlfriends here.
Don’t forget to pick up a few T-shirts and helmet bags.