Paragliding Paradise in Colombia

February 2006

Flying over Chicamocha Canyon
High above Chicamocha Canyon

Chicamocha Canyon

Peter over Chicamocha Canyon Set up very carefully for your best forward launch and wait for a cycle. If you are lucky the wind might come up from the canyon, but more likely you will be waiting for the tail wind to drop to zero. Run as fast as you can. Check your wing. If you get to the edge and everything isn't perfect, stop! That next step is 4,000 feet straight down.

Really, there is plenty of room here to get your forward in shape before the edge. It is a good long run down a gently sloping grass field. Once you clear the edge, look down. Look way down. Most likely you will soon catch a thermal and rise over launch. Just follow the chulos.

The launch is 5,700' MSL on the Mesa de Los Santos, world famous for its delicious organic coffee. The climate is perfect for coffee and very pleasant for pilots, too. The cool morning gives way to clear skies and sunshine. Just when it is about to get too hot, the clouds gather over the mesa and cool things down again. No wonder it is such a popular weekend getaway for Colombians. Already, Europeans and North Americans are snapping up properties to build vacation homes here.

Richi and Annie have purchased a property right on the edge of the canyon. When they finish building their house and grading a launch, it will be paraglider heaven. You will be able to sit on the veranda sipping your morning coffee and watching the cycles. When everything looks perfect, stroll to your waiting wing and join the chulos in the air. Fly the 25 minute sled ride to the LZ below, or circle above and top land near the house. Or, go XC and land by the golf course.

Russell Parawaiting Unusually, the thermal cycles coming up from the canyon weren't able to break the prevailing wind from the west this morning. We wait for a couple of hours and watch the windsock. The wind continues to blow off the mesa. Parawaiting in Colombia. Richi gives us the option of going back to Ruitoque for some afternoon flying, but we elect to hang out at the Casa Vuelo Libre. An afternoon break from flying. A nice long siesta in a comfortable hammock in the cool temperatures of the mesa. This was the only day we didn't fly in the whole trip.

We have two more mornings launching from the Mesa de Los Santos into the canyon. The first morning finds us scratching about in the canyon, climbing ridges and catching thermals until the wind begins to pick up and we descend to the LZ by the river. If the air gets rough, just stay over the river where it is smooth as silk.

The next day we all catch some great thermals right off launch and head for the clouds. The clouds here don't seem as unfriendly as back home. When you can't see the ground it is time for ears. Most of the time the air in the clouds is as smooth as the air under a blue sky.

The views down into the canyon are spectacular. The Grand Canyon is 5,000 feet from the rim to the river near the Grand Canyon Village. Here the depth is "only" 4,000 feet. They won't let you fly in the Grand Canyon. The Chicamocha Canyon is a unique opportunity to fly over one of nature’s wonders.

Descending into the canyon from cloudbase, there are numerous flat areas to land near the river. The climate change is amazing. The LZ is baking hot. We strip off our flight suits and quickly pack up.

Eating Empanadas at the Tienda

Just up the road is a tienda. In Colombia there is always a tienda just up the road. Cold drinks and freshly baked papas rellenos and empanadas await us.

Also for sale along the road is the local specialty. Hawkers come to the car with plastic bags of snack food hanging from long poles. The local snack is unique to this area and is something everyone should try once. Deep fried and salted hormigas culonas literally means big ass ants. I think they taste like the unpopped kernels of popcorn at the bottom of the container. They are reputed to be an aphrodisiac and are often served at wedding banquets. These leaf cutter ants are the biggest in the world.

We were still hot from packing up in the sauna-like temperatures of the LZ, so the thing to do is cool off in the cool waters of the river. The water flows down from high peaks and is just the refreshment required at a time like this. There are numerous stops along the road where we can jump in for a quick dip, even when the park is closed.

Chicamocha River
South Launch

Not far below Chiflas Restaurant on the south ridge of the canyon is the South Launch. The launch is a short hike from a parking area at 5,000' MSL. The LZ is the same as the Mesa Launch, 3,300 feet below. Unless you take the high route and fly across the canyon to the Mesa for a much cooler landing, as Russell did.

Last week, Richi and Russell arrived here to find the army doing exercises. The young soldiers enjoyed watching the group launch.

This week we arrived to find a swarm of small children chasing a soccer ball around the parking area. With a 3,300 foot drop off the edge, I am sure they learn excellent ball handling skills very early in life.

Watch the ball

Russell attempts to land on the tailgate
Russell attempts to land on the tailgate

Peter Jennings