Rio’s world-famous landscape is a vision to fly above, though most of us will see it only from the famous cable car up to Sugar Loaf Mountain and the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer. More adventurous travelers seeking to slip the surly bonds of earth, however, have another option.
Paragliding (or parapente) is a photogenic sport sometimes described as a combination of hang gliding and parachuting. Paragliders take off from some point high up, usually a dramatic rocky outcropping or cliff face, though some experts begin their adventure atop tall buildings. Your flight is supported by “wing” or “air foil,” which superficially resembles a parachute, but is much more carefully designed and easily controlled. It can silently carry you hundreds of meters across the world below.
To enjoy a solo flight, you must enroll in pricey classes that usually require a five-day commitment, well worth it for some. Before committing, however, you can enjoy a tandem flight with a certified instructor, a specialty here amidst the dramatic granite peaks of Rio de Janeiro.
In Rio, you’ll begin at the Rampa Pedra Bonita, a popular spot not just for hang gliding and paragliding, but also as a base for the hikes through the granite peaks above the city. After a short course in safety and operation, you’ll be suited up (ask if you’d like your camera tied to the contraption) with an instructor, who will be in full control of the wing.
Your glide takes you on a bird’s eye tour of Tijuca National Park, the world’s largest urban rainforest, then above the gleaming skyscrapers of the posh Sao Conrado neighborhood. Then, thermals permitting, it’s over the Atlantic, where you’ll see sailboats and surfers in the foam far below, before winging your way back to the beach for a sandy landing. Youtube has scores of videos on file; check them out for a sample rush before committing.
Or, are you ready for the full course so you can do this solo, every single day for the rest of your life? This is not an uncommon reaction, as evidenced by the many Rio residents who are certified to paraglide.
If this is you, note that Brazil has more than a dozen recognized world-class sites for paragliding scattered throughout the enormous country. The most famous of are Governador Valadares, a mid-sized city about 500km (300mi) northwest of Rio presided over by the epic 990m (3,247ft) Ibituruna, a massive volcanic plug; and Castelo, about 350 km (217mi) north of Rio, and home to the upcoming 2012 Brazil Paragliding World Cup.
There’s so much more for serious paragliders in Brazil, though no flight in the world could possibly match the views across this Marvelous City.