San Gil, Colombia is an adventure traveler’s dream destination. This small town in the hills of northeast Colombia is a short drive from the incredible Chicamocha Canyon. It’s a gateway to waterfall hikes, rafting down rushing rivers, exploring caves, walking ancient Indigenous peoples’ trails, and more. But the best way to experience the natural scenery is to go paragliding in San Gil.
I’ll admit, I was a little hesitant to book a paragliding trip at first. I’m not the best with heights and I’m not a huge adrenaline junkie — cultural activities are more my thing. But I was persuaded by my hostel staff, fellow travelers, and even a bus driver!
In this post, I’ll walk you through what to expect when you go paragliding in San Gil — the perfect adventure activity in Colombia!
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What is paragliding?
Paragliding is an adventure sport in which pilots fly an engine-less “aircraft” consisting of a single wing/parachute. The pilot takes off, lands, steers, and glides using only the winds and air patterns. Skilled pilots can go hundreds or even thousands of meters high.
Unlike skydiving, you never jump out of a plane when you go paragliding. Instead, flights begin by running off the edge of a cliff — where the winds pick up the wing. Similarly, you don’t use a parachute for landing. Instead, the pilot controls the aircraft in a smooth, downward spiral motion until you reach the ground.
When you go paragliding in San Gil, you’ll be strapped into a harness along with a licensed pilot. (Don’t worry, they look young but they’re all super experienced.) You have to help with the launch phase by running and picking up enough speed, but after that you can sit back, relax and let the pilot do all the work.
In order to go paragliding safely, the weather conditions need to be right. Too little wind and you won’t get off the ground, while too much can put the pilot at risk of not being able to control the aircraft. Additionally, the “wrong” winds can make landing in the right place difficult — pilots must have backup landing plans in case they can’t reach their first choice.
Generally paragliding is considered very safe as far as adventure travel goes. Still, before you embark on a paragliding trip, you should make sure your travel insurance will cover it (just in case!).
The two options for paragliding in San Gil
When you arrive in town, you’ll quickly learn that San Gil has two different paragliding options. The first is in Curiti; the second is over Chicamocha Canyon.
You should choose the best option for you based on budget, time, and what you want to see. Hostels and travel agencies can help you decide.
Curiti Paragliding Flight
The Curiti flight is short — you only paraglide for about 10 minutes. It’s also very close to the town of San Gil, so you don’t have to spend much time in the car. The views are beautiful — you’ll see all the local farms in the area and some of the mountain scenery northeast Colombia is so famous for.
Additionally, the cost to paraglide over Curiti is only 80,000 pesos. This makes it pretty budget-friendly, as far as adventure activities go.
Curiti is the best option if you’re on a tight budget or don’t have much time in San Gil. Because the flight is short, it’s also a good choice if you want to try paragliding but you’re prone to motion sickness. (Many people get nauseous while riding the spiraling thermals upward.)
However, the Curiti paragliding spot lacks the spectacular views of the other option. So if you have your heart set on seeing the best scenery, read on.
Chicamocha Paragliding Flight
The alternative to Curiti — and by far the most popular option for paragliding in San Gil — is flying over the Chicamocha Canyon. The canyon is by some accounts the second-largest in the world. So naturally, the views are to die for in this option.
When you go paragliding at Chicamocha, your flight time will range from 30-45 minutes. So you get much longer in the air — which means you can go higher and see more.
However, the downside is the launch point for the Chicamocha site is about a 90-minute drive from San Gil. So this is really an all-day commitment. You’ll leave San Gil around 9 am and you won’t be back until 2 or 3 pm — and that’s if all goes well. Your day could end up being much longer if the pilots need to land in some of the alternative landing spots, which can be as far as 3 hours away by road.
The Chicamocha Canyon paragliding price is also considerably higher — you’ll pay 180,000 pesos for the tour. This includes the driver, paragliding activities, and free bottled water, but doesn’t include lunch.
Still, I’d recommend doing the Chicamocha paragliding flight. You won’t regret the extra expense and time when you’re soaring above the canyon, getting a unique 360-degree panorama of this beautiful landscape.
Booking your San Gil paragliding adventure
Myriad companies offer paragliding trips to both Curiti and Chicamocha from San Gil. You’ll have no problem showing up in town in the evening and finding a tour to join the next morning. In fact, many travelers book their paragliding tours after a couple drinks to combat their fears of heights!
I booked through my hostel — the incredible Sam’s VIP. They know all the tour agencies in town and will book you with the best ones for each activity. They don’t take a commission. I paid a deposit at the hostel when I booked and got a receipt/ticket.
My tour was with Parapente Chicamocha, one of the biggest operators in the area. I was extremely impressed with their efficiency and safety standards and would highly recommend them. (I didn’t partner with them for this post — I paid full price for my tour just like you would, and all views are my own.
If you want to book directly, check out a few different agencies and read TripAdvisor reviews. Most companies have a high level of professionalism. Don’t book through a tout on the street or at the bus station — independent pilots are shadier and you won’t have the same safety guarantees.
My experience paragliding in San Gil with Parapente Chicamocha
After my first day in San Gil visiting the beautiful town of Barichara, I was ready for something more adventurous. So I booked my tour to go paragliding in San Gil at Chicamocha Canyon.
The morning of the tour, I had butterflies in my stomach. I managed to scoff down a couple bananas and some coffee at the hostel while I waited for my pickup. I had no idea what to expect.
The pickup process and the Parapente Chicamocha office
The staff at Sam’s VIP told me to be ready for my pickup between 7:30 and 8:30 am. My ride arrived around 8, and me and three others from my hostel hopped into the large van.
We drove around town for about 30 minutes, picking up others who would be joining us for the day. The van was pretty cramped by the time we got to the Parapente Chicamocha office.
We had a quick stop at the office. Everybody needed to sign waivers and fill out some paperwork. Essential information included height and weight (Americans, make sure you know it in metric!), along with any medical conditions and whether you’re prone to motion sickness. This is all necessary to match you with the correct pilot.
The office had a clean restroom, and you could fill up your water bottle for free. After filling out the paperwork I paid the remainder of my tour price (they accept credit card) and was ready to go. All in all, we spent about 30 minutes getting 30-ish people ready to go. Compared to my nightmarish experience at the Expotur Colombia office when departing for my Lost City Trek, I was very impressed.
Driving to the canyon
Next, we piled back into the van and were on our way! The first 30 minutes of the drive were through congested San Gil traffic. But we eventually turned off onto a country road, where I got my first glimpses of Chicamocha Canyon. The views along the way were stunning, and the road was paved and safe.
After just over an hour on the road, we pulled into a small rest area. Here we could use the clean toilet for free — the last toilet stop of the day. The guides advised us not to eat much before paragliding in San Gil, but we could pick up snacks for later in the day at this stop as well. We spent about 15 minutes at the rest stop.
The last 10 minutes of the drive were the only portion on dirt roads. The road to the launch point wasn’t terrible, but in the beat-up, cramped old van, it was pretty uncomfortable. Luckily it was short.
Finally, around 10:30 am we reached the launch point — basically a strip of dirt in the middle of nowhere. But the views all around us were spectacular. We were totally surrounded by the Chicamocha Canyon. Occasionally another paraglider would come into view from above.
Before we could embark on our flights, we needed to get a short safety briefing from the pilots. This was where we learned how to take off and land.
Our group split into people who preferred to hear the briefing in English and those who preferred Spanish. I went with the English group. The pilot spoke good English, and we had a second translator available in case anyone had any questions he couldn’t understand.
The pilot told us how to strap into the harness, how to run off the cliff and then sit down in the harness, and what to do when landing to avoid injuring ourselves or the pilot. He also explained what to do if you got dizzy or nauseous during the flight, and what would happen if we weren’t able to land in the ideal spot.
The briefing was thorough — it didn’t totally quell my nervousness but it made me feel like I was in good hands. The pilot stuck around for a few minutes to answer questions one-on-one as well.
Then, we got ready for takeoff! Since my group was so big, not everybody would be able to fly at once. The winds are weaker earlier in the day so the smaller guests got to go first. The pilots paired up with us based on height and weight. Then, we all watched in awe and horror as the first person took off for their paragliding in San Gil adventure!
The flight: 45 minutes soaring above Chicamocha Canyon
It wasn’t long before my name was called and I met up with my pilot. He strapped me into the harness and said, “remember, don’t stop running until you go off the cliff.”
Our first launch attempt was a bit of a false start — before we got to the edge, the pilot stopped us because we didn’t have enough speed. Then, before I knew it, he was yelling “run” again — and we were off! The whole thing took about 20 seconds, not even leaving me enough time to be scared.
We were in the air for about 5 seconds when my pilot told me to sit down and look around. We were flying far above the canyon. The aircraft moved surprisingly fast as we spiraled upward using the thermals. I can definitely understand why some people get nauseous — it’s like being on those swing rides at the carnival.
But once we reached our desired height, paragliding in San Gil changed from an adrenaline experience to a peaceful, relaxing one. The views were amazing, but more than that, it was such a unique experience to coast around the canyon. There was total silence aside from the occasional flapping of the wing — no engine to disturb us.
We spent the first 20 minutes of the flight going down into the canyon, and the second 20 minutes climbing back out. My pilot took me a bit further away from the other groups at the beginning so for awhile, we were the only ones around.
When it was time to land, my pilot wanted to try to get back to the same place we’d taken off from. This is ideal because it means you don’t have to drive back to meet up with the rest of your group — saving hours from the total trip time. But it involved a slightly-stressful, slightly-nausea-inducing 10 minutes of climbing upward in a fast figure-8 pattern to try to get to the correct height.
Our first try at landing totally failed — we didn’t descend fast enough and we overshot the landing zone. So it was back up for another 5 minutes of spiraling around. We made it on the second try for a smooth landing. Well, if you call sliding-20-meters-on-your-butt smooth.
After the paragliding flight: Back to town
Since I was one of the smaller people in my group, my flight finished early. So after I was done paragliding in San Gil I had to wait for over an hour for everyone else to finish. This gave me some time to walk around and admire the views even more from the ground.
Unfortunately, the launch point didn’t really have any shade. After sitting in the sun for awhile it got pretty hot. Luckily Parapente Chicamocha provided ice-cold water.
Finally everyone was finished — we got lucky and every single person in my group was able to land in the same spot that we took off from. So by around 1 pm we were packing back into the van for the drive back to San Gil.
We stopped at the same rest area again to pick up more snacks and use the restroom. Then, it was about an hour-long drive back to town. We dropped everyone off at their hostels or in the central plaza. And with that, the adventure was over. I arrived back at Sam’s VIP around 2 pm, happy and satisfied with my experience.
What to bring for paragliding in San Gil
Paragliding isn’t as much of an adventure sport as some might think, but there are still a few packing essentials if you want to do this on your Colombia trip.
First and foremost, you must wear close-toed shoes to go paragliding. Even strap-on sandals are risky. Bring sneakers for this activity.
Since you’ll be sitting in the sun all day, I’d recommend wearing long pants and at least covering your shoulders to avoid getting burned. A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are also helpful. Some people get cold while flying — if you’re sensitive to the cold, bring a light fleece.
You should definitely bring a camera to capture the views from the launch point. You can bring your camera on the flight as well — although if you drop it, you’re never getting it back. I didn’t want to take the chance. If you have your heart set on capturing photos, you can rent a Go Pro from the Parapente Chicamocha staff for around $20.
If you bring a day pack, you can leave it at the launch point during your flight. The staff from Parapente Chicamocha watch it the whole time.
What to do after your San Gil paragliding trip
Paragliding is the most popular activity in San Gil, but it’s not the only adventure sport you can do. If you have a couple more days in town, consider white water rafting, waterfall rappelling, canyoning, caving, or bungee jumping. You can book everything at Sam’s VIP hostel. This article has a full list of things to do in San Gil.
Only in town for a day? No problem! After you finish your paragliding trip, walk around and explore the town. While it lacks the architectural beauty of places like Cartagena and Jardin, it’s a super-pleasant typical small Colombian city. Locals are friendly and there aren’t many other tourists around.
The central plaza is the place to hang out in the afternoons and evenings. Buy an ear of roasted corn or an ice cream from the street vendors and people-watch. Alternatively, walk down to the riverfront and explore the nearby park — it’s full of wild tropical vegetation.
Finally, no San Gil travel guide would be complete without mentioning the best thing in town — eating at Gringo Mike’s. I know, I know, you’re supposed to eat local when you travel. But who can resist an incredible meal of typical American comfort food in the candle-lit courtyard of a colonial building? Plus it has some of the best vegetarian food I’ve had on all my travels. Order one of the mammoth veggie burgers or go with the perfect, gut-busting veggie burrito. Everything is good, and at 15,000-ish COP per dish, it’s shockingly affordable.
Paragliding in San Gil was one of my favorite activities in Colombia. While I went into it thinking it would be scary, it ended up being relaxing and beautiful. So even if you’re not big on adventure, I’d still highly recommend this trip if you’ll be in San Gil on your Colombia travels!
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