By Steven Nelson
February 8, 2012
One of the most adventurous activities that you can do in Brazil, or anywhere else for that matter, is to take a Tandem Hang-Gliding lesson in Rio de Janeiro that has you taking off from the mountain and landing on the beach.
The flights are done as a first lesson in hang-gliding with a fully qualified instructor with many hours experience of flying in the area and elsewhere around Brazil and the world. Full safety instructions and practice take-offs and landings are done before you are strapped into your equipment. Helmets and safety harness are included for every learner, and videos make part of the instruction as you sign up for your lesson at the west end of São Conrado Beach in Rio. This beach is on the other side of the Dois Irmaos (‘Two Brothers’) peaks that can be seen in the background of most photos looking along Ipanema and Leblon Beaches, and in the shadow of the mighty Pedra da Gavea.
The take-off ramp sits near the top of Pedra Bonita, a 696m/2,297ft high mountain set in the Tijuca Forest National Park, and covered with Atlantic Rainforest on its slopes. There is a R$15 entry fee to pay to access the ramp inside the park, and this makes part of the instructions at the bottom of the hill. Once you have signed up, you and your wings will be whisked up through the steep, winding roads of Vila Canoa and into the forest. After you have climbed up the mountain to the ramp at 636m/2,099ft, you will begin the process of jumping off it.
As the instructor finalises the preparations of the wings, you will also be helped with the putting on of your helmet and safety harness, just in case your hands are not working as they should! The spectacular view, way down to the high-rise buildings of São Conrado may induce a few nerves at this point. A couple of practice runs at the top of the ramp give you the idea of how to take off and overcome any nerves. It really is quite simple, all you have to do is to run and look to the horizon. Most people can manage that!
The first moment of take off is of course the one that induces most adrenaline as your feet begin to run on fresh air and your stomach drops with the wings. You soon begin to soar high above the forest, circling above the hillside houses Vila Canoa and São Conrado, with the Gavea Golf & Country Club below you. Your eagle-eye views take in the spread of the Rocinha Favela, the Avenida Niemeyer leading to Leblon and the Joa Flyover and Tunnels that take traffic around the rocks to Barra da Tijuca.
If the winds are favourable, you can take the controls as you wind slowly downwards, before you head out over the clear Atlantic Ocean, swooping again to gain your landing course. Your final descent comes into the wind on the sands of Praia Pepino, with your legs unharnessed to enable you to run with the hang-glider. One final push and your wings rear up and pull to a stop, with your feet safely on the sand once more.
You will find the smile doesn’t leave your face as you discuss the flight with your friends, and look over the photos and video from the wing-cam with your instructor, who may well also be smiling. Your happiness is their spiritual food as they say.
Even if your first lesson is your only flight, you are guaranteed at leave one very special memory of your time in Brazil after your tandem hang-gliding experience in Rio de Janeiro.
Activity Information: Tandem Hang-Gliding Lessons are limited by the weather of course. Heavy rain, strong winds and low clouds can all mean that flights are not possible at certain times.
Weight Limit: There is a 95kg/209lb maximum weight limit for the tandem hang-gliding flights in Rio de Janeiro. If conditions are perfect, flights for slightly larger people may be possible.
Age Limit: 16 Years Old is the lower age limit. There is no upper age limit, and we’ve flown with senior citizens approaching their 70th birthdays! If people of advanced years can manage with no fear, then anyone below 40 years old has no excuses at all not to fly!
You can visit Steve’s blog at Around Brazil: The Botanical Gardens, Rio de Janeiro
Around Brazil: Praia do Pontal, Macumba, Prainha & Grumari (Rio de Janeiro)
Around Brazil: Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro