Paragliding in Roldanillo, Colombia


Dirt path leading up a hillside, surrounded by fog

Photo is at the takeoff in Roldanillo. Most days, when we got to the top, we emerged into fog, which we had to wait for before we could take off. 

Written Spring 2013

I just finished the best day of paragliding I’ve ever had, and they tell me that the conditions weren’t even very good.

This morning I got up at 7 am and went to the bakery to eat fresh ham and cheese croissants with pineapple in them. It had been so long since I ate a croissant fresh from the oven that I burned my lip on them. So worth it.

Afterwards I took my paragliding gear to a house where my friend’s staying (I’m at the hotel around the corner) and we talked about what to do that day. I joined a safari-style four wheeler hand-painted in brightly colored designs on every surface, put my bag on the roof and joined around 15 other pilots to drive up to the Roldanillo launch site on a beautiful and extremely windy road. We got off and let the truck drive our bags to the top, walking the final leg, which added some great suspense to my first site of the place.

No fewer than four of the local and visiting pilots told me everything I needed to know about the launch site and landing options. There were many, many landing options, as this is a site known for cross-country flying. Some of the best pilots in the world fly here, the Colombian cup is held here, and the World Cup of Paragliding happens here all the time, the next time in 2015. I was invited here by two pilots who rank in the top three for women’s cross country and women’s acro.

Jeep at paragliding launch site in Roldanillo

The launch site extends like a little peninsula out into space, and the view is spectacular. Most mornings once they arrive, the clouds are still at launch level, so they have to wait for them to rise while they set up. After watching several launches and then seeing the pro I was tailing take off, I was ready and performed a reverse launch in the smallest space I’ve ever launched from, and I was flying.

It being my first flight at a new site, I wanted to fly past the power lines and into the valley, but on the way there I passed through the house thermals, originating at the edge of a hilltop with a beautiful little house on it and a well-manicured garden marked with what I think were arrangements of little white stones around the various vegetables. It was hard to tell from so high up.

Then I flew on and over the lower hillsides, doing some ridge soaring and generally just playing with the excellent lift there. Finally I decided it was time to go scope out my landing zone, and I flew over next to the town of Roldanillo, where all my friends and I live, where I eat ice cream, where we go out to restaurants and bars. I had so many options to land that I picked the closest to town, a clear pasture in use by a few tiny-looking cows. Even down here I still had plenty of lift, so I played around and scoped out the different other places I could land until I finally just pulled big ears to come down. Having had ages to consider my approach, I touched down lightly, parked my brakes and turned to look at the nearest cow while bunching up my lines in neat loops to carry my glider over my shoulder. Even though people land here all the time, this cow clearly had no idea what I was. Were I a cow, I’m sure I wouldn’t either.

A cow bending down to sniff my paraglider in Roldanillo, Colombia.

I walked probably ten steps before these two local kids around ten years old showed up and offered to fold my glider for me. They did a better job than I could have done, and left me free to drink water and celebrate internally while checking out the farm and the abundant, very loud but pleasant birds that live on the farm, apparently in symbiosis with the cows.

After I paid them about a dollar each, one of the kids led me back to my hotel (I carried his bike over the fence for him) through the streets of the town I’d just checked out from paraglider’s eye view, past the church and the park filled with people here to celebrate Semana Santa, past the local art museum and the bakery where I had breakfast.

I grabbed another snack from the bakery and went back to the house of the pro showing me around for the day to lie in a hammock and play with the litter of rhodesian ridgebacks while waiting for him to finish his tandem flights.

After some nice R&R we headed out to another fly site, Anselmo Nuevo, about an hour away. The whole time, Nano, the pro I was tagging along with, explained the site to me and told me all about cross country in the area – it’s a big valley formed by two long hill ranges that receives wind over the jungle from the pacific, 100km away. We got to the top and the pro’s tandem customer asked me if I was afraid the first time I flew, and I told her that there’s nothing to be scared of, and she’d know that as soon as she took off.

Flew another very pretty and diverse site, and landed in the most fun landing zone I’ve seen – a pasture composed of many small, green, cow-groomed hills with little valleys in between them. Another kid came and helped me get my stuff together and we went up for another flight. This time, in order to land down wind, I flew nice and low over the town of Anselmo Nuevo, marveling because this was the first time I had flown so close to building and streets – it was so cool to watch people going about their days.

Afterwards we sat on the hill nearest town and a kid who worked in one of the local stores brought us some beers then came to hang out. I liked him, because he would rib the other pilots in spanish I could understand about not wanting to pay for their beers.

I drank my water and stared out at the rolling hillsides before me – they filled the pasture we had landed in, then extended out and grew in both directions. Within about thirty seconds of me sitting down with my harness as a pillow, a little flock of white birds took off and flew past us towards the town.

Single trees dotted a few of the hills in our pasture, and again I watched the cows and some more of their bird friends in the next pasture over.

The child of some friends of the pilots came over to hang out, and recited to me the names in english for horses and cows. Other kids climbed the tree behind us as we chatted about how magical this place was and what the clouds meant about flying conditions. Eventually I couldn’t help it any more and started walking through the field and examining fun potential landing spots on the hillsides.

We had a great dinner in town, including what they called a consomée, however you would spell that in spanish, comprising a nice broth, delicious livers and little arepas. This was followed by fried fish for Semana Santa and all the usual stuff, fries, beans, rice, platano maduro, and some very tasty lulo juice.

The ride back to town was as far as the ride out, but part of it was by collectivo instead of tourist-driven four-by-four.

I just got back to my hotel for a nice hot shower and to write this down. As I was coming in, Jonathan, the owner, told me that today’s conditions weren’t even very good, and I can expect most days to be better than this.

Time for ice cream.

Photo is at the takeoff in Roldanillo. Most days, when we got to the top, we emerged into fog, which we had to wait for before we could take off. 

Posted on by Brandon Green in Uncategorized

About Brandon Green

Brandon is a former investment banker who now travels the world full time. Brandon is on twitter @brandonbrucegreen and on Google +.