Paragliding in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is an adventurer’s dream – from horseback riding and river rafting to world-class surfing and deep sea diving – there is something for every type of outdoor enthusiast. The latest activity to join the list of sports is paragliding. Imagine soaring like a bird over the Pacific Ocean or gliding high above a tropical rain forest.
Now with the use of a paraglide, you can explore the beauty of Costa Rica from high in the clouds. A paraglider is an non-motorized, foot-launched aircraft controlled by the pressure of air entering the front of the wing. The pilot, directing the flight path, sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing.
For novice paragliders, tandem flights are now offered near the Central Pacific port town of Puntarenas. No experience is necessary for a tandem flight, as certified instructors guide you from the moment of takeoff to the final landing. Below is a list of Costa Rica’s highlighted paragliding destinations.
Near San Jose are several mountain ranges popular with paragliders. As the gateway to the Central Valley, the city has dozens of tour companies offering excursions to flight sites. Before booking a tour, ask how much time will actually be spent paragliding as opposed to in transit. Some companies offer combined activities such as bungee jumping, canopying and paragliding in one tour. For paragliding in the Central Valley, cloud base varies anywhere from from 2,000 to 2,500 meters, with San Jose located at 1,000 meters. Although this area is strikingly beautiful, the mountain sites can be somewhat unpredictable due to high winds.
Located in the Puntarenas province, Jaco has a large mountain site ideal for paraglide launching. The range is directly across from one of Jaco’s only luxury hotels. There is a five minute hike to the launch site, which is one drawback for those lugging heavy gear. The reward however, is a 460-meter elevation and a small soaring ridge above the stunning beaches below. The southwest winds are consistent, with slight thermals gusting around noon. The target landing is close to a farm fence, so be sure to avoid the large oxen roaming the fields.
Located in the Guanacaste province, Bebedero is often compared to paragliding in Switzerland. Soaring above the ridge is common in this area, with winds remaining steady through mid-afternoon. In dry season, the launch site can be accessed by way of 4-wheel drive, and a 30-minute hike in the rainy season when the roads are impassable. The landing spot is 200 meters below take off, in a small pasture next to a church. Avoid paragliding between December and April with the northeastern trade winds are strong, and during the rainy season when thunder strikes.
Santa Ana-Pabellon Mountain
Although more commonly known as a golfing destination, this area is considered the country’s best site for thermal flying. The launch site, at 1,800 meters, has a small peak with pastures surrounded by ravines and trees. This point can be accessed year round with an off-road vehicle. Due to the constant thermals funneling across the valley, this is a good place to practice cross-country paragliding. Stay alert of the nearby airports. If time allow, the landing zone is just a short walk from a natural seltzer spring. The town of Santa Ana is near to San Jose and is famous for its large shopping mall, trendy community, relaxed atmosphere and luxury hotels.
This paragliding launch site in the San Jose province is located between two volcanoes – Irazú and Turrialba. The route to the launching spot passes over a potato field and cow pasture and can only be reached by 4-wheel drive. This 30-minute trek will take you 140 meters above landing, which is often hit by inconsistent thermals. Below the soaring ridge is an open zone for setting down, which is relatively clear except for the electric wire fence in the distance.
The Central Pacific port town of Puntarenas offers tandem flight tours. This area has several schools willing to give courses to those wanting to fly solo. From the nearby port of Caldera, paragliders can fly over "Nido de Las Aguilas," meaning “Eagle's nest”. This 30-minute tandem ride soars 2 km (1.2mi) above the jagged ridges of Caldera.