Looking out across the city of Bucaramanga. Photo: Ed Ewing
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Guide to Bucaramanga, Colombia

Tuesday 16 January, 2018

Year-round flying in the heart of Colombia – perfect for new pilots who want airtime.

Bucaramanga is the perfect place for new pilots to spend time perfecting their skills, or for a few days chilling out after flying XC in Roldanillo or the sites of the Cauca Valley further south. It’s not a site for flying big XCs as airspace gets in the way, but if you want a place that is reliable where you can hone your thermalling technique and rack up hours and hours of airtime, then this is the place. There is a hostel here – The Nest, run by Colombia Paragliding – and from the terrace you can watch as the first pilots of the day take off. When it’s good for you, the launch is a two minute walk away. Mid-week you might have the place to yourself, while on weekends it’s a very social place to be with empanada stalls and families and friends watching Mum, Dad or the tandems.

It’s a 10km ridge that faces northwest. Below and in front of you is the city of Bucaramanga, behind you is the Ruitoque Mesa, dotted with homes and golf courses. The flying zone extends from the grassy launch out to the edge of the city, and west along the ridgeline.

The flying starts early, with pilots taking off to enjoy morning thermals at 9am/9.30am. You will get an hour or two of thermic flying before the wind starts to pick up. When it does, it’s time to land and go for an early lunch. Landing down is no problem as you can easily jump in a shuttle bus back up. Top-landing is straightforward. The middle of the day is usually too strong to fly, and pilots take a break – heading down to Bucaramanga by bus for entertainment or chilling out at the hostel or at the café on take-off.

About 3pm the wind starts to ease and the tandems start to rotate again. You can now fly afternoon thermals mixed with ridge lift until sunset at about 6pm.

Flyable all year

Launch: 1,143m
Landing: Top-land, or in front of launch at 911m
Cloudbase: There is a 1,500m airspace cap

Hang gliding is not popular here. The launch would be perfect for a hang glider, but the landing would be uncomfortably tight with switching winds.

Sharpen up your thermalling in a morning workout before lunch. Soar the dynamic ridge lift for hours in the afternoon, and fly the length of the mesa in perfect evening glass-off air. When it’s too windy for flying practise your kiting skills on the perfect launch. Bucaramanga is also a good place from which to explore other nearby sites, including the incredible Chichamocha Canyon. This is a massive, 2,000m deep canyon 25km from Bucaramanga – flying takes place early morning: pilots launch from the rim of the canyon and fly down through the canyon to land at the bottom.

There is airspace above you (1,500m), and a city out front. Officially the boundaries follow the southern edge of the city; unofficially pilots have flown triangles all across Bucaramanga. The bottom landing can be sinky on approach and turbulent with switching winds. It is also home to a radio-controlled model plane club – watch for them on approach. Top-landing in strong winds requires a careful approach but is often a much smoother bet. If flying Chichamocha Canyon avoid dodgy-looking tandem operators with old equipment and go with a reputable operator – it can be dangerous to fly here in the middle of the day, and top-landing is not recommended (although the tandems do it).

Unless you stay in Bucaramanga and travel up the only place to stay is The Nest (EL Nido) hostel. This is a funky, homely, small self-catering hostel right on launch. Run by US/Colombian instructor Richie Mantilla it is sometimes used by US schools and other groups, so book ahead. See www.colombiaparagliding.com/hostel. In the city, Hostel Kasa Guane offers a shuttle bus to take off for tandem passengers and pilots.

The Nest hostel is perfect for pilots but there isn’t a lot to do for non-flyers or kids. Bucaramanga on the other hand is a city of a million people with all the attractions that offers, including parks, shopping centres and entertainment. It comes alive at night when students from its 10 universities party. The city is on the travellers’ trail between Colombia’s capital Bogota and the beautiful beaches of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It’s an interesting stopover for the non-flying family, not so much a destination.

It’s the same every day! They reckon it’s flyable 362 days out of 365. What happens on the other three days we don’t know.

Fly to Bucaramanga (BGA) from Bogota (BOG) or Medellin (MDE) for about €75 (60 mins).



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