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Guide to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Monday 17 February, 2014
Looking back along the Christ Run to launch near Pedra Bonita, the flat-topped mountain. Photo: Nader Couri

Looking back along the Christ Run to launch near Pedra Bonita, the flat-topped mountain. Photo: Nader Couri

Flying Christ offers a short but technical XC in one of the most exciting cities in the world.


Rio de Janeiro is a big city, and many pilots pass through here on their way to XC destinations further inland, north or south. But if you stay a day or two it’s definitely worth checking out the flying scene.

The launch site is called Pedra Bonita and is slightly south of the main city, directly above the beachside district of Sao Conrado. Landing is on the beach out front: Praia Pepinio, Pepe’s Beach, is named after the famous 1981 hang gliding world champion Pepe Lopez.

This is the birthplace of hang gliding and paragliding in Brazil, and it’s also home to a very busy tandem hang gliding scene: over 200 tourist flights a day in high season.

Because of this you will need to get your licences checked and sign up for temporary membership – basically a day fee – before you fly. Fortunately this can all be done quickly at the well-organised clubhouse next to the landing zone before catching a buggy ride up to the launch 500m above. (They check paperwork on launch, so trying to avoid this will prove fruitless.)

Pedra Bonita is one of several steep, forested hills that form a natural boundary to the southern side of the city. There is a dedicated hang glider ramp with a paraglider launch directly below it. Marshals help you lay out and monitor traffic flow before telling you when it’s your turn: now go!

In the air you’ll be flying over the Tijuca National Park, a remnant of the Atlantic rain forest that once stretched all the way up the Brazilian coast. You can either stay local, sled ride to the beach or, if the weather is on, then it’s a technical 30km out-and-return to get to Rio’s famous Christ statue, the Christo Redentor and back.
Flying conditions

To fly Christ you need to be lucky with the day. You need 800m base and an east wind for the best conditions, something that happens about 30 times a year and mainly in spring and summer, often after a cold front.

Once established the first hop is along the hills to Rocinha, the biggest favela – slum – in South America. Once there you transition across the chi-chi city suburb of Leblon before connecting with the next hill, the Corcovado, on top of which sits the Christ statue. In front of you is the ocean, the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, behind is the urban sprawl of the rest of Rio.

Landing is back on Pepe’s Beach where you started. However, if you get caught short you can land at the obvious race course or, at a pinch, on one of the other beaches.

All year, with spring and summer the best time to fly Christ.

Take-off: 507m
Landing: Sea level
Cloudbase: 800m to 1,500m on exceptional days

This is hang glider central with a dedicated ramp. You’ll see lots more hang gliders here than paragliders, many of them tandems.

The flight to Christ and back again is the thing to aim for. If it’s not on then you’ll be flying locally above Pepe’s Beach.

Tandem pilots jumping the queue on take-off, low cloud near launch, limited landing options and wires if low above the city, rotor behind the apartment blocks, and bad cachaça in your caipirinha – it will give you a headache.

From backpackers to five-star hotels. If you want to be close to the flying consider staying in the suburb of Sao Conrado itself rather than Copacabana, Ipanema or Downtown. AirBnB and couchsurfing are good options here.

Rio has world class beaches, nightlife, culture, restaurants and sports all inside its city boundaries. You won’t be bored.

Weather station on launch

To get to the flying site from the main tourist centres of Ipanema and Copacabana take a bus or a taxi 20-minutes south towards Sao Conrado.

Buses marked ‘Barra Shopping’, a mega mall south of the city, go past the LZ. Buses marked ‘Sao Conrado’ will stop a little short, in which case walk along the beach to the very end.

Sao Conrado Free Flight Club
Brazilian Free Flight Assoc
Brazil site guide
Address for the landing zone: Av. Prefeito Mendes de Moraes 1502, São Conrado, 22610-095, Rio de Janeiro.

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