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Guide to Zaachila, Mexico

Tuesday 18 February, 2014
Flying the Sierra Madre, with the road to take-off on the far ridge. Photo: Ed Ewing

Flying the Sierra Madre, with the road to take-off on the far ridge. Photo: Ed Ewing

Reliable high-altitude flying and a wealth of culture to explore


Everyone knows Valle de Bravo, but there’s lots more to Mexico than that justly famous site. Six hours south of Mexico City is the historic city of Oaxaca. Base yourself here and head high into the hills of the Sierra Madre for an adventure flying from Santa Ines del Monte.

To get there, take a bus from Oaxaca to the little town of Zaachila, then from the wood market hitch a ride or take a bus heading for Santa Ines del Monte. Jump off a kilometre before the village and walk towards El Arenal for 500m. The launch is in front of you, facing east.

Another alternative site for the traveller lies 300km east of Mexico City. Fortin de las Flores is a small town in the shadow of the 5,636m Volcan de Orizaba: it’s known as one of the best flying sites in Mexico, with a top-drivable launch, a large grassy take off and a lush semi-tropical landscape.

To fly Zaachila take off early, before the southerly wind kicks in. You’ll find climbs of 6-7m/s max with cloudbase up to 4,000m. Head north or south along the surrounding hills to fly XC, or complete a triangle around the valley with the ancient city of Monte Alban – obvious from the air – as one of your turnpoints.

In Fortin de las Flores the wind blows in every day from the Gulf of Mexico and people fly for hours on the breeze. Go XC, finesse your thermalling, perfect your acro or practise your toplandings on the big grassy take off.

Zaachila: October to June. The best time to visit is just after the rainy season, from mid-October to March when XC conditions are best.

Fortin: Flyable all year, although try to avoid the rainy season, July to September.

Zaachila: Launch 2,250m, landing at 1,650m, cloudbase 3,000m
Fortin: Launch 1,300m, landing at 900m, cloudbase 2,000m

Zaachila: The road runs all the way to take off – although you’ll need an off-road vehicle for the last 300m.

Fortin: Yes, perfect. The road takes you directly to launch.

Zaachila: Thermal above Monte Alban. If you go XC and land at the restaurant Hacienda Santa Martha, you can eat and drink all you want for free!

Fortin: Flying to the summit of Chicahuaxtla, the highest peak nearby, is a must. Go XC north-west to the town of Orizaba.

Zaachila: Power lines just after the official landing field – these are perfectly visible. Oaxaca airport is 15.5km away – airspace starts 9.5km east of take-off. ATC can be telephoned on Tel +52 951-5115078 or +52 951-5033288.

Fortin: Wide areas of “chayotales”. These are fruits cultivated on wires two metres from the ground. What looks like a grassy field from the air can in fact be a deadly area of wires and spikes.

For Zaachila stay in Oaxaca, which is full of options from hostels to hotels. In Fortin try Posada Loma for the boutique hotel experience. Cheaper options include El Pueblito and Hotel Bugambilias. Camping is possible on take-off.

Historic and culturally-rich Oaxaca offers eco-tourism, indigenous tourism, food tourism, adventure tourism, nature tourism, the list is endless.

Fortin de las Flores is home to a national park as well as the biggest zipline in Mexico. Mountain bike, walk in the rainforest or take a tour to the Pico de Orizaba, at 5,636m the highest mountain in Mexico.

Oaxaca is semi-arid, and is very dry from December to June. Check www.windfinder.com/forecast/zaachila.

Fortin is humid because of the wind coming in from the Gulf, but it’s warm. Check www.windfinder.com.

From Mexico City Oaxaca is six hours by bus – travel with ADO from terminal Tapo or Central del Norte bus station in Mexico City.

For Fortin travel via Orizaba.

Salvador Lara lives in Oaxaca and can offer advice on both sites: www.parapentitis.com, info@parapentitis.com, +52 951 1294116

• Got news? Send it to us at news@xccontent.local

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