There are few things more debatable in pilots’ nylon-addled conversations than this: what’s the best paragliding holiday destination to spend your hard-earned vacation time? Since I travel full-time as an airtime-hungry location independent, I’m asked this question a lot.
For me, the answer is as much about the pilot’s goal as it is about the attractions of the place. Do you want to get hiking fit on the way up? Get as much time in the air as possible? Try your chops at a wide variety of launch types? Go someplace really, really exotic that none of your pilot friends have checked off the list?
Once you define your personal goals, it’ll be a lot easier to choose where will suit you.
That said, I have my favorites. Here are the top four spots that I’ve fallen for in my paragliding travels. They’re really varied, really beautiful (in very different ways) and really fun. Perhaps you’ll love them as much as I do once you pop up into that rarefied air.
Oludeniz is one majestic place. A three-thousand-meter mountain looms over an impossibly blue sea, offering three beautifully manicured launching areas with easy van access. Conditions are consistent, landings are at the beach and the party in the village below is always on.
The best part: that aforementioned sea is almost always glassy. (“Olu deniz,” after all, means “dead sea” in Turkish.) That means that pilots who want to come to practice their fanciest acrobatic moves – and SIV clinic students, besides – can do so with a nice extra margin for error. Boats dart back and forth underneath the mayhem to snag the occasional splash-in.
The Oludeniz flying season stretches from May to October. If you don’t mind sharing the sky with a lot of strangers (and you want to witness top-shelf airsports stunts firsthand), coincide your trip with the Oludeniz Air Games, held annually towards the onset of autumn.
Love big mountains? Love train-and-gondola-accessed launches? Love variety? Love landscapes so drop-dead gorgeous that you burn out your Instagram documenting what you see on the walk to the grocery store? You’re going to love Lauterbrunnen.
Tucked deep in a valley in the middle of the Swiss Alps, Lauterbrunnen is a quiet, prim little Swiss hamlet rimmed with meadowy launches of all kinds. Just hop on trains and gondolas to pop up onto the high ridgelines; from there, you can do anything from bunny runs down into the Mannlichen bowl, speed runs along the waterfall wall or cross-country mountain flights from the legendary Eiger (which shadows the far end of the valley).
Also notable: the shape of the valley, with its 1,200 foot-plus, super-sheer walls, means that it isn’t just on the list of best paragliding holiday destinations of all time. It’s also one of the world’s most epic destinations for BASE jumping. You may have to dodge a wingsuit or two on the way down, so keep your eyes peeled.
Iquique is in the middle of North-Chilean nowhere – at the bleak intersection of the sprawling Atacama desert and the sea. The port town, stranded in what for all the world appears to be Tatooine, has to import everything its citizens consume.
It shivers with earthquakes and it swirls with dust – but it howls with wind, most afternoons. And it has the most epic sand dune you’ve ever seen perched over its city skyline, waiting to be ridge-soared.
Flying in Iquique has to be experienced to be believed. You can stand with your wing in the middle of the flatlands, well away from the ridgeline, and be eerily drawn up into the sky.
You can scoot along, dipping toes in the sand as you whoosh by, for literally hours. You’ll leave Chile a better ground-handler than you ever thought possible. Iquique will leave an indelible impression on your flying (and on your wing, if you aren’t careful to clear all that desert sand when you’re done).
Nobody ever thinks of Slovakia. Which is a shame, as in my opinion it’s one of the best paragliding holiday destinations.
Slovakia has everything its more westerly sisters have, and more: soaring mountain ridgelines, lift-access launches, baby-soft meadow landings, epic hike-and-fly sites, world-class resorts, easily navigable infrastructure and fantastic flying opportunities.
It doesn’t, however, have the price tag (or the crowds) that the world’s best paragliding holiday destinations tend to have. It is blessedly free of nonsense, in fact.
Liptovsky Mikulas sits in the middle of the country, alongside a glittering lake that sits between the many, many launches of the High Tatras and Low Tatras mountain ranges. The town is very easy to love and to live in, and it’s positioned in a spot that’s reasonably convenient to loads of local flying (whether you prefer to hoof it up the hill or take a gondola).
What are you waiting for? Get packed and head to one of these best paragliding holiday destinations. I’ll probably meet you there!
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