Summary: This article highlights just a few exceptional places around the world where the general public can view paragliders in flight, up close. Although there are many others equally good, I have chosen to cover Torrey Pines in California, U.S.A., Interlaken in Switzerland, Oludeniz in Turkey, Lima in Peru, the Hartbeespoortdam in South Africa and Voss in Norway.
Paragliders are being flown in thousands of locations around the world. In fact if you are patient and know just where to go, chances are you could see one or two at a place near you.
Are you a frequent traveller? Would you be interested in seeing some paragliding action in some spectacular surroundings? I'm about to highlight just a few exceptional places on this planet where there is a lot of paragliding activity from time to time. These locations are all very public too, so access is easy.
Since these places are very well-known in their respective parts of the world, no detailed 'who to contact and how to find it' information is provided here. The locals will soon point you in the right direction, if that's necessary.
You have probably guessed by now that this article is aimed at those who haven't thought about actually flying in a paraglider. However, most of the locations below do offer opportunities to get a ride in a tandem paraglider, if you so desire!
Torrey Pines, California, U.S.A.
Many members of the public roll up at Torrey Pines Gliderport in Southern California. Here, they can see paragliders and hang gliders launch from the cliffs into the Pacific Ocean breeze. Famous for many years for being a busy hang-gliding site, paragliders have become commonplace too in recent years. Plenty of space to park your car at the edge of the cliffs and watch the soaring action. Occasionally a pelican or 2 will sail past as well!
Paragliding goes back a long way in this region, almost back to the birth of the sport. So it's not surprising that paraglider-spotting is easy in this picturesque Swiss town. Oriented towards tourism, the town is located between lakes Thun and Brienz in the Bernese Oberland region. Being in the Alps, there are magnificent mountains nearby. Pilots launching from these mountains often use a landing area in Interlaken itself. Shoppers walking along the Bahnhofstrassein can watch the brightly colored paraglider canopies arriving and landing gracefully in the nearby park. A lot of paragliding takes place in other parts of the Swiss Alps too.
It's hard to beat this location for the sheer amount of paragliding activity in the one area. Most Americans haven't heard of this place, but it is a major paragliding destination for Europeans.
As a watcher, there's no need to brave the somewhat exciting truck ride to the top of Mount Babadag, where the paragliders launch. Babadag is an imposing limestone mountain 2000 meters (6500 feet) high, overlooking the wide white sandy beaches of Oludeniz. With literally dozens of pilots flying on some days, some with passengers, there is ample opportunity to observe them landing on the beach back in Oludeniz. Many of these pilots make their living this way. The place to be is the Fly-Inn Cafe, a meeting point for people who are waiting to fly or who have just arrived back via the air. Upstairs is the slightly more up-market Ottomania Restaurant which has great views of the whole bay area.
The city of Lima in Peru, South America, extends right down to a series of coastal cliffs. It's commonplace for the general public to see paragliders quite close-up as they soar along the cliffs. The district of Minaflores in particular is a nice area for shopping and dining, in full view of the Pacific ocean and all the flying action. You can explore the Larcomar mall, perhaps relaxing in a restaurant such as the Mangos or the Vivaldino, with a window seat. Or, just take a stroll along the footpath (sidewalk) atop the cliffs. Either way, you are sure to see paragliders sooner or later, provided weather conditions are favorable. In blustery weather, the seagulls have the air to themselves!
Hartbeespoortdam, South Africa
This is actually the name of a dam, although the name also refers to the man-made lake which it creates. Some say the area looks a bit like Switzerland as a result! Not far away are the large cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg. To view paragliders, it's hard to beat a cable car trip on the Hartbeespoortdam Cableway, which is in fact the longest monocableway in Africa. From this moving vantage point, you can enjoy panoramic views of the dam and it's surroundings. Soaring birds such as the Black Eagle, Fish Eagle and White Backed Vulture are often joined by paraglider and hang-glider pilots.
Now to the winter paradise of Voss, in Norway. Situated between Norway´s most famous fjords, the awe-inspiring Hardanger and Sogn, this town is a hub for extreme sports of all kinds. There is a park where you can just relax and maybe spot a paraglider or two approaching from the nearby mountain, overflying a fjord on the way. If the weather co-operates! Voss can be reached by train from nearby Bergen, affording a very scenic trip beside the fjords.
During your travels, you might find yourself within an hour or three of one of these places. Never seen a paraglider, ever? Why not take the opportunity for a memorable experience seeing paragliders in flight! The longer the stay, the less chance of disappointment due to unsuitable weather of course. Alternatively, a phone call to one of the local paragliding organizations might help you time your visit.
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Word count: 915
First Published: 29 Oct 2006
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