Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro was just one of those things I had to do. Back when I was a distracted student sketching maps of Brazil in the back of my math notebooks, I must have come across a guidebook or an early blog post that highlighted it as a top attraction — because while I can’t pinpoint where or when I first heard about it, hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro has been a must in my mind for as long as I can remember.
Lucky for me, Heather was enthusiastically onboard. She was also, with very little convincing, wiling to wear matching Brazilian flag leggings with me. And this is why I love Heather.
This wasn’t my first time testing gravity — I’ve been parasailing on Maui, hot air ballooning in Laos, sky diving on Oahu and helicoptering and prop-plane-ing all over the show. But it was my first time hang-gliding, and I have the nervous-yet-hilarious GoPro shots to prove it.
No, this is not the face of a girl who’s totally sold on the idea of running off a cliff.
Little time had passed since we were whisked from our hostel doorstep to the white sand beaches of São Conrado, the epicenter of hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro. A strip of glide shops formed a neat row along the beach, and we were directed into the appropriate one to sign waivers, pay 30R (about $10USD) in fees, and get matched up with an instructor. Then we were back in the van, winding our way up to the launch point in Tijuca National Park, the largest urban forest in the world.
Although I was incredibly impressed with how organized, efficient, double-checked and safety-focused the whole affair was, the idea of flinging myself off a mountain was starting to seem suspect. Despite of, or perhaps because of, the expression on my face, I was the first one called forward to fly, and after receiving the world’s shortest briefing — which literally consisted of “keep running until you don’t feel the ground under your feet anymore” — I started to sprint.
And soon I couldn’t feel the ground any more.
The adrenaline rush of the launch was overwhelming, but within moments my heart-rate returned to something resembling normal and I was struck how peaceful it was, up there among the clouds.
While I admired the view, my instructor expertly navigated us using the wind. That’s the beauty of flying tandem — you pretty much have your own private air chauffeur and you can just kick back and focus on making thumbs up signs and flashing peace fingers at the camera. (Why, Universe, why is must this be my default?)
Rio de Janeiro has no shortage of incredible views, but these were particularly impressive. Not only could we make out our friend Christo Redentor in the distance, but we also had front row seats for Pão de Acuçar, the lush Mata Atlantica forest, and of course the white sands of several of the city’s most famous beaches.
We also had a poignant vantage point of Rio’s infamous gap between extreme poverty and opulent wealth. In one direction, we gazed at the infamous Rocinha Favela; in other, the ocean-front mansions of São Conrado. If you do want a voyeuristic look at the houses (and pools!) of Brazil’s rich and famous, you can’t ask for a better bird’s eye view.
The final challenge? Landing. Again, on my part it involved little more than simply running till I was told not to. For an “adventure sport,” I was sure taking it easy up there.
And then we were back on land — or sand, rather. While my instructor took care of our harnesses and rig, I ordered up two fresh coconuts and waited to cheer Heather’s landing on.
She rocked it! Once reunited, we giddily recounted every moment of our experiences, and gave ourselves some serious high-fives for checking another adrenaline rush off our travel wish lists.
Unfortunately, we soon encountered our one and only complaint about the tour we’d booked. We carefully selected a package that said “photos and videos included,” and technically, there were some photos and videos included, our instructors explained to us while we perfected our mutual RBFs. The gliders are set up with two GoPros, and the included photos and video clips are from only the front camera. The side camera shots will run you an extra 100R (around $32USD). Also, they give them to you on a DVD unless you pony up 20R (around $7 USD) extra for a USB or memory card.
Considering we were traveling with approximately twenty-seven USB sticks and memory cards between us, we were pretty annoyed we hadn’t been given a heads up in order to bring our own. And we were extremely irritated that the photography exclusions weren’t clear when we booked. I begrudgingly paid for the extra photos, which to his credit my instructor gave to me on memory card that he didn’t charge me for, in order to smooth out the situation. Considering it was an expensive experience, being nickeled-and-dimed at the end didn’t feel good. It definitely left a bitter taste in our mouths to feel like we’d been mislead, so if you’re heading to Rio and booking a hang gliding package, just clarify exactly what’s included before hand.
Three hours later, we were back where we started on the steps of our hostel. Our photo frustrations aside, I loved this experience and would recommend our tour package. The ease of transportation (our driver offered to drop us at Ipanema or Copacabana beaches if we preferred, which was lovely), the efficiency with which we got up and off the mountain and the high safety standards all left us impressed.
After so many years of anticipation, and so many other amazing adrenaline-inducing experiences in between, it would have been easy to be let down by this one. But nope, hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro lived up to every math class I ever daydreamed about it through.
As I told Heather that morning… it’s a beautiful day to leap off a cliff!
I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program. This post contains affiliate links for which I earn a small percentage of any sale made at absolutely no cost to you. Thank you for supporting Alex in Wanderland!
This was so cool! Im at the point where I am daydreaming in math class, and this is definitely going on my bucket list!! Ive always dreamed of flying
Enjoy it… there’s no better daydreaming condition 😉 Some of my best ideas came from letting my mind wander at my desk!
So beautiful! Weren’t you afraid your shoes would fall off? Maybe it’s a side effect of the nerves, but every time I’ve been zip lining I’ve been super paranoid about that.
Actually, Tieks are PERFECT for this because they cling to your feet! They just wrap all around your feet and I couldn’t kick them off if I tried… which is what makes them the perfect comfy travel shoe. So good!
Informative, educational and inspiring. What more could anyone want from a blog post! Thanks Alex. I wanna have a go!! 🙂
Aw, thank you Janice! What kind words!
Ahh! I’ve wanted to go hang gliding for so long! Other than the pictures at the end, it sounds amazing! When I went zip lining in Costa Rica, they tried to sell me the pictures but I only had, like, $7 with me so they just gave me them at the end haha.
Aw that’s nice of them! When Heather and I went skydiving a few years back she didn’t want to buy the photos and they were SO aggressive about it, just slashing the price lower and lower and lower and meanwhile I’d said yes from the beginning! I was like dang I could have gotten these half price if I’d faked them out, ha ha. And there they were super pricey — like over $100 if I recall correctly.
Eek! Too much adrenaline for me, but love the views.
I can’t believe you wore ballet flats..Tieks! I would be so nervous to lose them!
Ha you are the second person to say that but seriously, there is no way they could come off my feet! I don’t really know how to describe it other than to say Tieks cling around the top of your feet, so they are stuck on there good and are actually perfect for something like this. They are seriously the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever had — they feel like air!
I am scared of open heights, so would give this a miss
Probably not the best activity for anyone afraid of heights 🙂
That’s such an amazing spot to go hang gliding! I went down there a few years ago – and am still tripping out after watching the birds run off the exact same jump in “Rio.” The animators did their homework on that one!
Oh man — Heather and I totally talked about watching Rio on our trip and someday we forgot! I will have to rectify this with her immediately!
Landscapes impress the eye. Beautiful sight.
Earth from the sky is great. I hope if I have the courage to do such a wonderful adventure.
You are the best.
Thanks for reading, Sameer 🙂
Very cool! I have yet to attempt any kind of flying – apart from in airplanes – if I’m not counting falling (I did bungeejump once). This looks like so much fun, even though it’s also very high. I don’t know if I would dare… 🙂
Funny enough bungee jumping is one thing I have zero interest in. The idea of snapping my neck at the bottom just really turns me off. No thanks!
They offer hang gliding in Queenstown but so far I’ve been too chicken to try it… After reading this I might have to pull my big girl boots on and book myself in!
Despite the face I’m pulling in the first few photos I found it far less terrifying than, say, skydiving, which I was completely terrified of. There is definitely a moment of fear but as soon as you’re airborne it’s so, so peaceful!
I’m not sure what is more fantastic- those photos or those leggings!!
I think the leggings make the photos 😉
Viator link broken
Not sure what was up with that, but thanks for the heads up! Seems to be working again now!
I never knew about this the first time I was in Rio (I lacked experience knowing to research) the second time we had a tentative booking weather permitting. Sadly cloud cover in the mornings was a thing except for the day we had our city tour booked.
Also I need those pants!
I literally think I need these pants for every new country I go to from now on. Now THAT would be a fun tradition 😉
Amazing!!! Your pictures are phenomenal and your leggings are super adorable. I think matching leggings was the only way to go! (I may or may not have followed the link to see what countries they have) I can’t believe they let you do it in flats, though. It’s a real bummer about the pictures. That nickel and dime-ing happened to me parasailing in Key West. On the flip side though… three days later in Cozumel, I paid for the GoPro pictures from our underwater oxygen bar excursion and was floored to discover the USB stick had 42 pictures on it! Their site advertised fewer than half that number included in the photo price. You never know what you’ll get, I guess!
Ha, I had no idea my footwear would be such a topic of conversation on this post! See my replies elsewhere — Tieks cling to your feet and there is NO WAY they were coming off!
Sweet about the photos in Cozumel though 🙂
Woo! What a ride that must have been! You are living the life lady! I really enjoy following your exploits. Youre a star!
Thanks Jeff 🙂 You made me smile!
I’m travelling to Rio in the summer and I am looking into Hang gliding while I am there, however all the websites I have come across are quoting me upwards of $150 per person! What company did you go with that you got it for so cheap( $10)!!
Hi Chloe, the $10 was just in administrative fees upon check-in. We booked a tour ahead of time — you can click on the tour link to see current rates but I believe about $150 is the going rate. I definitely wouldn’t trust doing it for just $10, anywhere in the world 😉