A Dream Come True
This post is part of Everything to Know Before Visiting Medellin, a collection of no-B.S., unique guides to how to have an unforgettable stay in Colombia.
Have you ever hiked to the top of a mountain and, after having your fill of the view, dreamed to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could just paraglide down?”
If so, paragliding in Medellin is your dream come true.
Along with our friend (and amazing photographer) Oskar, we forged a path and completed the mythical hike up, flight down loop. Here’s how you can too.
NOTE: Since many of you might not be crazy enough to hike up, we’ll start with the info on paragliding in Medellin and then add the hike guide after.
The Medellin Paragliding Experience
Paragliding is way better than I expected it would be.
The fact that we “earned it” by hiking up definitely enhanced the pleasure, but you’ll have an amazing experience even if you skip the hike and drive up because you had too many aguardientes the night before. (…Maybe you should’ve read these 9 surprising facts about it)
1. Preparing for Liftoff
We flew with local legend and Colombian paragliding pioneer Ruben “RubenFly” Montoya and his team from Paragliding Medellin.
I was expecting a developing-country-level, laissez-faire professionalism level, but I was totally wrong.
It was the opposite my experience in Banos, Ecuador, where I bumped into a pair of guys sitting on a bridge, handed them $5 USD cash, and bungeed off of it.
Ruben’s team made us fill a detailed form, showed us a safety video on an iPad, and even gave us bracelets that said we were covered by their insurance. We couldn’t have expected higher levels of professionalism in Europe or Canada.
Our pilots were pros too. My pilot, Luisito, has been flying since the early nineties and travels the world racing in triathlons where swimming is replaced by paragliding.
Both Luisito and Oskar’s pilot, Daniel, were clearly paragliding junkies. They love flying, live for it, talk about little else, and do it every day.
We were about to understand why it is so addictive.
2. Flying Like a Bird
Strapped in with Luisito behind me, I followed his instructions, fought my self-preservation instincts, and jogged towards the cliff.
My bodyweight lightened, my feet started to struggle to reach the ground, and then I was floating.
I felt like my spirit had left my body to float up to heaven, just like in the cartoons. Sitting back in my harness, I couldn’t see or feel the pilot or the sail and I couldn’t hear anything but the wind. It truly felt like I was flying. It was surreal.
Luisito broke the spell by asking if I was ok then pointing to some vultures up ahead.
“See those birds? We’re going to join them!”
We floated over and started circling up and up, just like them. I hadn’t realized it was so easy to go up, and not just down, while paragliding. Luisito said his longest flight was four hours, and 250 km (!), from Medellin to another town across Antioquia. Amazing.
For half an hour we soared around at about 60 kilometers an hour looking down upon the Chorro el Hato waterfalls, the hillside shacks, and the entire city of Medellin to the south. I couldn’t imagine a better combination of urban and natural landscapes to float around.
3. Coming Back Down to Earth
Only as we descended towards the landing spot did I remember that my spirit was still in my body. That wouldn’t be for long if something went wrong though, I worried.
Of course, my worries were unfounded. Luisito circled carefully, picked the right moment, told me to hold my legs straight in front of me, and with a painless but abrupt thud we landed.
Like coming down from the high of a drug, my mind and body got reacquainted with each other and tried to figure out what the hell just happened. It was a great feeling. Even some macho guys who were playing it all cool before jumping were giggling like schoolgirls with euphoria after they landed beside me.
Paragliding was even better than I had imagined. Next time I hike up a mountain I’m going to wish even harder that I could paraglide back down.
Tips for Paragliding in Medellin
Flying Down Isn’t Guaranteed
As explained in Paragliding Medellin’s FAQ, 95% of flights land at the same place you take off up top, so we were lucky to be able to hike up and fly down.
If you’re dead-set on landing down below in Bello, it’s still possible. Tell RubenFly in advance and he can arrange for it if the weather conditions allow. The only thing is you will have to pay the 20,000 COP or so cost for your pilot to taxi back up to the top.
The Best Time to Paraglide in Medellin
Time of Day
It’s not always possible to paraglide down to the bottom of the hill.
In the middle of the day when it’s sunny, the heat from Medellin’s streets and rooftops sends hot air up and makes it impossible to land below. During these times you’ll land the same place you take off in San Felix and have to bus back to the city from there.
To have the best chances of being able to land below, start your hike bright and early so you make it up to San Felix before 10:30 a.m. You can also come later in the afternoon, but then there’s a high risk of rain and thunderstorms that make paragliding impossible.
Day of the Week
As Dave Richardson points out in the comments, come during the week if you can because during the weekend the paragliding take-off area can get a bit too busy.
How to Get to San Felix from Medellin, and Back Again
If you don’t come with a packaged tour that includes transport and end up having to land at the same place you took off, there are a couple ways to take public transit between San Felix and Medellin.
The less direct, but most memorable public transit route is to take one of Medellin’s famous urban gondolas. It’s a different gondola, called Metrocable, line than the famous one to Parque Arvi. It’s line J, which is connected to San Javier metro station at the end of Line B. Take the Metrocable up three stations to Aurora, where you can then take a bus to San Felix. Ask the bus driver to let you off at parapente San Felix.
The more direct route is to through Caribe metro station at Medellin’s north bus terminal. Information agents at the terminal who can guide you to the San Felix bus and the paragliding crew will show you the stop to go back down.
How to Book Your Own Medellin Paragliding Experience
All the Medellin paragliding companies collude to charge the same prices, so I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to shop around for a deal. That said, hostels seem to get better prices. If you find a better price at a hostel, share it with Ruben and I’m sure he’ll match it.
Reader Jackie notes in the comments that barbed wire now blocks the path to the waterfall and up to the paragliding launch pad.
Contact RubenFly (see info above) before setting off to check the status of the trail. In November 2019, he tole me he’s working on an alternative route that he could possibly point you to, too.
Make your Medellin paragliding extra special by hiking up by an un-touristed neighborhood, rural farms, an impressive waterfall.
I strongly recommend that you download the Wikiloc app, pay $2.99 for a three-month package and follow our route via GPS.
It will keep you from getting lost. And no, I don’t get any commission for recommending the app. If you’re still unsure about forking over a few bucks, read some of the comments below from disappointed people who didn’t find the trail.
Otherwise, use the points on this Google map as references to guide you on the hike. You can save them to your phone by following these simple instructions.
- Hike Duration: 2.5 hours to San Felix from the trailhead, plus time for stops at the waterfall. Add an extra hour if you hike from the Bello metro station.
- Hike Difficulty: Difficult. As the awesome folks who shared their own experiences in the comments attest, it’s very steep, especially the section after the waterfall through the pasture.
- Distance: 4.9 km from the trailhead to the paragliding area. An extra 4 km to walk from Bello metro station to the trailhead.
- Elevation Gain: 662 m net (880 m climbing, 188 m descent)
- What to Bring: Sun protection, money, a jacket (for the flight), a passport (for insurance), a camera with a strap so you can’t drop it, water, and shoes you don’t mind getting muddy
- Cost: The hike is free. Paragliding will cost 130,000 COP (about $46 USD) for a 15 min flight. That’s one-third of what it costs, over $150 USD, in my hometown of Vancouver.
The hike up to San Felix and the Medellin Paragliding takeoff area isn’t the most beautiful hike in town (check out our list for other options), but has its benefits:
- Up close view (and swim if you’d like) of Chorro el Hato Waterfalls
- Exercise and fresh air
- 89% more enjoyment of the paragliding than if you drive up
- Ability to brag to your friends, “I hiked to the top of a mountain in Medellin and jumped off,” instead of “I paid for a group paragliding tour where they picked me up at my hotel, shuttled me there, had me float around a bit, then escorted me back.”
If that’s not enough to convince you and you don’t want to hike up, jump straight to the paragliding section below.
1. Bello Metro Station to Vereda Potrerito
Your first step is to get to Bello Metro station on the A line of the Medellin Metro. Tickets cost 2,400 COP each (or 2,550 if you don’t have a reloadable metro card. Thanks to Casey in the comments for this clarification!).
From Bello metro station to the base of the hike is 4 km. On the way, you can explore a totally safe part of town that 99.9% of Medellin tourists don’t see and experience how the city recedes—surprisingly quickly—into traditional rural countryside.
You can also bus or taxi to the base of the hike. To bus, look or ask around for one with “Vereda Potrerito” written on the front. It will take you directly to the trailhead (see map below) for an additional 2,100 COP.
2. Hike to Chorro el Hato Waterfalls (2.2 km, 1.2 hr, 380 m elevation gain)
Use the “Trailhead” point on the Google map above to find the start of the hike, which is before the fence to trout farm and restaurant.
As Amy warns in her comment below, if you pass a restaurant whose owner tries to charge you, you’ve gone too far.
Most of the first part of the hike is well-used by farmers who live on the mountain. This means the trail is well-defined (yay!) but can get muddy and slippery (boo!), especially in Medellin’s rainy(-er) season, which is when we went.
[Update: Casey mentioned in the comments that she went during the dry season in January and the trail was not wet or muddy at all]
At one point we crossed a young local resident carrying a toddler in her arms. We were amazed at how she sped down oblivious to the slippery mud. It was as is if she had crampons attached to her boots.
Hiking further away from the city and into nature, the trail becomes less used and more overgrown. (Follow the map below to not get lost.) You’ll pass by abandoned coffee and corn plantations, then a pair of deserted houses.
You might even pass some wildlife.
Ten minutes from the Chorro el Hato waterfalls, I sniffed the unmistakable musk of a snake. I stopped in my tracks and saw its slimy, garden hose-thick abdomen three feet away. Looking closer and following along its body, I realized its head was only a foot away! Close call (though I later determined it was a harmless forest flame snake).
3. Chorro El Hato Waterfalls
We could see the Chorro El Hato Waterfalls from way down below in Bello, but had no idea they were so big and powerful. And while only one set of falls was visible from below, we discovered there is actually a chain of them.
It’s a beautiful spot to rest, maybe take a dip (the rocks were too wet and slippery when we were there to risk trying to make it into the best swimming pool), and enjoy the moisturizing fresh spray of ricocheting water from the falls.
It’s an area that is worth going back to in the future to rappel down instead of paraglide, like in this short clip:
4. Backtrack (0.9 km, 20 min, 140 m elevation loss)
Unless you brought rock climbing gear, to get up to the Medellin paragliding launch spot you’ll have to backtrack just under one kilometer until you get to the turnoff marked on the map below.
The turnoff is where the trees and bush give away to cow pasture, which is what you’ll be hiking up.
5. Up (and Up, and Up) to Medellin Paragliding in San Felix (1.8 km, 1.2 hr, 420 m elevation gain)
This last part of the hike to the Medellin paragliding launchpad is in open cow field.
The first half kilometer you traverse at a slight incline and go through a couple gates until getting to the farm marked on the map. From there, it’s straight up.
These must be some fit cows because the slope is steep.
There is no defined path. You can choose to go straight up or zig-zag. Just aim for the gates and openings in the fences every couple hundred meters. As you get closer to the top you’ll see the wind socks, which you can also use to guide you. (Thanks to Casey for sharing this tip in her super helpful comment below!)
The buildings at the top of the hill are San Felix and mark the end of the hike.
And the beginning of the fun part.
More Colombian Adventures
And if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions to share with other readers, please share them in the comments!