Hang Gliding In Rio de Janeiro: A New Perspective

Using Uber In Brazil

Ubers were always difficult to get in Brazil. Back in Arraial Do Cabo, drivers would actually accept the ride, then message demanding more money in order to pick us up. If we said no, they’d just let the ride sit there open while they enjoyed lunch on the beach, waiting to collect a cancellation fee if we were in a hurry. I was grateful this phase in our Uber rides was over, but we weren’t completely out of the rough yet. In the city, Uber drivers were still playing games. They’d accept a ride, cancel. Accept. Cancel. The rule of thumb was to always leave a 20 minute cushion before actually needing to be somewhere, like hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro.

We arrived at the beach hut just in time and made our way over to the tent billowing every color of the rainbow in the wind. I locked eyes with a joyful man as he made his way across the sand.


“Ah no, that’s Ricardo,” he said, pointing to another man lounging under the tent, “But, you’re in the right place. Ricardo!” he shouted with a whistle, summoning him over.

“Okay! Follow me.”

Don’t Try To Make It Make Sense

He turned his back, heading toward the four lane road lining the ocean. This road alone made me grateful to deal with Uber instead of renting a vehicle. In the morning, the two lanes nearest the shore are full of cars heading toward the airport. At some point during the evening, these one-way lanes somehow switch, directing all traffic to instead be driving back down the coast. Don’t ask me why or how it works, it just does. That’s Brazil. Red lights are suggestions, roundabouts can be driven counter-clockwise and one way lanes switch directions multiple times a day.

I followed our guide through the traffic, creating our own “WALK SIGN IS ON” as we dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and…dodged through the bustling traffic. Soon enough, we found ourselves in another shaded hut. This, was luxury. With a daily UV index of a whopping 14, escaping the sun always seemed to feel 15 degrees cooler.

The Legal Stuff For Hang Gliding In Rio De Janeiro

“Please fill in,” Ricardo said, motioning to the dusty computer.

Decoding the Portuguese, I typed in my first name, my last name, my birth date, my passport-pretty much everything needed to sign my life away. As my guide clicked the next button, a lengthy document full of fine print Portuguese popped up and he simply said, “All okay,” as he tapped the complete button.

“I sure hope so,” I said under my breath, following our new fingers-crossed-that-we’re-friends back into traffic.

“Please, get in,” Ricardo said flatly, opening the back door of a sleek black pick-up truck, as he scanned the beach for his partner.

I peered around into the back of the truck, where all of the hang gliding equipment rested. Each of the poles, cables, and wings were zipped perfectly into a small carrier. It looked eerily similar to my snowboarding bag, in a way that made me wonder if that teeny thing was really capable of carrying me thousands of feet back down the mountain.

Preparing To Jump Off Of A Cliff

“Okay! Let’s go,” Ricardo said for probably the thousandth time this year, hopping into the truck with his partner.

We took off with squealing tires, weaving back and forth through the beeping cars.

“This is the scariest part of your tour,” he joked, “Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro is safer than driving here.”

That’s something we could agree on. Surprisingly, the ride actually seemed to calm down once we got off of the highway and into the spiraling roads of the Tijuca National Park. Ricardo explained that the forest held tons of animals within its leaves and to keep an eye out for toucans, monkeys and even sloths. Unfortunately, our energy must have been off because the only wildlife I spotted was a massive spider that I absolutely could have gone without.

As his co-workers hustled to pull the equipment out of the trunk and hoist it up to the ridge, I took in the scenery from the viewpoint. The rainforest seemed to go on forever. I found out later that this feeling made sense. Tijuca National Park is the largest urban rainforest on the entire planet. The vines and branches and ferns fluttered in the wind, like a grassy field. Emerald, sage and olive green swished and swirled together, transforming the gnarled mess into a graceful mosaic, as if I took a magnifying glass to a crocodile’s scaly skin.

The viewpoint in Tijuca National Forest
The Cliffside Viewpoint

Far ahead, the Atlantic Ocean shimmered a deep cobalt blue, lined with a twinkling sapphire that marked the waves meeting the shore. The earth and water was divided perfectly by the sparkling city skyline. The hotels and apartments soared to the clouds, creating the urban metropolis that we all know and love.

Suiting Up

“It’s time to get ready,” Ricardo said, gesturing to his pile of equipment.

I strolled over, as he picked up a mess of straps and unzipped the portion they were all strung together with.

“Purse goes here,” he explained, pointing to the empty sack.

I zipped all of my belongings into the pouch, then Ricardo turned it upright.

“One leg here, yes, and now other one here; perfect,” he exclaimed, hooking the carabiners together on my back, “Now, we practice.”

I put one hand over his right shoulder and one hand looped into a dangling strap, as he explained the way we’d be jumping off of the cliffside.

“Three, two, ONE,” he shouted, as we both mini-sprinted down the track together. It was very important that we stayed in the right position, while running the same pace in order to keep balance.

“You got it,” he said, grinning like a proud father and patting me on the back.

Now, we just had to wait until our wings were next up in line on the platform. I watched as the guys quickly constructed the massive works of art, strapped them to the tourists and pushed them off into in the wind. This felt like kindergarten. I wanted to be first.

Waiting in line in Tijuca National Forest
Waiting In Line

Hang Gliding In Rio de Janeiro

Finally, my time had come. I stepped forward as two people began strapping me left and right and up and down in just a matter of seconds.

“You ready?”

“Ready,” I replied, confidently.

“Three, two, ONE.”

Now, we were racing. It felt like forever, running against the wind with my newfound wings, but, this, too, was probably only a matter of seconds. As my sneakers took their first step into the air, I couldn’t help but smile. I had finally fully embodied the branding of Nike Air Force 1’s…and maybe my birth name, too.

Gliding from one gust of wind to the next, I felt alive. I was higher than the toucans and the monkeys and even the sloths. Maybe they were actually the ones sightseeing from the tops of the Jabuticaba trees. I could enjoy the beach traffic from here. I watched as the lights gleamed off of the dusty cars, all perfectly aligned in their tracks. It was about time they found some sense of organization.

Far down in the blues, a helicopter hovered above the splashing waves, babysitting the beachgoers. It was spectacular to be on the other side of things. For once, I wasn’t taking in the world from a mere 5 feet and 4 inches above surface level. I was the tallest in the room.

Landing In The White Sand

Before taking off, Ricardo’s partner explained that it was a perfect day to hang glide- the best of the year, both clarity and wind-wise. He was right. I was airborne for almost ten full minutes, just riding the breeze. As we neared the beach, this freedom was coming to an end, making room for a new kind. I mountain-climbed my left knee toward my instructor, as he ripped my securing strap off like a bandaid.

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro
Hang Gliding Above The Atlantic Ocean

We were no longer belly-flopping toward the sand. However, I have to admit, the objects in the mirror seemed much closer than they appeared. Thinking I was already at beach level, I peddled my legs more than once, like a puppy that was snatched up mid-run. In my defense, my only experience landing from thousands of feet in the air was while skydiving and my instructor made it very clear that, if I messed up the landing, my next tour would’ve been at the local hospital. I figured it was better to try multiple times than never at all.

We coasted onto the sand, ending our journey the same way we began it: Lots of running and tugging. Ricardo wriggled me free of my straps, saying only one more powerful word, since his last impactful, “ONE.”


“Good,” I replied, granting him a thumbs up, as I made my way back into the bustling traffic of Rio de Janeiro.

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