If you love the experience of looking down on the world from the window of an airplane, you may enjoy paragliding, which offers an adrenaline rush in addition to the incredible views you can see while quietly soaring above a landscape. With just a paraglider and the wind and warm air thermals to carry you, the sport can feel wonderfully solitary (even if you're inexperienced and need to fly tandem with a guide).
Paragliding is generally a safe activity, as long as you fly with an experienced and trained pilot. But, like with any adventure sport, there are inherent risks. Your operator should provide you with a full safety briefing and be able to answer any questions or concerns you have. If they can't or won't, seek another operator.
Paragliding can be done around the world, but the most attractive locations offer wonderful views along with good instruction and accessibility for beginners. Here are 15 of the best paragliding destinations in the world.
Queenstown, New Zealand
The South Island town of Queenstown is often referred to as New Zealand's adventure capital because of all the adventure sports available here: whitewater rafting, hiking, bungee jumping, skiing, jet boating, and, of course, paragliding.
Surrounded by the Remarkables range of the Southern Alps, on one side of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown's geography allows for fabulous views from the air, and the thermals and winds coming off the mountains means it's sometimes possible to fly for a long time. (New Zealand paragliding champion Louis Tapper set a record in early 2020 with an eight-hour flight!) Paragliding is possible in Queenstown year-round, but winters are cold.
Bir Billing, Himachal Pradesh, India
Located in the Kangra Valley of India's northern Himachal Pradesh state, the twin villages of Bir and Billing are the best places to try paragliding in India, as the foothills of the Himalayan range offer a lovely setting of mountains covered in forest.
Tandem paragliding flights typically take off from Billing and land at Bir. Himachal Pradesh experiences cold winters and warm, but often damp, summers. As such, paragliding in Bir Billing is best between the months of October and June, although December and January are very cold.
Visitors to one of Nepal's most popular tourist destinations, Pokhara, will quickly notice the dozens of colorful paragliders floating behind the town. Sarangkot Hill, just north of Phewa Lake, is one of the best places in the world to paraglide because of the stable thermals and incredible views. On one side is the mighty Annapurna range of the Himalaya (among the highest peaks in the world), and on the other is Phewa Lake and terraced green farmland and villages.
Sitting at a lower altitude, Pokhara is generally warmer than Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, so even in the middle of winter, paragliding here isn't too cold. In fact, mid-winter is one of the better times to go because the skies are clearest. Paragliding can be done in Pokhara year-round, but flights are often canceled between June and September, when monsoon rains are around.
The beautiful Caucasus mountains and the stable weather conditions in Gudauri, Georgia, make it one of the best paragliding destinations in this part of the world. Taking off from an altitude of around 9,800 feet, paragliders will soar even higher before landing some 20 to 45 minutes later, depending on thermal conditions.
Gudauri is a ski resort town, so you can also hit the slopes if you come in the right season. Paragliding can be done year-round here, but like other mountainous, high-altitude regions, temperatures are very cold in the winter.
Southern Turkey is perhaps better known as a Mediterranean beach destination, but paragliders can get a different view of the sea, Ölüdeniz' Blue Lagoon, and the white sand coastline from above. Flights take off from the 6,500-foot Mount Babadağ, and the Taurus mountains are visible from the flight. The warm thermals coming off the sea allow paragliders to stay in the air for some time, and flights last around 45 minutes.
As well as the sea and mountain views, Ölüdeniz is a popular paragliding destination thanks to its warm weather. As flights land on the beach, you can even go straight from the sky to the sea.
Paragliding can be enjoyed at hundreds of places around small, mountainous Switzerland, but First is one of the best because of its dramatic views of 13,641-foot Mt. Jungfrau. First itself is a 7,109-foot summit in the Bernese Oberland, above the town of Grindelwald.
Training for Swiss paragliding pilots is very rigorous, so first-timers should be comfortable taking a tandem flight with their instructor. If you get a taste for the sport, training can be done in Switzerland.
The Umbrian village of Castelluccio is the highest-altitude village in the Appenine mountains, at 4,763 feet. The updrafts created by the meeting of the plains and mountains make this one of the best places in Italy to try paragliding.
As well as the mountain views that one should expect when paragliding almost anywhere in the world, Castelluccio offers something different. The hills and valleys around the town are covered in colorful wildflowers in the spring and summer (especially May and June), which are especially lovely to see from above.
Iceland is a little country with a lot of dramatic waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, and lava fields, and seeing them from above adds another dimension to your tour of the country. Reykjavik-based companies offer short trips within the area as well as longer day trips that go out to more remote destinations. The latter operate in the warmer, lighter months, generally between April and October—but this depends on the operator and the destination.
While many excursions depart from Reykjavik, some also leave from the small town of Vik on the south coast, in case the desire to go paragliding hits while you're far from the capital.
Kerio Valley, Kenya
While the views of the Elgeyo Escarpment are dramatic from anywhere, they'll especially take your breath away when soaring above Kenya’s Kerio Valley, part of the Great Rift Valley that runs through several countries in East Africa. The 62-mile unbroken ridgeline is ideal for experienced paragliders who want to take to the skies for as long as possible. Tandem flights with instructors are also possible. The best paragliding conditions in the Kerio Valley can be experienced between December and March.
Western Argentina, near Mendoza, is a popular paragliding spot in South America. The weather, winds, and thermals are stable throughout the year, so you're not just restricted to certain seasons here. Many guided paragliding tours use as their takeoff point Cerro Arco Hill, reached via a rugged dirt track. As well as the impressive mountains (the Mendoza region is home to Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside Asia), fliers can admire the vineyards of Argentina's premier wine region from above.
A South American paragliding experience that's completely different from that of Mendoza, the coastal town of Iquique, in northern Chile, is an amazing place to try paragliding because of its proximity to the seemingly endless sand dunes of the Atacama Desert. Conditions are reliable here, too, thanks to generally stable winds. Plus, the risk of rain ruining your paragliding plans is very slim, as the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world.
No visit to Lima would be complete without a visit to the Miraflores Cliffs, and travelers who want to get the most of the views can paraglide above them. While the attraction of many paragliding experiences the world over is the natural landscape, in Lima, it's all about the city views that reach far down the coast. Flights generally launch from Parque Raimondi and land on the beach.
Makapu'u Cliffs, Hawai'i
On the far eastern edge of Oahu Island, Hawai'i, the corrugated, forested Makapu'u Cliffs have been called a paraglider's heaven. Distance records have been set here, as the northeast trade winds provide good conditions for paragliding and hang gliding. As well as the cliffs, fliers can enjoy the sight of the white sand beaches, blue sea, the lighthouse at Makapu'u Point below, and the islands and volcanoes of Hawai'i beyond. Although there is only one main landing point at Makapu'u (beside the highway), there are a few different takeoff points.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Idaho's Sun Valley, north of Twin Falls, is considered one of the best paragliding spots in the world, let alone in the U.S. In winter, the Sun Valley Resort is full of snow bunnies, while paragliding (and hang gliding) is more enjoyable in warmer temperatures. The updrafts from the desert and mountains create good conditions for taking hours-long flights, although beginners on a tandem flight may want to opt for something shorter. The mountain views are the main attraction here.
Hatcher Pass, Alaska
With a large number of paragliding schools throughout the state, Alaska is an ideal place to learn the adventure sport. One of the best places to paraglide in the enormous state is Hatcher Pass, northeast of Wasilla and a 90-minute drive from Anchorage. The Hatcher Pass is in the Talkeetna Mountains, between the towns of Willow and Palmer. As well as the beautiful mountain and forest scenery, look out for wildflowers below and eagles soaring in the sky. The warm season here is short since the mountains get some of the earliest snow in Alaska.