Guide to Roldanillo, Colombia

  • One of South America’s friendliest countries
  • Flatland flying, tropical mountains, hills and jungle
  • Best time is December-March and July to September
  • Easy flying for new pilots, but also a strong competition venue
'That looks nice, let's go over there.' Roldanillo in Colombia. Photo: Federico Rios

A brilliant day flying Roldanillo in Colombia. Photo: Federico Rios

Consistent flying with friendly thermals and even friendlier people.


Officially recognised as one of the top-10 friendliest countries in the world, Colombia’s flying capital is Roldanillo. It has hosted a bevy of international comps, including the Paragliding World Cup Superfinal, and is due to host the Paragliding World Championships in 2015. And it’s all down to the super-reliable conditions.

The Colombian tropical climate is influenced by trade winds so it’s nothing if not consistent. The agricultural Valle de Cauca with its unfenced farmland and extensive road network create a retrieve system that invites you to make the most of the go-anywhere conditions.

The thermals are generally light, apart from a rowdy area over the quarry to the south, and aside from the Pacific breeze, a pilot’s biggest concern will be finding the nearest bodega after landing.

Because of the early starts here there is not a huge late-night scene. Jeeps (called Willy’s) for the Los Tanques take-off leave from the Parque Central starting about 8.45am, usually from the southeastern corner outside the Juice Palace. They are arranged by locals or long-stay pilots and then leave when full.

Other launches include La Tulia and Pico. To get to these you can take local public transport and then walk.

The main take off at Los Tanques sits 900m above the town of Roldanillo in the valley floor and faces east across the wide-open Valle de Cauca. The Cauca Valley is a political region as well as a geographical feature.

It lies in the west of Colombia, in the middle of a chain of tropical mountains and hills that run the length of the country. One border stretches out to touch the Pacific coast while the jungle-covered mountains rise to above 2,000m.

Flying here starts early. The thermic breeze hits launch around 9am and flying traditionally start around 11am. Only a strong Pacific breeze from the west prevents it.

There are no strong winds and the thermals are often gentle making the flying almost perfect. However, Rolda’s reputation for superlight wafting thermals is somewhat overplayed: changing weather patterns in recent years mean stronger – but still good – conditions.

The topography of the valley makes it perfect for flying cats-cradle tasks with interesting route finding possibilities. After take off fly along the western mountains, out into the flats, over to the east hills and then choose your direction, north or south. Easy logistics make getting back to town with cheap public transport a breeze.

The meteo wind is usually light from either the north or the south. The Pacific sea breeze may produce a strong westerly wind with gusts of 25‐30km/h later in the day. This only penetrates 2‐3km into the valley, allowing pilots full use of the eastern side with little to no effect.

December through March and from July to September. The summer season is best, but even in the winter (rainy) season 60% of days here are flyable.

Launch: 1,800m
Landing: 950m
Cloudbase: 1,800m‐2,300m. The moist agricultural climate of the valley reduces the tendency for over development within the flying area.

Yes. There is a dedicated take off for hang gliders, just 15 minutes from the centre of town on the way to La Tulia, at 1,880m.

“Anywhere you want to go,” is the local advice, with cats-cradle type flying the norm. Out-and-returns and triangles to land back in Roldanillo are often thwarted by the afternoon Pacifico.

There is an airspace limit of 9,000ft to the southeast and 10,000ft to the north. Although often ignored by pilots it is “an issue waiting to happen” according to one local. Avoid.

Be careful of climbing out over the back and then not being able to make it back to the landing field. Power lines below launch are clearly visible and easy to avoid. Check foreign office advice before you go as some border areas of Colombia are still no-go zones for travellers.

Hotels, bed-and-breakfast and out-of-town fincas are available, starting at €15‐30 a night.

Kiteboarding on Lake Calima is just 90-minutes away, or take a horseback ride through the coffee plantations. Colombia is a traveller’s treasure trove.

WEATHER in conjunction with

It’s a 60-minute flight from Bogotá to the regional airports of Pereira and Armenia. Roldanillo is a 90-minute taxi ride from both (about €40). Cali International Airport is 90 minutes by taxi or two hours by bus.

If you don’t speak at least a bit of Spanish it can help to use one of the local guiding services to help smooth the way. Two recommended ones are Cloudbase Colombia and Airnomads.

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