One of the most beautiful places to experience on gossamer wings
SAO MIGUEL, AZORES
Paragliding on the island of Sao Miguel is an exhilarating yet peaceful experience as pilots fly over mountains, lush forests, ancient crater lakes and black sand beaches.
The islands of the Azores are considered to have some of the best conditions for paragliding anywhere in the world. Possessing impossibly steep mountains, volcanic craters, blue-green lakes and seaside villages the islands draw lovers of free flight from the four corners of the earth.
By far the most accessible location to paraglide in the nine island archipelago is the island of Sao Miguel. It is a 2-hour flight (on a plane of course!) from the mainland of Portugal, making it a popular year-round destination.
Although there are many take-off and landing locations on Sao Miguel our favorite spot to watch the delicate, multi-colored elliptical wings is on the north shore at Santa Barbara beach. With pilots sitting in recumbent style seats or wrapped in insulated cocoons resembling a sleeping bag they take flight from the bluffs high above the beach and circle around like hawks on columns of rising air.
On one recent trip to Santa Barbara beach we were able to observe close to a dozen pilots taking advantage of the clear skies and warm onshore breezes. To see them so close, looking for all the world like giant, colorful caterpillars, was truly a delight. As they rose, fell, dipped and swooped it was easy to see why this form of free flight is so popular.
One pilot in particular repeatedly set his wing to a downwind run and let go of the controls. Backlit by the sun and with arms outstretched he looked like an enormous Andean condor.
Although the best flying takes place between the months of May to October it is entirely possible to fly year-round. From various launch sites including high above the volcanic craters of Furnas to the lakes of Fogo and Sete Cidades pilots can experience a wide array of stunning topography. In particular, the village of Sete Cidades with its twin lakes is considered one of the 60 most beautiful sites of free flight in Europe.
Due to the pandemic the annual Azores Paragliding Festival, now in its 25th. year, needed to be cancelled. But rest assured, paragliding enthusiasts will once again flock to this free flyers paradise once the clouds of Covid lift.