This small but colourful and friendly village is one of the lesser known yet most fascinating destinations in Ecuador. This mystical place never seems to stop surprising. The Mindo cloud forest is the perfect place get away from the busy city. Since it’s only a two-hour drive from Quito (Ecuador’s capital), it is perfect for day-trips or (extended) weekends. Mindo offers adventurous activities, tasteful tours and beautiful wildlife sights, which are all very accessible and close by.
Guest post by Robin van Lutterveld
What’s the best time to visit Mindo?
The great thing about Ecuador is that it’s situated directly at the equator. Therefore, there is no summer/winter, only a dry and wet season. In practice, this does not really have a significant impact, as the weather remains impossible to predict. At the coast, it’s almost always warm with lots of sunshine. In the Andes, the weather changes rapidly, but generally it’s dry during the day/morning and if it rains it’s most often during the evenings/nights.
Mindo lies at the entrance of the rainforest and therefore often has sun with rain-showers. The village is not very touristic during the year, but obviously has more tourists in the high-season in July/August. There is arguably no best time to visit Mindo, as it’s a perfect year-round destination.
a Few facts about Mindo
– Mindo is considered a cloud forest because of its altitude at 1000m above sea level. The cloud forest reaches all the way up to 3000m. The good thing is that because of this altitude there are not many mosquitos and it’s too high for them to carry diseases like malaria.
– Ecuador and thus Mindo use the U.S dollar, as well as Ecuadorian minted dollars and cents. These Ecuadorian dollars are not usable in the Unites States, so make sure to spend them (on awesome souvenirs like a wooden hummingbird).
– It’s possible to reach Mindo by mountain bike from Quito, but be careful as the route is very challenging and full of hills, at some points cyclists can reach speeds of over 60 km/h!
One day in Mindo itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Mindo.
Visit the Mariposas (butterfly Garden)
This butterfly garden is dedicated to the conservation of butterflies and is one of the best places to see many different species. After a short introduction about the garden, the life cycle of butterflies and some house rules, you enter the garden. There are over 1200 butterflies flying around here, so upon entering it feels overwhelming. The sheer beauty of the different shaped and coloured butterflies is stunning. You can put some banana on your hand and make the butterflies eat from your hand (or your nose). A man’s blue-coloured backpack was very popular among the bigger species of butterflies, as somehow numerous couples started mating on it.
You can witness all the stages of the butterfly life here, from egg to caterpillar to pupa and adult. Even though the species can be the same, the looks of the eggs and pupas depend on the location of the butterfly. Some eggs and pupas look shiny golden, when the butterflies are located close to water, while others look like leaves of a tree. Part of the butterflies goes back into the wild as part of the conservation program.
Outside you are welcomed by many hummingbirds that are drinking from the feeders. From the two bamboo viewpoints you will have a good view over the forest.
Make your own Ecuadorian chocolate
For chocolate lovers, this tour is surprising and unexpected. It’s perfect to do this tour while waiting for your transport back to Quito, as it’s not too long and close to the station. During the El Quetzal chocolate tour, you discover many things about chocolate. The friendly guides speak slowly so that you can understand everything clearly. Perhaps without speaking any Spanish you would still understand what’s being told and demonstrated.
After an introduction about chocolate in Ecuador, you will start with the Chocolate fruit (yes, there is a fruit!). The chocolate fruit tastes surprisingly sweet, which comes really unexpected. You can try a kind of syrup that is made of the fruits, which tastes a bit like honey.
There is a greenhouse where they show the fermentation process of the chocolate. Next up is heating the chocolate so that the peel comes off easily. The next step is stirring the chocolate for a bit until they are hot enough. After peeling the chocolate beans, they go into a mill. The result is a light brown paste like chocolate mix. After the demonstration, you get a godly chocolate brownie and chocolate fondue.
Spot toucans and hummingbirds
Take the taxi to El Edén, a treehouse on the road near the Zip-lines. There, you’ll probably be welcomed by a friendly lady who will ask whether you would like to drink or eat something. You don’t have to, but it’s a nice place to enjoy breakfast or a coffee.
There you can witness so many hummingbirds, from white-blue coloured to green-purple. Every single hummingbird has different characteristics, from beak to tail to size. It’s amazing to see those small but incredibly fast and agile birds fly around.
That lady told us that we should wait 15 minutes, as the toucans will come by then. Luckily, she was right, because indeed after the 15 minutes the first toucan showed up, and after a minute the whole family of toucans arrived. It was like their alarm was set at 9:00, they certainly did not want to come late for the bananas. It is such a comical sight to experience the clumsy toucans eat the bananas.
Swim at the waterfalls
Take a 20-minute ride from Mindo to the cable car that takes you to the waterfalls. This should cost between $3-6. In case you’re arriving from El Edén, it is a 40-minute walk to get there. Go early in the morning, as then the chance is big there will be nobody else. It really gives you the feeling like you’re Dora the explorer. Walking in silence through the in-morning dawn covered trails is fantastic.
The cable car costs $5 per person and takes you to the trail that leads to the waterfalls and back. The cable car unfortunately goes very fast, giving you only few minutes to enjoy the views from the forest below. Make sure that you don’t drop anything when you exit the car. Prepare enough food and drinks for the day, there is no option to buy anything in the forest.
Once you arrive at the other side, there is a baños and two paths, leading to the waterfalls. The path to the right is a bit harder and take one hour to get to a 50 ft waterfall Reina. The path to the left takes you to 5 different waterfalls, if you are limited in time I would recommend going this way. There is a lot of wildlife to be seen so keep your eyes open! From lizards to birds and colourful insects to (small) snakes, have your camera ready.
About 15 minutes away from Mindo, there are two zip-line adventure parks. Zip-lining is a perfect way to have amazing views of the forest. The guides often ask people to join them in a special way, hanging either upside down or superman-like, which really fills your body with adrenaline. This is a great way to see the forest, and the small hikes to the next zip-line gives you the opportunity to spot plants like bromeliads and birds like the toucan!
The 3500 meters of zip-lines promise a good time, and to top it off – there’s the Tarzan swing. This 40m swing freefall is scary but worth the $3. Imagine this to be like bungee jumping although less extreme. It’s a perfect climax to end the day with.
Where to stay in Mindo?
Hostal Melyang is a hostel located directly at the entrance of Mindo. It has a lot of hummingbirds flying around at the attic and is perfect for younger travellers or travellers on a budget. The staff is very friendly, and a stay here can cost as less as $5, – per night!
Mindo Lago is a small paradise. This tropical hotel has a year-round natural swimming pool and small boats on which you can navigate through the water. The bamboo houses give a unique atmosphere and it has a perfect location to spot animals. Prices start $73, a steal for a location and hotel like this!
Extra tips for visiting Mindo
– The buses and transport in Ecuador can be quite a hassle. Therefore, it’s recommended booking the tickets in advance to avoid full buses, or by booking a tour at a tour operator.
– For great personal advice and affordable tours consider booking with Gulliver Expeditions, they are very helpful and friendly.
– For food, try the hamburgers at Hamburguesas Don Rafa, some of the friendliest people and the most delicious burgers!
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