My sweet little Mindo. In the weekends you wake up when the Quito people come to adore your cloud forests and your butterfly gardens. But on sunday evening you go back to sleep again for a couple of days.
Cloud forests, for those who do not know, are similar to rain forests but of course with a different climate. They are brimming with life, and ever since my visit to Santa Elana cloud forest in Costa Rica I had been fascinated by them.
Mindo is one of the best places in Ecuador to see a cloud forest. It is relatively easy to reach from Quito, the location in a steep valley is spectacular. Besides that, the vibe in the village is really friendly and there is some high-quality accommodation available as well.
The good thing about Mindo is that it’s in the middle of cloud forests. So that gives you options. The bad thing is that most of them are located a couple of kilometres out of town and/or on land owned by luxury hotels.
But there is a huge variety, with the Yellow House trails being the most accessible and affordable ones, as it is a five minute walk from the central square. This is bird-watching galore… if you get up early enough and know where to look. Guides are expensive but worth it if you are interested in these beautiful colorful animals here.
Another good thing about Mindo is you can also chill here. The town caters for tourists, but is not one of those drinking holes for backpackers. The weather is pleasant, though in the evening you might need a jacket. And besides birdwatching, there is other stuff to do as well, including rafting and more nature.
Food and drinks
If you follow the main street, you have a wealth of options. The Tigrillo is one of the best pizzerias. The Dragonfly Inn marks the bridge at the town’s entrance and the Beehive is their eating facility. Another remarkable food option is the Caskaffesu, probably the best in town and also an excellent hostal I can say from own experience. It has a wonderful courtyard with flowers. By any means: walk around and there are plenty of lovely options.
Activities / things to do
- birdwatching in cloud forests: as said, the Yellow House is a great option for starters. You pay around 6$ for entrance and you get a map. You can walk the trails on your own as well, it will take you 3-5 hours at a leisurely pace. The heartwarming owners will tell you what to look out for, just ignore their loud and HUGE dogs. There are many other options, inside (El Bravo, Las Tangeras, San Lorenzo) and far outside (Milpe, Yanacocha) of town. Ask your hostal owners for advice
- Tarabita: you can walk to Tarabita as well, but it’s a steeper climb alongside a road. Most people take a taxi. You then take a scary cable car over a river basin, on the other side you can walk to several waterfalls
- butterfly farms. There are many of them in Mindo and they’re all great. But the best of them all is the Mariposario de Mindo, which is a thirty minute walk outside of town. It’s in the direction of Tarabita, but when the cars go right up the hill you go left. Walking in these butterfly farms is supernatural natural, with hundreds of butterflies around you
- Armonia orchid garden: a small but rather brilliant garden, just knock on the door and the super-friendly staff might give you a private tour for around $3. This is a hobby grown out of control, and a feast for the eyes and the camera
- adrenaline stuff: pretty sure you can do ziplining stuff, but rafting and more are possible as well. You will see the tour agencies on main street
Getting to Mindo and getting around
- from Quito there are direct buses a couple of times a day. They leave from the Ofelia terminal in the north (and NOT Carcelen) and stop in the centre of Mindo. They leave from there again as well, you can book tickets in advance from the office around 150 metres east of the main square along Avenida Quito
- an alternative is to take buses to/from Quito to Los Bancos. Tell the bus driver to stop on top of the hill above Mindo and walk down. On the return leg just get a taxi up and then wave down one of the passing buses
- coming from the west is a bit more difficult. From Manta etc you probably go to Santo Domingo first, a grubby place but an important transport hub. From there, direct buses go to Mindo, but infrequently. Alternatively, take a bus to Los Bancos and switch to another bus or collectivo (or take a taxi) in the direction of Quito (or ideally down to Mindo). You can even take a Uber from Santo Domingo, which should set you back around 25$ and is a 90-minute ride
- getting around is easy, as most stuff can be done by foot. If you go to Tarabita, a taxi is an option. If you go to the cloud forests outside of town, a taxi is the only option, some ocations are an hour away
- Weather: as stable as it gets. On average Mindo has 15 days of rain per month, a little bit less in the drier July-September months and above average in April and October. Plenty of sunshine, and the daytime temperatures hover between 20 and 24 degrees. As long as you are not looking for real heat, Mindo is the perfect place to be. At 1’500 metres it’s more pleasant than the much higher Quito
- Safety: perfectly safe. Mindo is laidback. In nature, take common precautions against snakes, mosquitoes, etc
- Money: there is even an ATM here! Most restaurants will take only cash though, so be sure to have some dollars on you
- Otavalo village: another good nature trip from Quito is a visit to Otavalo village, north of the capital. It is well-known for its indigenous market and also has a great hike around a lake. Mark George’s blogpost has good info on it