Mindo Guide: Escape to Cloud Forest in Ecuador
Read our complete guide on best things to do in Mindo, Ecuador. Experience cloud forest, do bird watching, hike along Nambilla waterfalls, take a ride by cable car, admire butterflies, taste chocolate, coffee or do adventure activities, everything only 2 hours travel from the capital Quito.
It didn't take long since we left Quito and we could see white clouds rolling over lush green trees and vegetation. It meant the only thing. We were getting nearer to a small village Mindo, which is known as a paradise for bird watchers, waterfall lovers and those, who want to get a sense of cloud forest which is easily accessible.
In this article, we try to cover the best places to visit, activities you can do, tips on where to stay and how to get to Mindo.
Mindo, a village in the Andean Mountains is not somehow appealing, and if you are not interested in doing some of the activities the surroundings have to offer, we don't recommend going.
Mindo is a heavily visited place, especially during weekends when lots of Ecuadorians come to enjoy days off, so if possible, plan your visit during weekdays to experience the more tranquil atmosphere.
It is easy to spend two to three days in Mindo while doing some activities. The good thing is you don't need to book anything (except for accommodation) much in advance as tours run very often, only make sure that they speak your preferred language.
And what ARE THE best things you can do in Mindo?
HIKING IN MINDO
There are hiking trails everywhere around Mindo. You can set off without any particular plan and only follow dirt paths to get deeper into the forest, where you can also observe birds (the best time is early in the morning or before dawn) without any tour - this the best activity for broke travelers.
To get the best directions, you can ask at one of many tour operators offices on the main road going through the village.
RIDE TARABITA CABLE CAR
Only 7 km from the village is Tarabita Cable Car. The short ride will carry you across the Rio Nambillo and the cloud forest valley below. The return ride cost $5, which is a bit overprices considering how long the ride takes, on the other hand, you will get to the other side of valley quickly and can visit some waterfalls easily.
To get to Tarabita, you have two options. There is no public transport running, so you can either walk or take a taxi. The walk should take you a bit over an hour as it goes all the way uphill and although we have read that the hike is pleasant, we didn't find it so, as the scenery along the way is not somehow spectacular and you will walk on the dirt road with traffic.
Taxi drivers from Mindo charge $6 per ride which is a robbery, but it saves time. We were able to bargain and got to Tarabita for $4 (it was Monday, and the village was dead), but on the way back, the driver asked for $6, and we couldn't get a better deal, simply, because he knew we have no other option than to walk back.
NambillA CascadaS and WATERFALLS aLONG TRAIL
We've never seen that many waterfalls along one trail as in Mindo! Take a cable car (open from 9 - 4:30) and let's explore the waterfall path.
There are seven easily accessible waterfalls, and it is only up to you how many you want to see and how long you would like to spend in the area. Although we visited Mindo during the dry season (in September), there was still water running down the falls.
The furthermost and probably the least visited is Cascada Reina. It takes about an hour one way to get to the falls and what we loved the most (except for having the path for ourselves and of course, the falls itself) was watching birds and monkeys in treetops.
When you get back to the cable car, go left, and you can gradually visit Cascada Nambillo (you must pay an additional $3 to get to the viewing platform on the top - we didn't go there), Cascada Ondinas, Cascada Guaromos, Cascada Colibries, Cascada Madre and Cascada de Los Maderos.
All waterfalls are pretty, and a bonus is that you can take a dip at each, so don't forget a swimsuit.
The area around Mindo is a premier destination for bird watching. More than 500 species have been recorded here, and it doesn't matter if your interest is just casual or if you are a professional bird watcher, the number of birds will amaze you.
You can either visit a bird sanctuary in Mindo or a private reserves in the near surroundings. The cost is $5 - $10 and tours start early in the morning when birds are the most active.
The most popular is to go watching hummingbirds. If you are more interested, you can book a private tour for around $75. The guide will take you to the cloud forest, and you will be looking for rare species.
We also must mention, that if you are on a budget, you can try your luck on the way to Cascada Reina as we could see several different birds along the way. Also, most of the hostels in the village have lots of birds on their property because they feed them.
Only a mile outside Mindo is a butterfly farm Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo. For $7.50 you can walk through the butterfly garden and also watch the whole cycle and all stages of butterflies' evolution.
VISIT MINDO CHOCOLATE TOUR
Do you want to learn about the process how is the chocolate made? One of the best chocolates in Ecuador has its origin here, in Mindo.
We took a one-hour long tour in El Quetzal, a place, where they make different types of chocolate from scratch. You will learn from where they get beans, how the process of fermentation, drying and roasting works and also, most importantly, how long it takes until we can buy the final product.
The cost of the tour is $10, and it also includes a yummy tasting of chocolate, chocolate tea, and brownies.
ADRENALINE ACTIVITIES in CLOUD FOREST
Nowadays, where is a river and trees, there you will find adrenaline activities such as rafting, tubing or zip lining and Mindo is no different.
To be honest, we haven't tried those activities yet as we usually find it too touristy and we prefer to explore the place from the ground using our legs, but if this is what you like, there are lots of places where you can try it.
MINDO NIGHT WALKS
Night walk in the forest was one of the best things we've done in Mindo. We didn't have high expectations but the tour turned out to be great. First of all, it was just two of us and a guide, so for $15 per person (20% goes to conservation), we had a private tour for almost two hours. Secondly, it was after a rain, and the forest was alive.
We could spot various species of frogs, snakes, spiders, grasshoppers, cockroaches, crickets, butterflies and many more. The company is called simply Night Walks Mindo our guide was an enthusiastic Canadian guy and overall it was well-spent time.
WHERE TO STAY IN MINDO
In Mindo, you have several options of where to spend a night. You can either stay in the village in cheaper hostels and hotels, or outside Mindo in one of the lodges with private reserves.
Mid-range: Close to the village center and still reasonably priced is Mindo Ananaw.
HOW TO GET TO MINDO
From Quito, there is a bus going to Mindo approximately five times a day, on weekends a bit more frequently. Take a bus from north terminal La Ofelia or from terminal Terrestre de Carcelen. The price is $3.15.
We don't recommend taking the bus from the south terminal as we did, because we arrived from Latacunga. Not only the bus company (only one in the south terminal) drove for an hour through the city to the north terminal, but also did not go directly to Mindo (although they claimed they go there, the price was $4.50), but they dropped us off on the side of the highway 6 km from Mindo, and we had to take a taxi for another $3.
Also, be aware of thieves in the buses in Ecuador, especially when going from and to Quito. So far we took two buses from and to the capital and on both people tried to steal our belongings. Always keep your backpack on your lap, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
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