Mindo is one of those places that hardly anyone seems to visit. Ecuador already seems to suffer from tourists skipping it and travelling directly between Columbia and Peru but those that do make it to Ecuador can’t seem to be bothered to visit teeny tiny little Mindo.
But, whilst the other tourists are out chasing bigger fish and don’t have the time or the desire to stop and marvel at Mindo’s many charms you get the opportunity to enjoy a slower pace of life (or a faster one if you try out the many ziplines through Mindo’s cloud forest). This fish is well worth your time.
Mindo is an area only a couple of hours North of Ecuador’s Capital (Quito) and is easily accessible by local bus from the Ofelia Bus Station in the North of Quito. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty because of the conjunction of the Chocoan Lowlands and the Tropical Andes resulting in Cloud Forests and an enormously bio-diverse eoregion housing many plant and animal species.
You don’t want to miss Mindo… here are my Top 5 suggestions for what to do:
- Visit the Butterfly Sanctuary
Now, there are two butterfly sanctuaries in Mindo. One is right in the main town and is a little smaller but has hammocks and a very chilled out vibe. It also has some rather aggressive geese! The other one is a couple of km outside of town, is bigger and more expensive but most of the tour agencies recommend it as it gives them a cut (according to my delightfully friendly Swiss hostel owner). Trust me, you’ll be more than happy wandering around the smaller place, filming butterflies, looking at the many orchids housed in the gardens there and lounging on a hammock watching the hummingbirds feed.
- Go Bird Watching
There are plenty of tours if you’re a serious bird watcher so you can head off with a guide and see several types of toucan, many hummingbirds and a whole flock of other birds on an early-bird (see what I did there???) morning organised trip. If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to that kind of tour you can actually see a lot of the birds just wandering around the town and surrounding areas. The street besides the school sports courts has a stretch of wall with all the native birds painted onto it with their names so you can take note there and go out seeking the Cock-of-the-rock Lek.
Hummingbirds are most reliably seen at the butterfly sanctuary mentioned above or in the gardens of a couple of small cafes around town. Just ask about for names – Mindo is nice and small!
- Go Flying
Having spent some time watching wing-ed things fly around perhaps you should try it out yourself? Mindo sports an excellent selection of zip lines through the canopy of the cloud forests that surround the town. There are two companies that do this but the first one you come to as you walk up the hill is the better value of the two. The walk to the entrance is a couple of km uphill but the walk is pretty. If you prefer you can take a taxi or hitchhike but be warned that taxis are a bit pricey. Once there, enjoy 15 zip lines for approx. 15USD – a significantly better price than you’ll find for the same activity in Baños. Fly here and go water-based adventuring in Baños instead…
You get to have a go at three styles of ziplining – the normal sitting position, the up-side down “bat” move and the 2 person superman. The latter is a little weird as it involves you wrapping your legs around the guide’s middle as you lie superman style in front of him…awkward! Luckily I have no photographic proof that this happened!
- The Frog Concert
El concerto de ranas is held at Mindo Lago – it is up the hill in the opposite direction to the ziplines. The owners of this lodge have successfully managed to recreate a suitable environment to house and protect a number of endangered species of frogs and toads. In the evenings you can go and listen to the frog concert (literally listening to a very noisy bunch of frogs ribbiting away happily) whilst enjoying a glass of wine. Afterwards you are taken on a small walk around the ponds with a guide who points out certain species of frog, toad and various other creepy crawlies the night throws at you. All in all a really interesting experience!
- Hike to the Waterfalls
In the same direction as the ziplines (only a little further uphill) you can find a series of waterfalls, 5 in total I think. These are reached by way of a sort of cable car (the Tarabita) that carries you across the gorge. The walk is fairly steep and a bit slippy in places but it is very beautiful. You’ll need a good couple of hours if you intend to visit all the waterfalls and get back before the last cable car. Take your swimmers and a picnic and make a day of it!
These are my top things to do in Mindo and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! I wouldn’t run around too much though – Mindo’s one street and relaxing vibes are a way of life. Take your time and enjoy everything.
I stayed with the delightful Willi at Las Luciernagas. This Swiss owned set of little wooden huts is perfect after the hustle and bustle of Quito. Don’t expect super luxury… you are in a cabin in the woods but the breakfasts here are the best I had the whole way through South America. Well worth a visit! Say hi to Willi for me!