Mindo, Ecuador is one of the most ecologically diverse regions of the world with over 400 species of birds! In fact, just recently in December 2016, 465 species of birds were counted by ‘citizen scientists’ in Mindo making it the second most “bird-rich” region in the world!
The sleepy town is typically a day trip destination, but we’d heard a lot about its rustic charm and paradisiac setting which made us decide to stay longer to get an authentic feel of small town Ecuador. We hopped on a Cooperativo Flor de Valle bus from the Ofelia station (about 40 minutes north of downtown Quito; approx. taxi cost $6). This is the only direct bus to Mindo ($2.50 one way). I strongly recommended that you buy your return ticket from the Mindo bus station as soon as you arrive, especially if you will be returning on a Sunday!
We arrived at our very own private bungalow at Cabanas Armonia y Jardin de Orquideas, a 10 minute walk from the bus station in the village. I had read reviews online that the place was a bit hard to find so if you’re lost, just ask people for directions to the stadium. The B&B is right behind it!
The staff were very attentive and helpful! The hostess provided us information on all the attractions in the area; called us taxis and took care of all the bookings to the tours we wanted to take. Our room was extremely clean with a nice bed and hot shower! A simple breakfast of eggs, toast, fresh fruit, juice and coffee was served in an outdoor area surrounded by an orchid garden where you could watch hummingbirds buzzing in action. The owners also had ripe bananas served on a stand which attracted several other beautiful birds including Tanagers and Toucans!
Mindo is the kind of place where you could spend hours in bed reading a book in silence that is interrupted only by the songs of different birds or roosters. It was nice to not wake up super early to rush to places before the tourist crowds arrive! You can truly truly enjoy the slow pace of life here. Also, you don’t really have to try to look for nature; there are hiking trails everywhere and no one can leave this village without seeing a couple of unique birds, or at least 20 different kinds of hummingbirds!
Here were our favorite things to do in Mindo:
Ziplining Through the Cloudforest
This was our first time ziplining EVER! Tons of positive reviews on tripadvisor, high safety standards, and the thought that I would be ABOVE the canopy line by myself, all for the excellent price of $20 for 10 lines had me sold on the adventure! You could zipline upside down like a bat, side-by-side with a friend, or fly like superman which was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time!
Go Chocolate Tasting at El Quetzal de Mindo
For $10, you learn all about how chocolate is made from tree to bar. Super friendly staff walked us through their garden and gave us samples of stevia leaf straight from the plant (disgusting!!) and the pulp of a cocoa bean that tasted really sour and fruity! The highlight of the tour included tastings of chocolate tea (not my favorite), dark & milk chocolate in various flavors including chili and ginger, cocoa BBQ sauce (!) and the most decadent buttery, melt-in-your-mouth brownie! Not a bad way to spend a lazy afternoon. The cafe also has the most amazing gingerale and we loved sipping tea on their little balcony while watching the sun set!
Hike to Waterfalls
A quick taxi ride from the town center will bring you to the tarabita (cable car) that takes you over lush forest to the starting point of several hiking trails. We chose to hike to the Cascada Nambillo waterfall which took about an hour to get to, but we stopped on the way several times to admire the brilliantly colored butterflies, unique vegetation and sounds of birds! We hiked down to the waterfall before noon so we arrived pretty early and had the place all to ourselves! The water was extremely cold so we couldn’t swim but it was fun to soak our feet and forest bathe!
Visit the Butterfly Conservatory (Mariposas de Mindo)
Even though we love nature and the outdoors, this place wasn’t really high on our “must-visit” list. Our bus wasn’t until Sunday evening so we had some time to kill. This turned out to be an unexpectedly great experience. After paying the entrance fee ($6), you are given a quick biology lesson on the life cycle and habitat of butterflies, and then led to the entrance of the butterfly enclosure.
One step in and we were completely entranced by the sight of thousands of butterflies fluttering fearlessly everywhere! The sound of thousands of these gentle creatures flitting about drowned out all the stress you generally experience in “touristy” places. We found a quiet spot and felt ourselves completely immersed in the lives of these beautiful insects. I definitely recommend that you wear lighter colored clothing if you want the butterflies to be attracted to you! My husband wore a yellow t-shirt and they were all over him 🙂
There are tons of other activities for the nature lover (see the cock of the rock lek, or do a night walk in the forest) or adventure junkies (river tubing)! There are no clubs here and no nightlife, but who’s here to do that anyways? We felt completely rejuvenated being so close to nature, calling it an early night every day and taking it slow which makes me feel like we’ll definitely be back here again!