With only one week I wasn’t sure about spending a couple nights anywhere but Quito on our first trip to Ecuador. In retrospect, Mindo is the perfect diversion from Quito’s sprawl, concrete and cars. Just a two hour drive outside the city you’ll be a place that feels very much like the forest, which after all, it is! Although we spent most our time in the city, here is a recap of our 3 day adventure in Mindo.
If it’s adventure you seek, there’s plenty to keep your adrenaline pumping, including ziplining, tubing and hiking. If birding or herping is more your style, you’re also in luck. There are an estimated 550 bird species that call this area home. Bird lovers from all over the world visit Mindo and the surrounding cloud forest.
[HOT TIP: Ecuador is, obviously, a Spanish speaking country. Although some who work in hotels or in the tourism industry do speak at least some English, many do not. At least learn some of the basics or get your translation app ready for a workout!]
DAY 1 – Hit the Road Jack
We departed Quito at 9am. The taxi was $70 one way to Mindo (there were only two of us), but there are other ways to get there including bus if you want to save. I recommend stopping at Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve on the way, even all you do is admire the view and learn the story of this volcanic mineral rich caldera turned organic fertile farmland.
Arrive Mindo approximately noon (with a trip to Pululahua and the two hour drive). Take a drive around this tiny town while you have the driver. We discovered El Quetzal de Mindo while doing so, and it went immediately on our list of things to do in town later.
Check in at Sacatamia Rainforest Reserve and have lunch. We found the food very tasty and the dining room, surrounded by windows, was the perfect perch to get acquainted with the many varieties of birds, particularly the hummingbird, that live here. The reception staff at Sacatamia speak English and kindly made me a reservation for the tour of the El Quetzal ch0colate factory for the following day.
After relaxing in our tree house-like quarters, we took a dip in the indoor, heated pool. I’m not sure I would have done this on my own, but when you travel with an 11-year old you are somewhat obligated to swim whenever the opportunity presents itself! A hot shower and a change of clothes and we went in search of the ‘frog chorus’ down at the pond, next to the main lodge. At dusk lots of tiny endemic frogs come out to sing. Listen and look closely with a flashlight or ask someone from the lodge to help you find them.
[HOT TIP: Because of the changes in elevation, temperatures can vary widely in the course of a day, although Ecuador has a temperate climate year round. Check the weather ahead of time and dress in layers and be prepared for rain.]
DAY 2 – Birds, Beetles, Beans and . . .
Our late lazy morning began with a delicious hot cooked breakfast and a date with those amazing hummingbirds. A guided hike in the rainforest surrounding the lodge was next on our list. The hike wasn’t too strenuous and we learned…ancient medicinal trees and plants…and saw…a spider that looks like a tiger, a plant the tail of a monkey…so many fascinating things that we both agree, this was our favorite activity in Mindo. The giant Tarzan swing sealed the deal!
Lunch & chocolate Tour El Quetzal de Mindo – My 11 year old daughter and I enjoyed this SO much. The food was fantastic (I recommend the BBQ chicken)! El Quetzal also makes its own ginger beer and ginger ale. It will put some hair on your chest, as my grandma used to say, so ask to taste if before you order one. After lunch we had a private tour. From the pod on the plant to the finished product that’s packaged and ready for your consumption, our guide really educated us on the process of making the chocolate. All the products are made on site and available for sale, on in Mindo.
After a stroll around town, we easily hired a cab on the central square to take us back up the long, windy hill to Sacatamia, where we had a rest and ate dinner later that evening.
DAY 3 – . . . Butterflies
Hostería Mariposas de Mindo – We had plenty of time that morning to see this interactive butterfly garden before departing at noon to head back to Quito. This is one of Mindo’s top attractions according to the Internet. I’d say, if you in Mindo and have a hour to spare, then sure, why not. There’s an entrance fee and you can get an English speaking guide. If you have kids or have never seen butterflies up close then it’s worth it. An interesting way to engage with nature. The orchids are gorgeous too!
[HOT TIP: We took a cab from Sacatamia to the Mariposario, which is a bit of a drive from the main town. I arranged with the same driver to collect us in an hour so we would have a ride back. It may have proven difficult to get back otherwise, and walking all the way back to Sachatamia isn’t an option.]