The quiet, unassuming town of Mindo in the cloud forest is a nature lover’s destination for its birds, endemic fauna, and trails that lead through the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest Reserve to out-of-the-way waterfalls. Located 2.5 hours northwest of Quito, the region has won the Auburn Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count many times, coming in at the top with more than 400 species recorded in one day. Keep reading for a Mindo travel guide that gives you an insider’s perspective on the town and region.
Mindo’s highlights differ than other popular destinations in Ecuador. Its small size is usurped by the stunning natural attractions that surround it. Natural reserves, chocolate tours, hiking, and early morning bird watching tours make it a great place to spend some time exploring before heading out to other destinations in the country. A few days in Mindo give you enough time to see the sights and get to know the local wildlife and terrain, and find some peace and quiet in contrast to the busy capital of Quito.
Ecuador’s four regions are home to an amazing number of birds. Of the 130 of species of hummingbirds in the country, more than 40 live in the cloud forest in and around Mindo. Over 1600 birds live in the mainland and Galapagos Islands, and over 500 have been spotted in the Mindo region, making it an area where bird watchers flock to during their time in the country.
Hummingbirds are almost everywhere you look once out and about in Mindo. Cafés set up birdfeeders, lodges have porches where the fierce birds zoom in and zip away at a dizzying speed, and El Descanso-on the edge of town has a back garden where the birds gather en mass daily. Andean emerald, brown violetear, and green-crowned brilliant hummingbirds swoop down from perches in nearby trees, joining tanagers and toucans at feeding stations set up around the lush landscape of the property. Calle de los Colibries.
The Yellow House is a private lodge and reserve accessed by a short trail that starts kiddy corner to the central park in Mindo. Its owners are passionate about birding, and have set up a series of trails where you can take early morning walks in search of the early risers of the bird world. The 200 hectare network is well marked, and some of the species often spotted include egrets, falcons, fly catchers, tanagers, and toucans.
The trailhead to the Mindo Nambillo Reserve is located a short distance out of town. A cable car journey across the Mindo River starts the excursion, and a system of trails gives you access to 15 waterfalls for a dip under cascading waters in peaceful pools. Under the canopy there are over 200 species of orchids that grow in the area, a symphony of frogs croaking in the distance, and all the usual suspects of the bird world watching from nearby perches.
El Quetzal, named after one of the most recognized birds of the region, is a hotel and restaurant that also is home to a chocolate making operation. People from all over the world are recognizing Mindo, Ecuador as one of the few places that produces dark chocolate from the Nacional strain of cacao-a strain that is highly sought by international confectionary companies. Tours take you through the many stages of making chocolate, from harvesting and roasting to the finished product available in the gift shop of the establishment. Tastings are included, and the restaurant has dishes that incorporate chocolate into their recipes.
9 de Octubre Street.
Many a Mindo travel guide glosses over the number of wildlife species found in the area. While numbers don’t always do the environment justice, the fact that there are well over 1000 species of butterflies found in and around Mindo is astounding. Mariposas de Mindo, a short walk from town along the Mindo River, is a family-owned hostal and butterfly farm where you can experience the color and movement of the butterflies of the region first hand. Enclosed areas are full of fluttering at every angle, sometimes landing on hands and shoulders before flying off again.
Mindo Canopy offers a ziplining course set amid the hills against the backdrop of stunning scenery in the distance. The course takes you from one cable to the next, showing the beauty of the cloud forest, crossing valleys, and ending up at the base where you started the adventure from.
Km 2.5 vía las Cascadas
Mindo, Ecuador is temperate throughout the year with spring-like conditions that are a welcome break from other climates of the country. As opposed to sun lovers on the coast, and those wishing to avoid the rain in the Andes, the most popular times for bird watchers to visit the cloud forest is during the rainy season.
The reason for this is between October and May, the birds are the most active. December, when the Christmas Count is held, marks the start of the height of their activity-normally lasting until April.
Being the cloud forest, expect overcast days-with rain stating in the afternoon and lasting until the early hours of the morning.
During the dry season between June and September, rain is still a possibility, but the skies tend to clear and sunny days bring people from Quito seeking solace from the city.
Festivals and holidays including New Year’s Eve and Carnival in late February see the streets crowded with locals and guests from the capital, expect the party to continue until the early hours of the morning.
Being close to Quito, there are a few ways to reach the cloud forest. Private transportation on day tours and daily buses are the two most popular methods.
Our Mindo Day tour starts in the morning when you are picked up at your hotel by a driver and guide for the short ride to Mindo. During the time in the cloud forest you will visit the butterfly farm, hike to waterfalls, visit the chocolate factory, and can also
zipline over the canopy.
Busses leave the northern La Ofelia terminal hourly during the week from 8 am until 4 pm. On weekends there are extra buses to help with the number of people making the journey.
Nearby attractions to Mindo include private reserves where you can explore the forest, neighboring towns for a slice of life away from the beaten path, and Mitad del Mundo-a expansive complex built in remembrance of the first team of scientists who mapped the equator.
The Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve is a 2000-acre private reserve in the Tandayapa valley. The reserve and valley are rich with bird life underneath the lush fauna. Bellavista was one of the original private reserves started in the area, and serves as a research station for students and scientists as well as a playground for bird lovers. Trails traverse the property, and the main lodge has a restaurant where hummingbirds dot back and forth outside the screened in windows.
Puerto Quito is an hour’s drive north from the Mindo turnoff on the main highway from Quito. The town serves as a hub for the area- banks, stores, a few restaurants, and a Western Union are found here. The journey, as well as the destination, is worth the trip-winding roads and sweeping views of the cloud forest give way to the small town where locals from nearby communities go for supplies and a get away from small town life.
About halfway between Quito and Mindo is Mitad del Mundo. The park was built to celebrate the French-Spanish Geodesic Mission that mapped the equator during the Spanish Occupation of the country. Attractions include cultural pavilions that let you explore pre-Colombian art, a planetarium, a permanent exhibition featuring the art of Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín, and outdoor spaces where concerts and events are held frequently.
Mindo’s accommodations are a refreshing change of pace compared to the cookie cutter hotels found elsewhere in the world. The election is varied, and each has unique features that give guests access to the natural attractions of the areas where they are located.
Centrally located a half a block from the main street in Mindo, Casakaffesu offers bright décor, comfortable rooms, and a café and bar that serve the owner’s coffee and specialty cocktails. The space hosts local musicians and community events and is one of the gathering points in town for visitors and locals alike.
Calle Sixto Duran con Av. Quito
The Dragonfly Inn is a Mindo mainstay, located right after the bridge at the beginning of town. The rustic building has comfortable rooms with hot water and free WiFi, and a goto restaurant that serves a variety of menu items for appetites of all shapes and sizes. Big breakfasts, Mexican fare, and meat and fish are a few of the house specialties. There is also an outside deck overlooking the river for peaceful breakfasts in the morning and quiet drinks after days of exploring.
El Quetzal is located a few blocks up from the central park at the end of the road, making it a great spot for relaxing and enjoying the quiet of Mindo. It’s on the map for its chocolate and restaurant. Dishes include breakfast, sandwiches, and specialties including beef tenderloin with coffee sauce, pork ribs in ginger sauce, and sweet plantain stuffed chicken. Desserts feature El Quetzal’s signature home-made ice cream and brownies. Rooms include free WiFi and a complimentary chocolate tour.
Located off of the Via al Mariposario de Mindo between Mindo and the butterfly farm, Cabinas Bambu is an out-of-town retreat where cabins surround a pool, Jacuzzi, game pavilion and small dining area. Cabins have private bathrooms and plenty of space, a main lodge has private rooms with shared bathrooms, and the property brings local wildlife to its grounds during the week when it’s quiet. Breakfast is served at the restaurant, and the staff are friendly and helpful with transportation to and from town.
Located halfway between Mindo proper and the butterfly farm, La Roulette is one of the original places for lodging in the area. Refitted gypsy caravans serve as rooms. Steps lead to overstuffed beds and well-equipped bathrooms, inside brightly decorated caravans on wheels. The hosteria has a large, independent dining room with big windows that overlook a small lake where birds and wildlife come to feed off of the plants, bushes, and trees growing along the outskirts. Menu items include fondue and pizza that guests can help to make, and healthy breakfast fare.
Km 2 Via al Mariposario de Mindo
While its small size, dusty streets, and limited amount of choices to eat can be off-putting at the onset, Mindo has a lot to offer. Juice bars, crepe shacks, and specialty stores selling mouthwatering desserts make up for the less than filling tourist spots lining the main street. It’s a town for wandering, having a main course at one place and dessert and coffee at another.
The town is quiet during the week and gets busy on weekends. Planning a few days in Mindo that overlaps both is the best way to see both sides of the area.
Rain gear, cameras, sweaters and long-sleeve shirts are some of the things to bring. There are three ATM machines in town, but sometimes they can run out of cash, so make sure to have some with you when you come.
WiFi can also be unreliable, the hotels listed and their restaurants are your best bet, but don’t expect to upload lots of pictures without staying up to the times where less people are using the network.
Bus schedules can also change depending on the time of the year, holidays, etc. If you have a connection to make in Quito, make sure to contact us for options for private transportation, or buy tickets a day in advance at the centrally located bus terminal.
For more information about our day trips to Mindo, or travel in the Galapagos Islands, the Jungle, and the Andes, contact a member of our team.