Some places in the world on the tourist trail can seem off the beaten path despite how well known they are. Mindo is such a place. Settled into a valley surrounded by lush cloud forest and small rivers rushing off the Andes Mountains, this small little town is a place to slow down and enjoy whatever nature is willing to reveal.
The town center is home to a few blocks of dusty streets, little shops, wood houses and a half-neglected town square. From every corner you can see the clouds rolling in and out over the lush green landscape that surrounds Mindo. Within minutes of the town center you can find yourself a million miles away, on the banks of a rushing river or on a trail surrounded by enormous leaves, tropical flowers and cascading waterfalls.
The cloud forests of Ecuador are home to an amazing array of biodiversity and birds. Hummingbirds are such a common occurrence here that you can become almost complacent about seeing them zipping around mere feet from you – always too fast for the camera unless you are dedicated to photographing them. The natural beauty is extremely accessible and almost hypnotic.
One of the great natural highlights of Mindo is the chance to hike in the cloud forest of the Mindo-Nambillo Reserve. A rough hewn path traces the edges of hillsides and takes you down sharp slopes to small secluded waterfalls. It is a trail where you will see a few people, but you can still feel as if you have the entire expanse of nature to yourself. To reach it, you ride the several hundred metre long tarabita over the river valley below. The tarabita can best be described as a metal cart suspended off of a solid cable that holds about six people. Think coal mining cart crossed with a zip line run by a diesel engine. It is magnificently simple and beautiful to dart across the open vistas on something that undoubtedly would not pass a safety check in the States or Europe.
There are other hikes around town including down the quiet road along Rio Blanco with its waters that flow directly out of the crater of the Guagua Pichincha volcano. Or head to the La Casa Amarilla and follow trails through the guava plantations and up to a rickety perch high above town.
Of course if hiking isn’t your thing, then you can go for a relaxing tubing ride down the river or check out the Mindo butterfly farm.
Then again, maybe you need more adventure, in which case the canyoning and zip-lining options await. The latter was quite fun as I went with our friend Aarne one morning. We had a great time flying from hillside to hillside, sometimes upside down in the mariposa (butterfly) position! It might not be for everyone, but I enjoyed it!
When you need an escape from all the nature, you can check out one of the local chocolate businesses in town. El Quetzal, now famous for its chocolate tours and treats, started as an internet cafe. The owner’s brownies were so good, and the supply of sufficiently good chocolate so spotty, that the owners decided to start producing their own chocolate. Now you can tour the small production site and have an interesting overview of the process, and most importantly get a custom tasting of them all! The chocolate is very good, and it is only available in Mindo, Ecuador and in Michigan – the home state of the American owner.
With a laid back feel and nature at every turn, Mindo is a lovely little getaway. Spend a day or a week and you will surely recharge your batteries and feel like you escaped the big city for a while.
Thanks to all of our family and friends who have explored this area with us so far – it’s been a great adventure discovering and rediscovering different parts each time!
Amongst the many places to stay, we highly recommend the little unknown airbnb ‘wooden cottage’ set amongst gorgeous gardens and hosted by the fabulous Clemencia and Jaime Beron. Stay tuned for more about their expansive botanical garden, pitahaya plantation, haven for the local birds, homemade breakfasts and their very own frog concert – an amazing experience overall!