Whether you’re heading north towards Colombia, or looking to relax after a few hectic days in Quito, a stop in Mindo is always a good idea. Hidden amongst cloud forests, this tiny town is the perfect mix of nature, wildlife, relaxation and - if you’re in the mood - a little bit of an adrenaline rush.
We spent three days here in Mindo, muddy boots permanently on our feet, and a perpetual smile on our faces (due not in small part to the friendly troupe of dogs that roam the streets). Mornings spent tracing trails through the forest in search of birds, waterfalls, and wonderful views and afternoons indulging in some of the world’s best chocolate and Ecuador’s tastiest arepas whilst watching the rain fall - as it tends to, everyday, no matter what the guide books say.
We didn’t make it to Mindo on our first trip to Ecuador, and by all accounts, this little town has changed a lot in the last few years. You can find craft beer as good as any in the capital, there’s numerous vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and the accommodation options are as good as they are diverse.
Mindo in 2019 is all new and shiny.
But its charm, the breathtaking nature and fresh mountain air, has been here all along in this tiny town surrounded by the clouds.
And that will never change.
Here are our favourite things to do in Mindo, plus personal recommendations on where to stay and advice on how to get there from Quito.
Things to do in Mindo
If we ever needed any proof that despite our ever increasing ages, we have in fact, not totally grown up, it was discovering that twitchers flock to Mindo's cloud forest in hopes of spotting the famous 'cock-of-the-rock'.
This odd looking bird, with a bobble-like red head, is quite the celebrity, with its image emblazoned across walls and on countless posters around town. Getting a glimpse of the bird in its natural habitat is, however, much trickier - requiring a very special tree, and not just any guide.
The cock-of-the-rock gives two performances a day - once at dawn and once at dusk - when the males descend upon their favourite tree (the lek tree) to perform a raucous display of masculine prowess. Lasting just 20 minutes, in order to have the best chance of spotting one, you'll need to join an early morning tour.
Useful information | Tours are easy to source in town, and cost around $10 for a group tour, per person. Individual tours, or those that head deeper into the forest can run at around $75 per person. Mindo is actually one of the foremost bird spotting areas in South America, so twitching is a passion of yours, you will be able to find a range of birder-specific specialist excursions available in town.
Follow the Trail at the Casa Amarilla
If your budget doesn't stretch to a specialist bird watching tour, or you’re not someone who wants the incredibly early wake up call associate with them, the next best option is a hike along one of several trails accessible from Casa Amarilla (also known as ‘Yellow House’ or Hacienda San Vincente).
This lodge is primarily an accommodation, but the owners have set up a variety of trails that pass through their 200 hectares of private cloud forest on within which Casa Amarilla sits - trails which allow ample opportunity to spot Mindo’s impressive bird population.
Although this is cheaper than bird watching tours, it’s not a free activity with an entry fee of $6 per person - this includes a map of the area and access to several trails (one main trail, with five smaller trails branching off from it). How many of these trails you choose to hike depends on how many hours you have to spend there, however we’d recommend allowing four hours to complete the ‘main trail’ plus trail #3 which leads to a mirador with views out and over Mindo.
As you may expect, if you would like to up your bird-spotting chances, you’ll need to set off nice and early.
The property does have a lek on site, but if you fancy your chances at finding the cock-of-the-rock, the super early start means that you’ll likely have to spend the night at the lodge (as as a day visitor, you won’t be able to access the property early enough).
Useful Information | Casa Amarilla is a five minute walk from the centre of Mindo (Google Maps).
Take in a Frog Concert
We know. It sounds pretty weird.
After seeing signs up all over town advertising a concert, apparently performed by frogs, we finally asked a local what exactly this meant...
Unfortunately for those expecting a amphibian conductor dressed in a tuxedo, this is not an choreographed performance, but more a night time gathering of curious travellers to hear the night time sounds of Lago Mindo's indigenous frog population.
Part of a local project to increase the native frog population, in addition to the concert, you'll also be led on a guided tour around the lake with a man in the know and his trusty flashlight.
Useful information | The Frog Concert costs $5 per person, takes place every night at 6.30 p.m., and lasts about an hour. To get to Lago Mindo you can either walk the 30 minutes or take a taxi for around $2.
Tip | If nocturnal nature shenanigans are your thing, consider joining the Mindo Night Walk, held in the same area. You'll spend time heading a little deeper into the forest, and may get the chance to spot the 'kinkajou', a racoon like animal indigenous to the area.
Ride the Tarabita Cable Car
7 km outside of Mindo you will find the Tarabita cable car; the bright yellow chariot that will carry you across the Rio Nambillo, and the misty cloud forest below.
Ever so slightly terrifying, in large part due to the fact that you're not boxed in like most cable cars - you sort of stick your upper body out of the top - it undoubtedly provides views that you would struggle to find otherwise.
There is no public transport from Mindo to the cable car, so you have the option to walk or take a taxi. As the walk is literally just following the road for an hour or so, it’s only worth doing if your budget is really tight or you want the exercise.
The taxis (often pick-up trucks) leave from the main square in Mindo (the parque central), and from what we saw, there's usually at least one waiting. If at all possible, we'd recommend trying to split the cost with other people as, at $6 one-way is pretty overpriced. We travelled with another couple to the cable car (them in the car and us bumping along in the trailer at the back), and negotiated the price down to $5. For the return journey, a different driver asked for $8, but we managed to agreed $6.
The Tarabita cable car doesn't have a fixed schedule, but during the hours of 8.30 a.m. to 4 p.m., the station is manned and the cable car will leave when they have passengers for it. It costs $5 for a return journey which also includes entry to the Nambillo Ecological Reserve (more on that below).
Do Go Chasing Waterfalls
Now, if you've committed to taking the Tarabita cable across the forest, we'd highly recommend that you spend a couple of hours hiking the ruta de las cascadas in the Nambillo Ecological Reserve.
This easy-ish hike leads you to not one, not two but SEVEN different waterfalls. And whilst not every single one is super impressive, the hike through the cloud forest is definitely one of the very best things to do in Mindo.
When you step off of the cable car, you have a choice: head left to explore the route of six waterfalls ending at Cascada Nambilla or right to Cascada Reina.
Cascada Nambillo Route| This route takes you to Cascada Nambillo via Cascada Ondinas, Cascada Guaromos, Cascada Colibries, Cascada Madre and Cascada de Los Maderos. There is a viewing platform at the top of Cascada Nambillo which costs $3 to access, however we didn’t do this. Expect to complete the entire route in a couple of hours - longer if you stop for swim breaks, which if it’s good weather, you absolutely should do!
Cascada Reina | The trail to Cascada Reina takes one hour each way, and although there are no additional waterfalls to see along the way, but the forest through which you pass allows for plenty of potential wildlife spotting before opening up on to an impressive (no, really, it is) Cascada Reina. Given the effort required to see one waterfall (as opposed to six), most people don’t make it here - meaning that you will likely get the trail all to yourself.
Whether you do one or both routes, we recommend that you wear good trainers or hiking boots that you don’t mind getting wet or muddy. The trail is quite well sign-posted overall, but you will have to clamber over a few slippy rocks and at one point wade a little in the water depending on rainfall levels. There are no facilities after the cable car, so bring snacks or water with you, as well as a rain jacket and extra layer. It’s also best to start in the morning as the weather tends to worsen in late afternoon.
Visit a Butterfly Sanctuary
Whilst birds get much of the glory, they are not the only animal to seek out in Mindo, and wildlife lovers should be sure to visit one of the town’s butterfly sanctuaries.
The most popular by far is Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo, located about a kilometre outside of the town. Here, you will learn all about the lifecycle of the butterfly, before taking a walk through the gardens, the air of which is alive with the fluttering wings of more than a thousand butterflies.
There’s also a small restaurant where you can enjoy lunch.
Useful information | Tor reach Mariposas de Mindo, you can either walk around 45 minutes along the highway, or take a taxi for a couple of dollars. Entry is $8.50.
Alternative | If you’re running short of time, or want a more budget option, consider Nathaly Butterfly Garden in the centre of Mindo. It’s not as large (or as fancy) as Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo, but allows you to get up close to lots of butterflies, has a lovely garden full of colourful orchids and a small area demonstrating the lifecycle. It also has a humming bird area.
Get high on a zipline
When it comes to ziplines, one half of ADR remembers their age and gets a little scared - so this is one activity that was never really going to happen for us. However, with two separate canopy tour companies within a few kilometres of Mindo (Mindo Canopy Tours and Mindo Ziplines - both with good reviews), this remains an incredibly popular thing to do.
Useful information | Tours last on average, between 60 and 90 minutes, leave pretty much every hour and cost $20 per person. You can book in advance (find out more here), but you can usually just turn up and they’ll get you in ASAP. To reach the centres, you can either walk 45 minutes (it’s on the way to the Tarabita cable car) or take a taxi for approx $4 each way.
Tip | If you’re keen to do the zip lining alongside a number of other activities in the area, you should consider buying the ‘Mindo Card’. For a one-off cost of $36, you can pick four from five of the top things to do in Mindo - and that means a good overall saving. See this link for further details.
If you're an adrenaline junkie looking for another hit, we have it on good authority that the white water tube rafting is pretty bloody awesome. A combination of tubing and rafting (as the name would suggest!), it's at its most exhilarating at peak rainy season.
Eat the most incredible Venezuelan Arepas
Colombia and Venezuela have a bit of a rivalry going on - and remarkably it isn't just about football. No, this is far more important, and it concerns one of Along Dusty Roads' very favourite food stuffs.
And whilst Emily will inhale this corn based South American staple any which way, something we can both agree on is that when it comes to who makes them best, Venezuela has it in the bag! And so, you can imagine our utter delight when we stumbled upon a little Venezuelan hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Mindo's main drag, appropriately named ‘Arepera’.
We are absolutely not ashamed to say that we ate there more than once. And almost missed our bus getting a take-away feast for the journey back to Quito.
Trust us - you want to eat here at least once in Mindo. Seriously.
Useful information | Open all day, apparently everyday, they serve a variety of meat heavy, vegetarian and even vegan stuffed arepas costing $2 each. Oh, and you absolutely have to try the hot sauce there - it’s pretty bloody awesome. Actually, can someone find out if they can send us a bottle?
For its size, Mindo has a bunch of great restaurants for travellers - we’ve included more recommendations later in the post.
Visit a Chocolate Factory
It rains a lot in Mindo - seriously, a lot - and so it's great to have a couple of things to enjoy if it's pissing down outside in the afternoons. When that rainy day activity also includes eating chocolate, well, you've got yourself a winner.
A quick flick of the guidebook upon arriving in Mindo led us to realise that there are two competing chocolate tours in town: Yumbo's and El Quetzal. Whilst they essentially give exactly the same tour, the latter is definitely the more well known, and therefore most popular, but, well, Yumbo's gives out free chocolate brownies.
… we picked Yumbo’s.
Booking in advance is not necessary, just turn up between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and let the store know that you'd like to join a tour, and which language you'd prefer (English or Spanish).
The tour lasts around one hour, and includes a history lesson, a tour of the for-show bean picking, sorting and grinding process (the real cocoa beans are cultivated and processed along the Pacific Coast), a handful of cocoa nibs and free hot chocolate - plus the all important brownie.
Useful information | Tours cost $8 per person and finishes, as most tours do, in the gift shop - but it's worth noting that we found the stock to be a little overpriced, with chocolate costing considerably more that what was on offer from similar chocolatiers in Quito.
Where to Stay in Mindo
A quick search online will show that there are really quite a lot of hostels in Mindo given the size of the town, with more opening every year. However, after our stay, we're pretty much just going to recommend one - Cinnamon House.
Set within nature, it’s got a kitchen, great rooms (with excellent dorms and really good size doubles), an ultra-stylish living space, friendly staff and the cutest damn doggy that you ever did meet. We thought it was a bargain.
If Cinnamon House isn’t available, we’d recommend taking a look at Casa de Piedra which also looks rather good.
Hotels and guesthouses
Sacha Urco Lodge | A new bamboo-constructed lodge set within stunning grounds, with ample bird watching opportunities and access to walking trails. Large and airy bedrooms all look out onto lush forest. Doubles from £50 a night. Click here to find out more and check availability.
Mindo Green House | Low key lodge vibes (without breaking the bank), with great views and friendly staff. Located a few mins out of town, which means it’s nice and quiet too. Doubles from £35 per night. Click here to find out more and check availability.
La Bicok EcoLodge | If you’re looking for an indulgent ecolodge, then this is it. Really wonderful design, a pool, great breakfast and - compared to some of a similar standard in Mindo - not overtly expensive if you wanted to treat yourself. Doubles from £65 per night. Click here to find out more and check availability.
Budget friendly Airbnbs aren’t yet a thing in Mindo, but there are a number of excellent options for a special occasion, people that want a real ‘down to nature’ experience of keen bird watchers. Here are our favourites:
La Providencia de Mindo | A wooden cabin in the heart of nature, located around 4 km from the centre of town.
Birdwatcher's Paradise in Centre of Mindo | At just a three minute walk from town, this is a fantastic option for keen bird watchers that need (or want) to be close to amenities.
Off Grid Solar Cottage | The ultimate back to nature experience, they even have a natural pool, sauna and gazebo to do yoga!
Where to Eat and Drink in Mindo
So, we know we mentioned the arepa place in the 'things to do in Mindo' section, but there are actually a number of great restaurants here. Most of them are located along the main strip, but several are also down Calle Vicente Aguirre or in the El Zaguan de Mindo centre.
Mindo Forest | Good coffee (including non-dairy milks) with excellent wifi. Wouldn’t really rate the breakfast though. Our go-to spot when the rain came.
Mishqui Quinde Heladería | With almost everything on the menu being based around quinoa, this is an excellent spot for vegetarians and vegans alike. We didn’t try them, but apparently the juices are excellent!
The Beehive | Probably the ‘coolest’ spot in town, the Beehive does big portions of food with a terrace overlooking the forest. Prices are a little more than the Ecuadorian average, so those on a budget may need to make do with a beer and snacks - the hummus platter looked particularly tasty!
The Food Studio | With a heavy focus on sustainability, this small restaurant offers up seasonal and organic produce from local sources. Not strictly veggie, but with plenty of meat free options, this is a great choice if you’re looking for a healthy meal.
La Mecha | We didn’t eat here, but spent a long time one evening (regrettably, after we’d already had dinner) staring at the menu. Hearty Italian food including lasagne, cannelloni and ravioli, alongside their famous pizzas (now with the option to veganise). Carb-loading post-hike anyone?
Restaurante Cuyana | A little too heavy on the fine dining for our tastes, but for foodies we’re told that there is nowhere quite like Cuyana.
How to Get to Mindo
Wherever you're coming from, in order to get to Mindo, you'll almost certainly start in Quito.
Now, as we've mentioned, the Quito bus station situation can be a little confusing, with three separate stations at different parts of the city. For Mindo however, you just need to head to 'Terminal La Ofelia' in the north of the city.
If you're coming from the city centre, either take the Metrobus north to the end of the line or jump in a taxi or Uber (around $7-9).
There is only one bus company that services Mindo, called Flor de Valle. You can either buy your tickets at the little booth, or, if one is leaving soon, make a beeline for it and pay on the bus.
The journey takes approx two hours, and costs $3.10. The timetable is subject to change, but as it stands, they leave at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. during the week, with a couple of extras on the weekend. If you travel and see an updated schedule, let us know in the comments so we keep the post accurate for travellers.
The bus arrives into the Flor de Valle office in the centre of Mindo, from which most hostels/hotels can be walked to in 5-10 minutes.
If you’re travelling to Quito from Mindo, the buses depart at 6.30 am, 11 am, 1.45 pm, 3.30 pm, and 5 pm Monday to Friday, whilst Saturday and Sunday have departures at 6.30 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm, and 5 pm.
Tip | The bus journey between Quito and Mindo is notorious for thefts, read this post on safety on Ecuador's buses for more information (coming soon).