Country Ecuador | Dates July 21-23 | Accommodation Cabañas Armonia y Jardín de Orquídeas
Mindo is a small town located about 3 hours west of Quito in the cloud forest of Ecuador. As we approached by bus (details at bottom) we saw the beautiful scenery of trees and misty clouds falling low over the valley. Mindo is home to incredible valleys and butterflies, and boasts adventure activities. There’s a main street running through town with a surprisingly high density of restaurants, and a few scattered blocks off the main drag. Luckily our hostel was standout, with a cute wooden cabin, hammocks, and a hummingbird garden. We had a nice place to relax though there were not many things to do in Mindo Ecuador.
Things to Do in Mindo Ecuador
Santuario de Cascadas & La Tarabita
The main hike in Mindo begins atop a mountain, and includes a route to 5-7 waterfalls (your choice how many), plus a ride across the canopy in a cable car. We decided to trek the 6km up the mountain to the entrance to the yellow cable car, called the Tarabita, using the paper map from our hostel to navigate. You could also take a taxi, which is actually a truck with a metal bar for grabbing on while you stand in the back, but not a great use of money so we walked. The hike wasn’t overly steep and the road only went one way so we couldn’t get lost – it took us about an hour. At the top, we paid our $5 each for the Tarabita cable car and waited as only 6 people could go on at once. While waiting, a small child stole my sister’s coke saying “Gracias” as he removed it from her bag. Shortly thereafter, he gripped my ankle. Finally our turn to ride (and escape this child) we zipped across the canopy high above the trees to the other side and began the waterfall route – Santuario de Cascadas.
One path lead to the massive 50’ Reina waterfall, about 45 minutes each way, another to the swimming fall Nambillo, and another to a circuit of 5 smaller falls. We started with the 5, winding down and then weirdly up the wet and rocky and muddy trail, but it was an easy-to-moderate trail (lots of slow walking families and people with improper footwear). We stopped and put our feet in a couple of falls, but it was far too icy for swimming as some people were doing. Overall a decent hike; we made it to all 5 waterfalls in under an hour I’d say. On our way back we stopped at the Nambillo falls, which was crowded with swimmers and getting more packed by the minute as it was now midday. We wanted to go to the Reina, but not wanting to backtrack or wait in the long line to return via cable car (or hang around the loud hoards of tourists) we took a shortcut path back to the road. The walk back to town was a bit painful and seemed never ending for some reason. We played the alphabet game to distract ourselves.
There are two competing companies in town, Mindo Canopy Adventure and Mindo Zipline (formerly Mindo Ropes & Canopy) which are basically the same. Except for one (Ropes & Canopy) had a death in 2012 – an American tourist died when the single cable snapped – but they have apparently since switched to a 2-cable safety system. They are of course located right next to one another, 4km up the road from town (en route to the waterfall hike – you could easily do both in 1 day). We went with the one that didn’t have the death obviously, and for $20 were strapped into harnesses, handed filthy helmets that smelled (we caught a whiff of them repeatedly throughout the day), and some work gloves which also smelled and were damp inside. The course had 10 lines, with a maximum height of 12,000 feet. I was slightly scared, but after the first one I was hooked. Flying over the canopy was amazing – wind in your face, panoramic views, the sharp sound of metal on wire, and the heat beneath your glove on the lines you had to hold on for. An exciting way to spend the morning.
El Quetzal Chocolate
By far our highlight of Mindo was visiting the El Ketzel chocolate factory and taking the chocolate tour. Seemingly expensive at $10 a piece, we got way more than we paid for which is rare. Our guide was knowledgeable and friendly, speaking 7 languages (!) and he knew more about chocolate than I knew there was to know. He answered any and all questions with interesting in-depth responses and we learned a ton. The tour included walking out back to see the cocoa trees, beans, and drying and refining processes, with a taste of the bitter beans along the way. We also saw the chocolate being mixed and poured into molds real-time (not a demonstration; people actually working). The highlight was at the end when we got some amazing treats – chocolate tea, hot liquid cocoa which we mixed with different things in our mouths (sugar, ginger, chili powder) to change the flavor and consistency. We were also given a tray of seemingly endless samples of chocolate of varying strengths and flavors, and literally the best brownie I’ve ever eaten. We stayed an hour after the tour, enjoying it all on the sunny deck talking with some others. Too busy eating to photograph treats.
Eating in Mindo
Despite Mindo’s small size, the place had a ton of restaurants. We really liked Mindo Obansi, a spot with square tables, cheap beer and delicious arepas. So much, we went back to it twice! We also had the almuerzo for $3.50 at El Sabor de la Chulita on the block behind the main square. Plagued by indecision and the prospect of bad food in the town, we scoped out all the spots and selected this one because it was bustling and contained the most locals. Success! For our final meal we went to El Ketzel, assuming if the chocolate was amazing the food would be too. We were not disappointed with the huge sandwich we shared, and got some unexpected popcorn and plantain chips as a snack. We tried their house made ginger beer which was frankly gross, although very, very strong.
On our last night we were walking back past the stadium near town and heard the loud sounds of cheering, sports, and fun. The outside was lined with grills serving up papas and corn, and the area was crowded. We decided to pop in to check it out, and took a seat on the cement bleachers to watch some of the local soccer game — on a court that is also made of cement (looked painful). It was fun and exciting, and aside from 3 not-so-aware French girls cheering for the wrong team while locals blatantly laughed at them, we were there only touristas there.
Conclusion & Budget & Practicalities
There isn’t a ton to do in Mindo, but we had a nice time much of which was spent at the hostel relaxing. There were additional hikes and adventure activities (tubing, canopy-ing) available outside of town, but we think we hit the highlights. Two days was plenty.
Getting There | Buses to Mindo are infrequent (about 3 times/day – two morning departures and one at 4pm), and depart from the Ophelia bus station. You can take the public bus there from downtown ($.25), or alternatively take a taxi from the larger Carcalen station ($2 – $3). Direct buses are from a single line – Fleur de Valle – only.
Eating | Menus for lunch less prevalent. Meals available starting at about $3.50 for a small portion. Few street stalls with plantains and coconuts ($1.25).
Drinking | Standard price for a large Pilsen beer was $1.80. Wine prices in town were egregious; $8+ for a box of wine from mini mart. Ecuador does not have good value in wine, though.