Based in a magical cloud forest northwest of Ecuador's capital, Quito, Mindo is known for its natural beauty and wildlife and with only 3000 residents, of which 80% are devoted to tourism, Mindo is the perfect respite from the chaos of Quito. Mindo is surrounded by nature and waterfalls and with its 100 square miles of dense tropical forest, it is home to over 400 species of birds. So, whether you want to be active and explore the surrounding areas, find a strategic spot to bird watch or relax in a hammock, Mindo can offer it all - just prepare for a little rain and a cooler climate...
Head to the northern bus terminal in Quito (Terminal Terrestre Norte) at La Ofelia, a 35 minute taxi ride away from the historical centre and catch a bus with the bus company ‘Flor de Valle’ to Mindo. The drive is only 2.5 hours and it offers the most breathtaking views as you venture out of the city and into the mountains. The cost of a bus ticket is $3 (€3) and the buses depart Quito:
- Monday-Friday: 8am, 9am, 11am and 2pm
- Saturday: 7.40am, 8.20am, 9.20am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 4pm
- Sunday: 7.40am, 8.20am 9.20am and 2pm.
Mindo is a very small mountain town and everything is based around one small square plaza, Parque Central, and the central street Avendia Quito. The bus drops you off a 2 minute walk from Parque Central and all of the hostels / accommodation options are based around here, so you won’t have to walk far.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: If you are travelling back to Quito on a Sunday, make sure you book your return ticket as soon as you get to Mindo; the buses fill up fast as it is a very popular weekend escape for Quito residents. You can buy your ticket at the ticket office just off from the main square and where the bus will most likely drop you off. If you have your back to the square on the main road, head left and the office is just past the only bar in town and opposite a little vegan restaurant (as of 2019).
As I mentioned above, Mindo is tiny (1 main street and 4 small ones off to the side) so everywhere is accessible on foot, unless you would like to go to the waterfalls.
Moto-taxi / Taxi:
If you are chasing waterfalls for the day or going further afield, you will find taxis waiting by Parque Central. Make sure you agree on a price before you jump in.
An alternative to exploring on foot, would be to hire a bicycle. You can do this through most of the hostels or head to Vicente Aguirre y Avendia Quito and look for Mindo Biking.
This is an absolute must. You can take a taxi to the tarabita (cable car) perched high in the mountains of Mindo. This will carry you across the Rio Nambillo (camera at the ready!) and over the cloud forest below.
Once you are at the other side you will see the signs for the Cascadas (waterfalls). There are nine in total. I strongly recommend hiking to see all of them, they are each special in their own right. The paths are well sign posted; if you head left you will see eight of the waterfalls and right you will see just one (Cascadaa Nambillo), but it is the largest of them all and the most impressive. To see all of the waterfalls, it will take around 5 hours, including travel time.
Costs: $5 (€4) for the cable car and entrance to the waterfalls.
If you wanted to increase the pace a little:
- Zipline through the trees: Book through Mindo Zipline Tours and you will not be disappointed. There is a range of 10 different cables between 500 and 1,600 feet long and you will hike between all of them. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable and will educate you on the flowers, birds and wildlife. It is an amazing day out in stunning surroundings. Cost $20 (€17) per person.
Mindo has the perfect climate for birds looking to nest, so it has become a paradise for many different species of birds and twitchers (bird watchers). You can take yourself off to a spot and bird watch quite easily, or I would suggest hiring an expert guide who will have the knowledge of the 400+ species of birds in the area.
Attend a frog orchestra:
Head out into the canopy at night on a guided night walk and prepare for your senses to be overloaded, whilst listening to the frogs perform their mating calls. You can book this through La Casa de Cecilla. Cost $6 (€5).
Give your hiking shoes a rest and explore the stunning cloud forest on horseback, stopping along the way to visit hidden waterfalls. There are even sunset rides on offer, a perfect way to end a day in paradise. Cost varies depending on time and tour operator. The tours can be booked through your hostel, but please check the health and condition of the horses before you decide to do this activity. If you are not satisfied or they look undernourished, please try a different tour operator.
The butterfly house is a huge attraction for visitors to Mindo and it is home to numerous species of butterflies. You can see all four stages of the butterfly life cycle in action; from cocoons to caterpillars, to butterflies gliding all around you. If you are lucky, one will perch on your finger.
Cost for tickets $7 USD (€6). One mile outside of town, it is possible to walk or bike or you can catch a taxi from Parque Central, this should cost no more than $2 (€1) each.
This can easily be done in a morning, and then fill your late afternoon with chocolate!
- Head to one of the many local chocolate farms in Mindo and you are taken on a journey of how chocolate is made – from cacao beans to what real chocolate tastes like and it is NOT even close to what we buy in the shops! Tours run at either 10am or 5pm every day, seven days a week and you can book them through any hostel. They generally last 1 hour and costs $5 (€4).
La Casa de Cecilia is based by the Parque Central (Calle 9 de Octubre) and located behind El Quetzal restaurant. This is probably the most popular hostel with backpackers. It is on the banks of the Rio Mindo and with 100s of hummingbirds gliding past you, you can’t help but feel instantly relaxed. There is a balcony at the top of the main building with a chillout area and hammocks and a huge onsite restaurant or the option to use a little kitchen. Cost $10 (€9) for bed in a mixed 6 bed dormitory.
Hosteria Saguamby is more expensive than La Casa de Cecilia, but if there is a group of you, you could share a family room and split the price. They have a huge outdoor space with private access to the river, a wellness centre, lots of activites and a BBQ to eat al fresco. Hosteria Saguamby is based 0.8km from del Parque Central. You can walk to it from where the bus drops you off, or take a taxi for $2 (€1). Cost of a family room is $76 (€65). There is a double bed, bunk beds and a sofa bed so you could easily split the cost across a group.
- Green mango with salt (sounds weird but actually it works) and empanadas of all types (beef, chicken and vegetarian, make sure they are crunchy on the outside and beautifully moist on the inside). Fresh coconut or fried plantain with cheese!
- Menu del Dia (menu of the day) is a great way to eat in South America, a set menu of local food at an incredibly cheap price. In Ecuador look out for almuerzo - a soup, juice and main course for $2.50 (€2).
- SO many options in Mindo. The Beehive is a cute little café offering vegetarian options (check out the reviews on tripadvisor) or head to Mishqui Quinde Sweet Hummingbird which is just off the main road. You can’t miss the old converted van at the front of the café and a tree house to relax in! Check out the reviews on Tripadvisor.