Quito, Ecuador, is a big, bustling city that can sometimes be overwhelming. For those who need a change of pace, one great day trip idea is to head to nearby Mindo, a tranquil town filled with nature-inspired activities. Located in the Los Bancos canton of the Pichincha province, the area is renowned for its dedication to ecotourism, plentiful bird watching and breathtaking cloud forest.
From Quito, you can catch a bus from the Terminal Terrestre Norte, La Ofelia. The bus to Mindo takes about 80 minutes and is $2.50 each way, although you can’t buy your return ticket until you get to the destination. Because the buses can get crowded, it is wise to purchase your return ticket immediately upon arrival into Mindo. Moreover, I would recommend taking the very first bus of the day from Quito, and the very last bus of the day from Mindo to ensure you have a lot of time. In fact, many people spend the night in the town because there’s so much to do.
Quito To Mindo Bus Schedule:
Monday To Friday: 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 4:00 p.m.
Saturday: 7:40 a.m., 8:20 a.m., 9:20 a.m., 4:00 p.m.
Sunday: 7:40 a.m., 8:20 a.m., 9:20 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m.
Mindo To Quito Bus Schedule:
Monday To Friday: 6:30 a.m., 1:45 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
Saturday: 6:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m.
Sunday: 6:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m.
Renting a car or hiring a taxi is another pricier, but more convenient option.To Do
This was the first thing I did in Mindo, and it was a really great start to the day. For $5 including the tarabita, or cable car, you’ll get access to picturesque hiking trails that take you to seven different waterfalls. Each one is completely unique to the others, making the trek worth it. Bring your bathing suit and a picnic. To get to the trailhead, a taxi costs $8; however, to save money you can take a $4 cab to the canopy area and walk about 1.5 miles to the start.
To explore the cloud forest and farmland from a different point of view, Mindo Canopy Adventure offers an excellent option. Ten dollars gives you access to 13 ziplines, and the course takes about an hour. The highest cable is over 1,300 feet, so it will definitely get your adrenaline going. You’ll not only get great scenery, but also a chance to see many beautiful birds, like toucans and hummingbirds. It’s also possible to bring your camera while flying, to get great shots from midair.
While I expected Mariposas de Mindo to be nothing more than looking at a few butterflies, I was completely wrong. There are 1,200 butterflies living in the garden – making it the largest butterfly exhibit in Ecuador – featuring different colors, sizes and species. You get a short tour and see really tiny butterfly eggs and caterpillars. Furthermore, the guide will bring you to something that looks like a jewelry display, but is actually a wall of butterfly pupae. Depending where a butterfly lives in nature, its pupae could look like a leaf, stick, green stone or shiny piece of metal (shown right). The best part of the trip was getting to hand feed the butterflies some banana, which I never knew they ate. The admission cost was $5.
When visiting Mindo, don’t be upset if you can’t get there before 10 a.m. While you won’t see any birds on the trails in the afternoon, it doesn’t matter because they all come to El Descanso. I went at 11 a.m. and for $2 was able to see myriad bird species like hummingbirds, toucans, parrots and Golden-Headed Quetzals. The word descanso means “to relax” or “be calm,” and there is no better place to do this than in this tranquil setting, lounging on a hammock surrounded by the music of nature.
Chocolate-lovers will love Mindo’s signature chocolate hub, El Quetzal. Not only can you eat gourmet chocolate – they use the rare process of making their product from “the cocoa bean to the bar” – you can also get a tour of their facilities where they grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and beans like cacao, bananas, ginger, tomatoes and other natural produce. The guide also takes you through the process of picking the cacao beans, fermenting them, separating the shell from the “nibs,” and making the paste. At the end, you’ll get to sample chili chocolate, ginger honey chocolate, cocoa honey, barbecue sauce and a brownie. The tour and tasting is $5.
To get off land and in the water, tubing on the Mindo River is a fun way to explore nature. When you get into Mindo there are a bunch of tour and adventure companies offering the activity, so shop around and see who offers the best package.
The Yellow House Trails & Lodge – which has been in use since the early 1800s – is one of the best places to go for hiking, butterfly spotting, bird watching and discovering wild flora and fauna. Some examples of unique natural sights include vibrant Emerald Glass Frogs, huge Dock Spiders, red Slime Mold Mushrooms, long-nosed lizards, Spectacled Bears and translucent butterflies. It also offers one of the best views in town of the mountains and surrounding forest. What’s really unique about The Yellow House is there are over 470 species of birds, more than any other location in western Ecuador.