International Adventure Guide 2013: Quito, Ecuador


Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, has long been hailed as a great jumping off point for adventure travelers. The city is surrounded by eleven volcanoes and dozens of flowing rivers, making it an ideal locale for those looking to hike, bike, climb, kayak and more. As if that weren’t enough, four regions are crammed into this tiny, megadiverse country – the Amazon jungle, the Andean highlands, the coastal region and the Galapagos Islands – offering boundless opportunities for adventure travelers.
No matter where you set off to in Ecuador, the main base of all activity for adventure tour operators is in Quito. And thanks to a new $700 million airport that opened earlier this year, it’s never been easier to get there – not to mention less scary. To land at the old airport, pilots needed to negotiate the Andean mountain slopes before touching down on a runway in the middle of the city.

Once you land in Quito, food, accommodations, transportation and even adventure activities are relatively cheap; this is one place where the dollar really does go a long way. And since the country uses U.S. currency, many people reading this won’t even have to worry about doing any of those pesky conversions.

Of course, it’s not all sun and roses in Ecuador. This beautiful country also comes with some safety concerns, among them the threat of natural disasters such as volcano eruptions and earthquakes, as well as crime aimed at easy-to-target travelers. Before you go, read through the U.S. Department of State’s travel warnings, and once you land keep aware of your surroundings at all times.

Adventure Activities

Climbing
The mountains are one of the main draws for adventure travelers to Quito, and there are options to suit both newbies and experienced climbers. Because they are capped with glaciers, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Cayambe and Tungurahua are often the most desirable mountain destinations. Before setting off, remember to allow time to acclimatize to the altitude, which can be done pain free by drinking plenty of water and allowing some time to adjust to the nearly two-mile-high capital. Several tour operators, all based in Quito, can arrange tours lasting from a few hours to several days. Book before you go, or wait until you land to shop around for last minute deals in Quito’s Mariscal neighborhood, the tourist center of the city that is packed with bars, coffee shops, Internet cafes, restaurants and dance clubs.

  • High Summits: Pinto E5-29 and Juan León Mera, Quito; (+593-2) 290-5503.
  • Gulliver: Juan Leon Mera N24-156 y Jose Calama, Quito. From $195.
  • Positiv Turismo: Jorge Juan N33 -38 y Atahualpa, Quito; (+593-2) 252-7305. From $195.

Whitewater Rafting & Kayaking
The Ecuadorian landscape is packed with the highest densities of rivers per square mile in the world. Quito itself is located just a little over an hour from the Amazon basin, meaning rivers that flow from the Andes run strong and fast from these highlands down to the rainforest. This creates ideal conditions for rafting, so much so that just a few years ago the World Rafting Championship was held on the Quijos River, just northeast of Quito. Possible operators include:

Hiking
Quito wraps around the Eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active stratovolcano that has two easily hikable peaks. The smaller peak, Ruku, makes for a great day hike if you get an early start (before the fog rolls in); begin by taking in the city on Quito’s skytram, the TelefériQo ($4), from which there are markers for the three-hour round trip excursion.

Other than the Ruku hike, there are hundreds of trails that take adventurers through Ecuador’s various landscapes. Unique to Ecuador is the Páramo ecosystem, a rocky, mossy region that exists in limbo between the tree line and snow line at about 15,000 feet, or nearly three miles high. One great place to experience this terrain is by hiking in Papallacta, where you can take a six-hour hike that ends at a collection of hot springs, where you can soak your bones and stay overnight in a comfy resort. Tours can be self-guided, or organized with these operators:

  • Tierra de Fuego: Amazonas N23-23 y Veintimilla, Quito; (+593 2) 250-1418. From $45.
  • Gulliver: Juan Leon Mera N24-156 y Jose Calama, Quito. From $75.
  • Andes Adventures: Baquedano E5-27, Quito; (+593 2) 255-7176.

Hotspots


Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi Volcano, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, is located about 17 miles south of Quito. On clear days, Cotopaxi can be spotted rising strong and mighty in the distance from many points in the city. And it’s quite the sight to see: the volcano’s perfectly symmetrical cone features one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world. Guide companies offer regular guided climbs of the mountain, as well as downhill mountain biking tours from a 4,600-meter altitude. Private tours can be arranged from the capital, or adventure seekers can make the trip on their own via bus.

Where to Stay: At the first refuge, a modest building on the skirts of the volcano at an elevation of 15,744 feet, $10 gets foreigners a night’s stay. However, if you’re willing to spend a little more, The Secret Garden Hostel is also a great jumping-off point. Starting at $25 per night, accommodations are a bit pricey by Ecuadorian budget travel standards, but extra-comfortable beds, a hot tub under the stars and three-square vegetarian meals a day make it well worth the price. The hostel can arrange private summit treks by foot or bike, as well as horseback rides up another nearby volcano, Rumiñahui, which blew its top long ago.

Baños de Agua Santa
Known simply as “Baños” by Ecuadorians and visitors, this tiny town sits at the base of Tungurahua (literally meaning “Throat of Fire”), an active volcano that last erupted in March. Besides the chance to glimpse a real active volcano, visitors can explore more than 60 waterfalls or go rafting, kayaking, canyoning, hiking, bridge jumping and more. Expect many national and international visitors – especially on weekends – as buses frequently shuttle people to and from Quito on a three-hour trek for $3.50.

Where to Stay: After spending all day outdoors, treat yourself at the Samari Spa Resort, a former Jesuit monastery that has all the comfort and amenities any traveler desires. Take a soak in the indoor heated pool, or massage those sore muscles at the spa. Whether you are a family looking for a two-level cabin or a couple in need of a romantic retreat, there’s a room type for everyone. Rooms start at $187, and if that’s too pricey there’s plenty of budget accommodation in this town, too.

Mindo
Not far from Quito – about 60 miles or a $2 bus fare to be exact – is this jungle town in the Andean foothills known to attract adventure-seeking travelers. Take an aerial tram across the cloud forest for a hike to several different waterfalls. There’s also the opportunity to take a canopy tour across the jungle on 13 zip lines of varying heights, some of which are up to 3,500 meters high.

Where to Stay: Anyone with a budding interest in birdwatching will love Mindo Dragonfly Inn, a wooden retreat in Mindo with balconies that overlook the Canchupi River. Feeders draw many species of hummingbirds to these balconies, and birdwatching tours can be arranged from the inn. In addition to comfortable rooms, there’s also an on-site bar and restaurant. Starting at $27.

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Logistics

Get Around Unless you have already arranged tours or prefer to hire private cars, the main mode of transport in Ecuador is by bus. The ability to get around the city and the surrounding countryside by this mode of transport is pretty amazing, and should be easy so long as you know basic Spanish. Bus rides through the city cost 25 cents and on average the rate for traveling anywhere outside the city is a dollar per hour.

Taxis ($25), express airport buses ($8) and public buses ($2) all service the airport frequently, but allow for at least an hour to reach the city. Since Quito is smushed between two mountain ranges, the city is long and narrow, with the main tourist attractions located more or less in the center. There are three, easy-to-navigate, mass transit lines, or trolleys ($0.25/ride), that run in a north-south direction: Trolebus (green line), Ecovia (red line) and Metrobus (blue line). Regional buses can be picked up from two stations at either end of these trolleys. The transportation system is fairly intuitive: use the northern station for destinations north of the city, such as Cotopaxi, and vice versa for destinations south of the city, including Baños and Mindo.

Some bus companies also have terminals near the tourist center, La Mariscal, but similar to Chinatown buses in the United States, these are often more dangerous. No matter which company you go with, be sure to always keep your belongings within eyesight, as theft is common on buses.

Seasonality There is no bad time to travel to Quito. Because the city is located on the equator, the weather remains relatively consistent year-round, with an average spring-like temperature of 57 degrees. There are only two seasons in the city: the dry, “summer” season (October to May) and the wet, “winter” season (June to September), when you should always have an umbrella on hand. Outside of the city, temperatures can vary greatly depending on altitude and proximity to the equator. It’s not unknown for a hiker or climber to experience a cold, mountainous climate and the Amazon heat in a short time, so visitors would be wise to dress in layers.

Safety Besides the obvious safety issues associated with adventure activities, it’s wise to be aware of your surroundings while in Ecuador, especially in Quito. It’s not uncommon to hear of people getting their belongings stolen, and there are several well-planned scams that target tourists (including a common one involving fecal matter that a Gadling blogger was the victim of). However, it’s rare for anyone to be physically threatened during these types of robberies. Pockets get picked, purses get snatched, cameras get grabbed. It happens in Ecuador, so be aware of your surroundings at all times and be careful about showcasing any jewelry or gadgets during your time in the country.

Additional Resources Here are a few additional resources that might be helpful when planning a trip to Quito:

[Photo credit: blogger Libby Zay]

Three New Experiential Eco-Fashion Trips Taking Off This Summer

This summer, three new eco-fashion-oriented package tours will offer the chance for ethical designers, makers and consumers to meet artisan communities, take workshops in craft production and see the impact of their conscious purchasing decisions.

While different in structure, these trips all offer the chance to travel along an artisan product’s supply chain, from visiting farming communities in Ecuador, to knitting with naturally dyed alpaca yarn in Peru, to shopping finished products in Guatemalan boutiques.

Even for people who don’t geek out on beautiful textiles and hand looms, these trips offer a different way to travel, one that emphasizes connections with the people behind your souvenirs.

Awamaki-Kollabora Collaborative Crafting Workshop

When: May 25 to June 2, 2013
Where: Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
Perfect for: Students, or travelers who seek an authentic off-the-beaten-path experience
What: “A cross-cultural tour pairing you with a Rumira knitter to develop a Kollabora knit item using local, hand-spun alpaca yarn. We trace the entire creation of your project through hands-on engagement: visiting alpaca farms high in the Andes to source fleece, learning to spin fleece into soft yarns, dyeing yarn skeins with native plant dyes alongside Quecha weavers, and studying the local backstrap loom.”
Accommodations: Home-stays with Awamaki’s host families.
Side trips: Incan ruins, markets in Cusco, Machu Picchu.
Organized by: Kollabora, an online community for DIY inspiration, projects, skills and supplies, in partnership with Awamaki, a non-profit that supports artisan groups in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Price: $1,799, which includes home-stay accommodations, most meals, day trips, guides and crafting materials. Fee does not cover international airfare to/from Cusco, visas, travel or health insurance, tips and personal purchases.
For more information: Visit the trip description page or email peru@kollabora.com.Mercado Global Insight Trip: Community Empowerment

When: June 30 to July 4, 2013
Where: Lake Atitlan and Antigua, Guatemala
Perfect for: People who are curious about social enterprise models and their impact on communities. Mercado Global also offers a Women Helping Women trip for women interested in mentoring and a Financial Empowerment trip for people interested in the entrepreneurial side of rural artisan businesses.
What: “An exclusive week-long journey that fuses service, leadership, and once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange. Attendees will meet the indigenous Maya women we partner with in the Guatemalan highlands and learn about how their transformation into leaders has impacted their families and their communities.”
Accommodations: Four-star lodging in Lake Atitlan and Antigua.
Side trips: Boat trip to Santiago Atitlan, tours of colonial Antigua.
Organized by: Mercado Global, a social enterprise that links rural indigenous artisans to international markets in order to break the cycle of poverty.
Price: $1900, which includes accommodations, all meals, local transportation, guides and translation and staff support. Fee does not cover airfare.
For more information: Visit the website or contact Leah Vinton at community@mercadoglobal.org.

Fashion Designers Without Borders Immersive Sourcing Safari

When: July 22 to 28, 2013
Where: Quito, Tena and Otavalo, Ecuador
Perfect for: Fashion industry professionals who want to explore opportunities to collaborate with developing world artisans. Other sourcing safaris have taken place in Kenya and Guatemala.
What: “Climb volcanoes, trek the Amazon and get lost in cloud forests. Ecuador’s atmospheric landscapes, resources and people will enchant you. Recognize new opportunities in accessories development. Appreciate the unique resources of this truly magical place.”
Accommodations: Four- to five-star hotels in Otavalo (in the Andes), Quito and Tena (in the Amazon).
Side trips: Activities at an Amazon jungle lodge, trip to the Inga Alpaca Farm, tour of colonial Quito.
Organized by: The Supply Change, a consultancy that connects the fashion industry with global artisan communities, in partnership with The Andean Collection, a line of handcrafted accessories with a social mission.
Price: $4000, including accommodations, meals, day trips and local transportation. Fee does not cover airfare.
For more information: Visit the website or contact Chrissie Lam at chrissie@thesupplychange.org.

[Photo Credit: Mercado Global]

Save $500 On A Mountain Travel Sobek Galapagos Island Adventure

Mountain Travel Sobek Galapagos Island adventures are $500 off in JanuaryIf you’re like me you’re probably already looking ahead to 2013 and planning your next adventure. If that happens to be the case, and the Galapagos Islands have been a destination that you’ve always dreamed about, then perhaps January is the time to make that dream a reality. That’s when renowned adventure travel company Mountain Travel Sobek is offering a $500 discount on their first two departures of the year.

These two early season excursions are actually quite different from one another. The first, which sets out on January 17, charts a course for the western Galapagos Islands while the other, which gets underway on January 24, heads to the east. Both itineraries are 11-days in length, beginning and ending in Quito, Ecuador, where travelers will spend the first few days soaking up the country’s colonial history while visiting local markets and exploring the cloud forest.

On the third day they’ll catch a short flight to the Galapagos, where they’ll board a yacht that will serve as their home for the remainder of the journey. Over the course of the following week, they’ll have the opportunity to visit beautiful beaches, hike to the top of a volcano and go snorkeling in crystal clear ocean waters. They’ll also witness first hand some of the wildlife that has made the Galapagos so famous, including sea turtles, swimming iguanas, fur seals and blue-footed boobies. For a more detailed look at the itineraries, click here.

The Galapagos remain one of my top destinations that I would still like to visit at some point. I’ve been told that it is a magical experience with amazing animals in a beautiful setting. I’m sure these two excursions will more than live up to that hype and they’ll do so while saving you some cash in the process.

Getting Out Of Quito, Ecuador: Day, Weekend And Weeklong Excursions

mindo While Quito, Ecuador, offers many opportunities for Inca history, diverse architecture and trendy restaurants, my favorite part about visiting this busy city was its side trips. In less than three hours you can be hiking through waterfall-filled forests, climbing one of the world’s tallest volcanoes, browsing an important cultural market and even standing in the actual middle of the world. If you have more time, you can do majestic lagoon hikes, immerse yourself in adventure sports or visit one of the most ecologically diverse destinations in the world. When taking a trip to Quito, I would recommend incorporating the following trips into your itinerary:

Day Trips

Mindo

Mindo is the exact opposite of Quito. While Ecuador’s capital is fast-paced, Mindo is a relaxing nature destination where you can immerse yourself in the outdoors and forget about the world. You can catch a bus from Quito’s Terminal Terrestre Norte, La Ofelia, which takes about 80 minutes. Tickets are $2.50 each way, although you can’t buy your return ticket until you get to the destination. Purchase it immediately upon arrival, as buses tend to get crowded.

If you want to immerse yourself in the area’s famous cloud forest, visit the Waterfall Sanctuary and Tarabita. For $5 including the tarabita (cable car), you’ll be granted a bird’s-eye view from above the trees and access to a picturesque hike through seven different waterfalls. For a bit more adventure, you can also zip-line your way through the cloud forest, with the highest cable being over 1,300 feet. At Mariposas de Mindo, you can interact with 1,200 butterflies while feeding them banana. What’s interesting about this place is you’ll see myriad different pupae, which have camouflaging properties depending on where the butterfly would live. Some look like leaves, sticks, stones and even shiny pieces of metal that I first thought were earrings. While all these activities are worthwhile, the most popular reason people visit Mindo is the superb bird watching. There are many places you can go for this; however, I highly recommend El Descanso. It costs $2, and no matter what time you visit you’ll be able to see a variety of bird species like hummingbirds, toucans, parrots and Golden-Headed Quetzals.volcan cotopaxi Cotopaxi Volcano

Located about an hour and a half outside Quito, Cotopaxi Volcano is the second most popular adventure destination in Ecuador. The volcano is 19,347 feet in altitude, and is a perfect, snow-capped cone that makes for great climbing. It is also sacred, as the volcano was once worshipped by Ecuador’s ancient civilizations, who believed Cotopaxi had the power to bring rain and a successful harvest. Cotopaxi Volcano is located in Cotopaxi Volcano National Park, the second largest national park and the second most visited after the Galapagos Islands. Here you’ll find numerous lagoons, lookout points, other volcanoes, Inca sites and even a museum. Many companies offer one-day tours, like CotopaxiTours.com, which mixes hiking and 4×4 driving to get to the top, and Gray Line Ecuador, which allows you to explore the Cotopaxi Volcano National Park. You can get to the volcano from Quito without a tour, although you will need to combine bus transport with taxis that could become pricey.

middle of the world Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World)

Ecuador gets its name for its proximity to the equator, so it’s not surprising this is also where you’ll find the center of the Earth. Located about an hour and a half outside Quito, the Mitad del Mundo was discovered by French scientists in the early 1900s. When visiting the site, which is also a park, you’ll see statues of these hardworking men, as well as a monument and line marking the 0′-0′-0′ latitude (shown right). Be aware, however, that since the invention of GPS, it has been discovered the real middle of the world exists about 800 feet away from this line.

The Coriolis Effect, the apparent deflection of winds, oceans, airplanes and anything else that moves freely across the Earth’s surface, occurs due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis. An example many people use for a visual is a sink draining; in the northern hemisphere the water will turn counter-clockwise, while in the southern hemisphere it will turn clockwise. On the equator, the effects of this law are almost completely vertical. Many visitors like to test this out by doing various tricks. The most popular ones are balancing an egg on a nail and draining water in a moveable sink. It’s pretty amazing, but you can witness the water drain straight down on the equator, counter-clockwise on the northern side of the equator and clockwise on the southern side.

Along with the monument, there are shops, restaurants, gardens and a museum. When I went, I took a group tour with Gray Line Ecuador; however, a public bus is your cheapest option.

otavalo market Otavalo Market

Possibly the most famous market in Ecuador, locals come from miles and miles away to sell their handicrafts. Located less than two hours north of Quito, you can take a bus for about $2 from Terminal Carcelen, or opt for a group tour to have a more educational experience. The market is busiest on Saturdays, although it is open everyday. You’ll browse numerous vibrantly colored stalls, perusing scarves, hats, clothing, jewelry, instruments, blankets, masks, socks, handbags and more. Remember to bring your best bartering skills, as the first price the sellers give you is almost always above what they’re willing to sell for.

On the way to the market, there are various stops you can make along the Pan-American Highway. The first is the village of Calderon, a small parish of Quito. In the past, women would honor their dead husbands by being buried alive with them. Luckily, the ritual has changed, and today they commemorate their dead annually on November 2, The Day of the Dead. On this holiday, indigenous people visit the cemetery to have colada morada, a red drink, which represents blood, and wawa de pan, a girl-shaped bread, with their deceased loved ones. You can see wawa de pan being made at special shops and see how the people make a living turning it into a handicraft. The bread is coated in glue, giving it a clay-like texture, and creating masapan. Locals use the mixt
ure to create all types of figures to sell, and it is a local specialty of the area.

The other stop is at a big green building that appears to be an informal rest stop labeled “Mira Lage Parador Turistico.” In this small village complex, you can visit Odaly’s and see authentic Panama hats being made. Make sure to also spend some time in the green building sampling a typical snack, fresh cow cheese and dulce de leche on a crispy biscuit. In the backyard where the bathroom is, you’ll be given excellent views of Sambo Lake, Imbabura Volcano and the surrounding mountains.

A Long Weekend

banos Baños

Located about three and a half hours south of Quito, Baños is the perfect adventure destination for the budget traveler. Here you’ll be able to bungee jump, zip-line, hike, cycle a waterfall route, white water raft, canyon, climb volcanoes and take trips into the Amazon Jungle, all usually for under $50. For example, my companion and I took a trip into the Amazon Jungle for two full days, with it costing $35 per day including all meals, water and accommodation. Moreover, you can rent a bike for a full day for $5, go white water rafting or canyoning for $30 and bungee jumping for $15. Along with cheap adventure, the town is also home to two relaxing hot springs. At night, you can choose between local eateries serving three course meals of local food for $1 or more touristy fare like the popular Casa Hood. It’s also a great place to try traditional guinea pig, or cuy, for a decent price on the street, as it is usually expensive to order in restaurants.

hiking ecuador Latacunga

Located about an hour and half south of Quito, Latacunga offers worthwhile experiences for any traveler. First, they have an excellent outdoor market and eateries where you can sample delicious local food. Moreover, they have an interesting cultural museum, Casa de la Cultura, where you’ll see festival masks, pottery, weavings, artifacts and more. Beautiful churches and picturesque parks give the city a charming ambiance.

The main reason people visit Latacunga is to do the Quilotoa Loop. The journey is done via a mixture of taking buses and hiking. It’s educational and enjoyable, as you pass through indigenous villages like Zumbahua, Quilotoa, Chugchilan and a crater lake, Laguna Quilotoa. The great thing about this loop isn’t just the scenery, but also the fact you’ll have many opporuntities to interact with indigenous locals. Because transportation is infrequent and unreliable, you may end up hiking for long stretches of the loop. To start the journey, take a bus from Latacunga to Zumbahua, where you’ll walk to Quilotoa to see the impressive and serene crater lake. Afterwards, you will begin heading down the crater rim and hike five hours to Chungchilan, where you’ll find a plethora of accommodation options for the night. The next morning, you’ll begin making your way for five hours to Isinlivi while seeing rivers, eculyptus groves, wooden bridges and white cliffs along the way. Once you reach Isinlivi, you can choose between staying at Hostal Llullu Llama or a locally run hospedaje. The next day’s trek will take you about three and half hours as you make your way to Sigchos, where you can catch a bus back to Latacunga around 2:30 p.m. The entire hike will take you through beautiful nature, wildlife, rural landscapes and local farms, giving you a close look at the many faces of Ecuadorian culture. For detailed track notes, click here.

A Week Or More

galapagos islands The Galapagos Islands

A visit to the Galapagos Islands is something everyone should do once in their lifetime. The destination is truly unique, with myriad endemic species, unique lava caves, crater lakes, warm crystal waters and wildlife everywhere you turn.

While many people assume you need to be rich to be able to visit the Galapagos Islands, this simply isn’t true. When I backpacked through South America for three months, I ended my trip on these islands, sticking to a strict budget while still enjoying the pleasures of the national park. The expensive part is getting to the island, which includes the $100 national park fee and the $500 round trip flight from Quito. However, once you pay this it is possible to explore the Galapagos Islands on a budget. First of all, budget hotels exist offering single rooms for as low as $15 a night.

Additionally, there are various free activities to do on the islands, like hiking, visiting animal preserves and relaxing and enjoying wildlife on the beach. Even the tours are reasonably priced. For example, I went on a snorkeling and diving tour of Isla Lobos, León Dormido/Kicker Rock and Puerto Grande. The group got the chance to swim with sharks and sea lions as well as take in beautiful scenery and wildlife while learning about the ecology of the area. For snorkelers the tour was $50, while divers paid $120, both including lunch. Moreover, a tour of the highlands of San Cristobal, including El Ceibo, a 300-year-old treehouse and bar, El Junco, a crater lake in a volcano, La Lobaria, a white beach littered with sea lions, Puerto Chino, a soft-sand beach with crystal clear water and the Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Center of Giant Tortoises was $35 including lunch. If you’re looking to do a cruise and are a bit flexible with the dates, fly into Baltra Airport and head over to Puerto Ayora to see what last minute deals they can give you. Usually, you can get more than half off the advertised price by booking this way.

Mindo: A Nature-Inspired Day Trip From Quito, Ecuador

mindo 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.

Getting In

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

waterfallWaterfall Sanctuary And Tarabita

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.

Canopy

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.

butterflies Mariposas de Mindo

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.

El Descanso

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.

quetzal El Quetzal

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.

Tubing

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.

flowerThe Yellow House Trails & Lodge

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.