Situated just about a two-hour bus ride from Quito, Mindo is a village in the Andes mountains of Northern Ecuador. In addition to being known for chocolate, zip-lining, and an ever-present hippie community, Mindo boasts one of the most biodiverse locations in the world nestled within the confines of its cloud forest. The Mindo cloud forest is a popular day trip from Quito, though it is definitely worth at least a few days if you have the time to spare!
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What is the Mindo Cloud Forest?
A unique ecosystem in Ecuador known worldwide for its biodiversity and birding, the Mindo Cloud Forest is one of world’s largest cloud forests. In addition to spotting over 500 bird species, these subtropical forests offer a mystical environment in which to explore and pursue adventure.
A cloud forest is a forest characterized by a persistent low-lying cloud cover, usually at the canopy height. Fog drip, which condenses on tree leaves and drips onto the ground below, is one of the primary sources of moisture in cloud forests.
Ecuador is actually home to 35 cloud forests, though Mindo is probably its most popular with tourists.
Getting to Mindo
From Quito’s city center, there are no direct buses to Mindo. However, from the la Ofelia bus station (about 30 minutes on the outskirts of Quito), there are five buses departing daily. The bus ride to Mindo takes about 2 hours and costs roughly $4 USD. If you don’t want to take a bus, taxis will take you there for $50-65 USD. This option takes about an hour and a half.
One thing I wish I knew before taking this bus ride – if driving on the edge of a mountain does not sound appealing to you, sit on the left side of the bus! I (of course) sat on the right, and was on the verge of a panic attack for the entire ride.
Driving in Ecuador is not known as the country’s safest activity – there are landslides, narrow and winding roads, and other external factors that cause many fatal accidents in the country.
If heights are an issue, do yourself a favor, sit on the left side of the bus on the way to the Mindo cloud forest. Sit on the right side of the bus on your way back to Quito. Just do it, you’ll thank me later!
When is the best time to visit Mindo?
Given its close proximity to the equator, Mindo doesn’t see very drastic temperature changes throughout the year. In the throes of summer, the temperature can reach up to 20 degrees C (68 degrees F), while winter nights can drop as low as 6 degrees C (48 degrees F).
The weather in Mindo is near to perfect in autumn, September or October precisely. In November the rainy season starts, which can mean anything from a fleeting storm to rainy, dreary days. I visited in early December, and as you can see from the photo above, we had some days of pretty dreary weather (though some days were absolutely gorgeous).
Where to stay in Mindo
I began my stay in Mindo at an absolutely beautiful Airbnb set in a treehouse in the cloud forest – sounds great, right? Well, upon speaking further with my host, an American yoga instructor in her 50s or 60s, and learning that she doesn’t rent her apartment to people with Ecuadorian or Colombian passports (and who knows what other nationalities), I canceled the remainder of my stay and booked with a hostel that is more supportive and inclusive of the local community.
It was unfortunate because her Airbnb was so incredibly beautiful (check out the photo above), but having that knowledge (along with some other unsavory comments she’d made) just made me feel as though I couldn’t stay there with a clear conscience.
I wound up booking the remainder of my stay at Mindo Green House, a quaint hotel located just half a mile from the center of town. The hotel is pet-friendly (I didn’t have Andre or Misi with me, but it’s good to know!), has a restaurant, and balconies off of each room overlooking the Mindo cloud forest.
I paid $38 USD per night. This included an awfully cute welcome committee (see above photo).
Things to do in Mindo
Mindo’s famous butterfly farm is probably the most popular thing to do in Mindo. In the Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo, you will find a variety of butterfly species and see all four stages of the butterfly life cycle.
Butterflies love eating mashed bananas left in dishes around the butterfly farm. There are dishes on the table where visitors can rub bananas on their hands to attract butterflies to land on them. Even without any bananas, butterflies land randomly on shoulders and heads.
The butterfly garden offers visitors the unique opportunity to see butterflies emerge from their cocoons. You can purchase tickets for this top Mindo attraction for $7.50. Only a mile outside of town is the Mariposario, accessible by foot or bicycle. You can also take a taxi for a few dollars.
Tour a chocolate factory
Mindo is known around the world for making some of the finest chocolate. Tour a chocolate factory during your visit to Mindo to immerse yourself in the production process and sample some delicious morsels while you’re there!
Come spend an hour with Mindo’s chocolate makers at El Quetzal. This tour walks you through each step in detail, from understanding the cacao bean and its origins to discovering how modern, artisanal chocolatiers vary the degree of sweetness based on how much cacao is added to how much sugar.
Cost is about $10 per person, or $18 if you also want to take an informational tour of different types of chocolate drinks!
Nighttime nature walk
Once the sun sets, a whole myriad of different sounds begin to emerge from the Mindo cloud forest. The area is chock-full of nocturnal creatures that make their home here, all waiting to serenade you with their calls.
Begin your evening with the ‘frog concert’. The Frog Concert, held nightly at Mindo Lago, has been a successful initiative for restoring native species, especially frogs. Every night, their orchestra of croaking is heard around Mindo Lago, providing the perfect ambiance to get your evening started.
Bring a flashlight to spot frogs, some massive tarantulas, and a few other chill-inducing insects. Seeing luminescent micro bacteria that glow in the dark was also pretty cool.
In addition to the Frog Concert, the Mindo Night Walk offers a chance to see nocturnal mammals in a nature reserve. The elusive Kinkajou can be found during the Mindo Night Walk. Kinkajous are rarely seen by people because of their nocturnal habits – but trust me, if you hear one shrieking, you’ll know what it is! The operators of the Mindo Night Walk know the best places to find them.
The Mindo Night Walk is $15 per person.
Looking for adventure in Ecuador? What could be better than zip lining through the canopies of the Mindo cloud forest? Not much! In addition to zip lining, there are a number of other adventure activities that will get your adrenaline pumping.
Try canyoning, mountain biking through the cloud forest, trekking and hiking, or even tubing on the Rio Mindo.
Take the Tarabita to the waterfall sanctuary
One of the best things to do in Mindo, Ecuador is to take the Tarabita to cross the river valley. Passengers ride in a basket-type vehicle for half a kilometer over the Mindo Cloud Forest. Those who dare to look over the edge (not me!) may see the Nambillo Waterfall, about 150 meters (500 feet) below.
The ride is about half a kilometer but only lasts a few minutes due to its accelerated speed. If you’ve got the family in tow, this can be a great source of adrenaline for the kids while still staying perfectly safe.
Despite the fact that the ride only lasts a few minutes, it takes you to the Mindo waterfall sanctuary, where you can easily spend a few hours.
Within the Mindo waterfall sanctuary, there are said to be at least fifteen different waterfalls. A map of the sanctuary shows names and locations of seven of these species. Cascada Reina is the largest waterfall at 50 meters (164 feet). Despite that, it’s also the hardest place to reach as it requires a 1 ½ – 2-hour round trip trek to get from where the Tarabita lets you off. It’s a beautiful hike through the Mindo Cloud Forest for those who are up for it and have the time.
The Tarabita is $5 per person. Once inside the waterfall sanctuary, expect to hand out a few dollars here and there to uniformed workers for access to the waterfalls.
Take the Minjoy park chairlift through the Mindo cloud forest
At Minjoy Park, you can take the ski-chalet style chairlift above the canopies to experience the Mindo cloud forest from above. This slow-moving chairlift is perfect for those who aren’t up for the speed and exhilaration of the Tarabita.
However, if you want to do both, the upper deck of the Minjoy Chairlift is a short walk from the Tarabita. So, you could hypothetically take the Chairlift to the Tarabita, trek the route of the waterfalls, and take the Chairlift back down once you’re finished.
Taking the chairlift from the bottom to the top takes about 20 minutes, and it covers a lot of ground along the way. As opposed to a thrilling ride, the slower pace allows you to appreciate the surroundings of the Mindo cloud forest. The cost for the chairlift is $8 per person.
I am not a birder by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, bird watching from my tree house Airbnb in Mindo was one of the things I was most excited for on my trip. I even bought binoculars for the occasion! Needless to say, considering the fact that I canceled the remainder of my stay after one night at the tree house, I didn’t get to utilize it as planned.
Even if you’re not staying in a tree house, there are plenty of DIY bird watching opportunities in Mindo. However, as long as you don’t mind shelling out the cash, I’d recommend taking a tour. You will see exponentially more species as the local guides really know their way around the Mindo cloud forest.
Try locally sourced food in the center of town
One thing that really surprised me about Mindo was the number of American expats that now call this charming town home! El Camaleón is owned and operated by one such expat, and this is where I enjoyed most of my meals while in town – it was that good. They are vegetarian and vegan friendly, super-friendly to both customers and the local street dog population, and absolutely delicious.
I wish I had more to report on other restaurants in Mindo, but this was the first place I tried and I just kept going back!