Mindo Backpackers Guide: Best Things To Do & 3-Day Itinerary (2021)

For a brief escape from the heights of Quito, take a trip into the cloud forest of Mindo: the heart of Ecuador’s chocolate producing region. Backpackers visit to enjoy tubing along the flowing rivers, trekking to the many waterfalls or birdwatching in the beautiful forest. Here’s a list of the best things to do in Mindo all compiled into the perfect 3-day itinerary.

Contents

The 10 Best Things To Do In Mindo For Backpackers

1. Tubing Down The Rio Blanco

  • Cost: Level I Rapids – $6 + VAT, Level II Rapids – $25 + VAT, Level III on the Rio Blanco – $35 + VAT
  • Duration: 2 hours including transport, 1 hour spent on the river
  • Timings: 09.00AM – 4.00PM

Depending on the time of year and volume of water, tubing down the Río Mindo can be an exhilarating experience. 

 

You don’t float down solo, but rather in a group of five or so large tubes strapped tightly together, so it’s a great activity to do with other travellers. Mindo has three different rivers to choose from, rising in intensity to the scariest 30km level III rapids of the Rio Blanco, perfect for the adrenaline junkies.

 

You can book in person or with a vendor in the centre of town. A minimum of 4 people is needed so try to book on a weekend as weekdays won’t be busy.

 

There’s an endless amount of adventure activities on offer in Mindo, from canyoning to ziplining. Whichever one takes your fancy, Mindo Extreme has you covered, offering a wide selection of tours.

2. Go Hiking In The Waterfall Sanctuary

  • Cost: $5 for the cable car (return) and $10 taxi to the entrance of the cable car and back to town
  • Opening Hours: Cable car runs from 9.00AM – 4:30PM

The cloud forest of Mindo is a maze of streams, rivers and waterfalls and there’s a fantastic hiking route that will take you to not just one, but seven different waterfalls.

 

Reaching the trek requires riding a cable car across the forest and flying 150 meters above ground through the breath-taking canopy. From there, you have a choice of two different paths to take which can take a couple of hours or the whole day trekking if you wish.

 

At most of the waterfalls, you can stop for pictures or jump in to cool off, and you will see many locals hanging around in the calm pools at the base of the falls. The hike is a free activity with only the cable car ticket costing money.

For more information on the waterfall trek in Mindo:

 

 

3. Experience The Incredible Biodiversity On A Birdwatching Tour

Aside from a collection of adrenaline-fuelled activities, Mindo is famous for its incredible biodiversity with over 500 species of bird and many more exotic animals: locals claim to have spotted pumas, spectacled bears, and monkeys here too.

 

Mindo is a huge draw for nature lovers and is a renowned bird watching spot with many beautiful hummingbird species, including the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird. For a guaranteed sight, the Andean ‘cock-of-the-rock’ performs its mating dance every morning, loudly squawking and dancing for females.

One of the best tour companies is Mindo Bird Paradise:

 

 

But if your interest is casual, you can access trails on your own from Casa Amarilla (Yellow House), located a couple of blocks from Parque Central.

 

 

  • Casa Amarilla – $6 per person, includes: forest trail, can also provide maps and English speaking birds guides at reasonable prices.

4. Mindo Forest Night Tour

  • Cost: $15 per person for a
  • Duration: 2-hour tour
  • Start Times: 7.00 PM or 8.30 PM

When the sun sets, the cloud forest comes alive with various species of frogs, snakes, spiders, and other fascinating creepy crawlies.

 

Going into the forest at night is like entering a completely different world but a word of warning – this is for the biologists and nature lovers only. Your torchlight will reflect off the eyes of reptiles sitting casually in trees, the chorus of frog ribbits will surround you and your guide will easily turn over leaves to uncover huge insects hiding underneath.

Ecuador Reptile Adventures have tours in English and money from your tickets goes to help with conversation projects in the area:

 

 

5. Chocolate Farm Tour And Tasting

  • Cost: $10
  • Duration: 1 Hour
  • Times: On the hour, every hour from 10.00AM to 5.00PM

The lush forest ecosystem of Mindo provides the perfect conditions for growing what is renowned as some of the best chocolate in the world.

 

The El Quetzal tour around their chocolate farm will show you the cacao plant, how it is grown and harvested, and the process of turning the bean into chocolate. The best part however is at the end when you get to taste all the different flavours and combinations made by the company!

 

The tasting includes all the different types they make which include chilli, ginger, cardamom, sea salt, and varying cocoa percentages of up to 87%. You also get to experiment with 100% pure cocoa, mixing it with sugar, honey, and other products to see how it affects the taste. To top it all off you then get given a free brownie and tea, both made from the products from the farm.

 

El Quetzal is in the centre of town and no more than a 10-minute walk from most accommodations. You don’t need to worry about booking and can just turn up a few minutes before the tour starts.

 

They also offer an $18 tour package where you go through the entire process yourself from roasting, grinding, and mixing to make your own batch of chocolate. Or a $15 coffee making tour!

 

The café is also a great place for coffee and all the cakes taste just as good as the chocolate they are producing.

 

Top Tip – head there after lunch or dinner to make it your dessert! There’s also a café and store at the museum where you can purchase your favourite chocolate as well as other chocolate-related products.

6. Visit The Butterfly House

  • Cost: $7.50
  • Opening times: Thursday to Monday from 09:00 to 16:00, Tuesday and Wednesday from 09:00 to 14:00
  • How To Get There: The butterfly house is 2km away from town so the best way to get there is via taxi.

Just outside of Mindo is the butterfly farm Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo, dedicated to the reproduction and conservation of butterflies.

 

You can walk through the butterfly garden surrounded by hundreds of different species of butterflies and see them in all their different forms, from caterpillar to chrysalis to beautiful butterfly.

 

The gardens also have observation towers where you can admire the beautiful gardens from above and see colourful hummingbirds coming to feed.

7. Mindo Coffee Shop And Tour

Mindo Coffee Shop is a place you should be visiting whether you decide to do the coffee tour or not. They have a great selection of coffees, teas, and American style frappes and it’s one of the best cafes in town.

 

If you decide to join the tour, you will start in the coffee plant nursery and take a journey to see how the grains go from seed to bean to delicious coffee. You will then observe the different techniques of roasting and learn how they influence the grain and its flavour.

 

Like the chocolate tour, you will get to experiment and make a coffee drink of your own. And of course, at the end of the tour, there will be tastings of all the different blends grown in Mindo.

8. Canyoning

  • Cost: $15 per person
  • Duration: Half day (3-4 hours)

Canyoning is another adventure activity where you trek, rappel and climb through rocky canyons, rivers, and waterfalls. If you prefer your exploration of the cloud forest to be a bit more extreme, then definitely do this instead of the waterfall trek.

 

However, if canyoning is your thing but you are also travelling to Baños whilst in Ecuador, then we recommend waiting until then. The waterfalls in Baños are bigger and better so the experience will be a lot more thrilling.

 

La Isla Mindo also offers a wide range of tours similar to Mindo Extreme so be sure to check out their prices to compare.  

9. Ziplining

  • Cost: $8 for 3 cables, $20 for 10
  • Duration: Approximately an hour and a half long

Ziplining through the forest canopies of Mindo is another exhilarating way to spend a morning or afternoon. The zipline route covers over 3,500 meters, across 10 different cables.

 

Two companies to check out are:

 

10. Mountain Biking

  • Price: $4 for an hour, $10 for 3-4 hours, $12 all-day
  • Duration: 1–6-hour tour routes or full-day rentals

Organised by Mindo Extreme, you can choose from 1-hour to 6-hour biking routes that will take you through different ecosystems of Mindo like the highlands or subtropical forest.

 

If you wish to rent by yourself instead of a tour, you can bike to the entrance of the cable car or the butterfly farm to save yourself money on taxis.

Is Mindo Worth Visiting?

Mindo is well worth visiting, especially for a day or two. 

 

There is so much to do in this tiny town from hiking in the waterfall sanctuary and tubing down the Rio Mindo, to coffee farm tours and chocolate tasting. There’s something for every type of backpacker.

 

The cloud forest location is so peaceful making it the perfect escape from the big city of Quito.

How Many Days Do You Need In Mindo?

For the casual backpacker who just wants to see the cloud forest and go tubing, then 2 days in Mindo is a great amount of time. Because of the small size of the town and most of the things listed above being half-day activities, you can cram a lot in with just 2 days.

 

For nature and adventure lover backpackers, 3 days in Mindo is best to see it all and tick off everything – birdwatching, tubing, waterfall hiking and a night tour into the forest.

The Perfect 3-Day Itinerary For Mindo

Here’s the best way to spend 3 days in Mindo:

Day 1 - Arrival & Tubing

  • 9.15 – Taxi To Ofelia Station (North Quito)
  • 10.00 – Bus From Quito To Mindo
  • 12.00 – Arrive and check in / sign up to tubing tour
  • 13.00 – Lunch
  • 14.00 – Tubing
  • 16.00 – Wash and rest up at accommodation
  • 18.00 – Dinner at Mishqui Quinde

Day 2 - Waterfall Sanctuary Hike

  • 9.00 – Breakfast
  • 10.30 – Head to the Tarabita Cable Car
  • 11.00 – Waterfall Sanctuary Hike
  • 16.00 – Return to hostel / shower / rest up
  • 18.00 – Dinner at the Beehive

Day 3 - Coffee & Chocolate Tours

  • 9.00 – Breakfast at Mindo Coffee House
  • 10.00 – Coffee Tour at Mindo Coffee House
  • 12.00 – Lunch at El Quetzal
  • 13.00 – Chocolate Tour At El Quetzal
  • 15.00 – Visit The Butterfly House
  • 20:00 – Mindo Night Forest Tour

Day 1 - Arrival And Tubing

It should take around 3 hours to get from Quito to Mindo. It’s around 45 minutes to get to Terminal Ofelia which is in the north of the city. And then from there, the local bus takes around 2 hours (we’ve broken down the full journey in more detail below).

 

Once you arrive in Mindo, check in to your hostel and then head to the main square to sign yourself up for tubing in the afternoon.

 

Depending on the time of year and volume of water, tubing down the Río Mindo can be an exhilarating experience. You don’t float down solo, but rather in a group of five or so large tubes strapped tightly together, so it’s a great activity to do with other travellers.

 

Ask around in town first before booking to look for any deals but all tours go through Mindo Extreme (so go directly to them if you wish).

 

We tried emailing but like a lot of South American tour companies, emails don’t seem to be a valid form of communication. You will need a minimum of 4 people so that costs aren’t inflated. The best time to go is at the weekend as it will be easier to find the minimum number of people as well as being more fun with more people.

 

In the evening, it’s time to try out one of Mindo’s many great restaurants. Start with Mishqui Quinde which provides incredible vegetarian and vegan based dishes.

Day 2 - Trekking In The Waterfall Sanctuary

First, you need to get yourself to the Taribita Cable Car which will ferry you across the cloud forest and to the start of the route. Taxis from town can take you to the cable car for around $5 or you can walk but it’s uphill and takes an hour.

 

We did this ourselves but wouldn’t personally recommend it as we wasted time. You will also be trekking for a couple of hours after depending on the waterfalls you choose to visit so it’s best to save your legs the added journey.

 

The cable car runs from 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM and is $5 for the return trip. If you are afraid of heights then try not to look down as the cable car flies over the cloud forest, even if the views are incredible.

 

Once at the other side of the valley you will find a small restaurant if you want to stock up on water or buy some food. When we were there they offered Pollo a la Plancha (a large piece of chicken, with salad rice and chips) costing $5, bottles of water for $1, and empanadas for $1 each. Not the cheapest but handy if you forget to bring supplies.

 

A guide will be there once you get off the cable car and will explain your options. In one direction you have the Reina waterfall taking 40-50 minutes there, and the same back – our personal favourite as it is the tallest and was empty when we arrived (probably because most people do the other ones first).

 

In the other direction, there are 6 other waterfalls which are all on the same path. We recommend visiting the Reina waterfall first as you may be tired after the other 6 and have less enthusiasm for the longer hike.

 

This is a full day activity, especially if you decide to visit every waterfall. 

Again, we’ve outlined both treks in our step-by-step guide so make sure to have a read if you are planning to head to the waterfall sanctuary:

 

 

Day 3 - Coffee & Chocolate Tours

Start your day off with breakfast or brunch at Mindo Coffee House. After a delicious breakfast here you can sign up for their coffee tour.

 

Like the chocolate tour, you will get to experiment and make a coffee drink of your own. And of course, at the end there will be tastings of all the different blends grown in Mindo.

 

Then in the afternoon, it’s time for a second tour – this time chocolate. In town, you can find El Quetzal Café.

 

Just be careful, you will see lots of other chocolate tours on offer in town from tour companies but just ignore them, El Quetzal is the best. Tours start directly from the café and cost $10 and run on the hour, every hour with the last one finishing at 5 PM.

 

The 45-minute tour takes you through the process of how chocolate is made (from fruit to bean, to chocolatey goodness), a walk around the garden to see where it is grown and then ending with a personal tasting session.

 

The tasting includes all the different types they make which include chilli, ginger, cardamom, sea salt, and varying cocoa percentages up to 87%. You also get to experiment with 100% pure cocoa, mixing it with sugar, honey, and other products to see how it affects the taste. To top it all off you then get given a brownie with tea, both made from the products from the farm.

 

Then in the evening, if you don’t mind packing lots of stuff into one day you can fit in a trip to the butterfly house after lunch, and then a night tour in the evening! 

 

That’s how to spend the perfect 3-days in Mindo!

Check out our Ecuador backpacking itineraries to see how Mindo fits in to your overall plans:

 

 

Is A Day Tour From Quito To Mindo Worth It?

In our opinion, it’s not worth paying for a day tour from Quito to Mindo.

 

Day tours from Quito start at around $70 and whilst all your transport is organised, you can get there by yourself on public transport for a fraction of the price and save lots of money. You will also get a lot more time and independence to explore Mindo by yourself.

 

Here’s a quick side-by-side comparison:

Day Tour By Yourself (1 Day)
Cost
$95
$20 on return transport
$20 for one nights accomodation
Timing
Full day, 7AM to 7PM
24 hours
Advantages
• More time for activities such as waterfall trek
• Extra time the next morning for one final activity
• Costs less
• Pick up and drop off at hotel
• Slightly faster journey
• Lunch included
Disadvantages
• Expensive
• Rushed
• Still have to pay for activities when you arrive in Mindo
• Less time for activities such as waterfall trek
• Admin of organising own transport

We think it’s best to visit Mindo for a couple of nights as there’s so much to do here and it’s such a unique place.

 

But, if you are short on time in Ecuador and can only do it in a day then grab the earliest bus possible (2-hour journey) which should give you enough time in Mindo to visit the waterfalls, go chocolate tasting or visit the butterflies.

 

You can always wake up early the next morning and do one last activity before heading back to Quito if you want.

We’ve compared a handful of day tours you can do from Quito (including the one in the table above to Mindo) on price, timing and whether we think they are worth it or not. Check it out for more detail to help with your planning:

 

 

The Best Places To Stay In Mindo

1. La Casa De Cecilia

  • Single Private with ensuite – $18
  • Twin Private with ensuite – $33

La Casa de Cecilia is a small, friendly hostel located by the main river running through. The gardens have a terraced area with hammocks which are great for relaxing in. It’s in the perfect location, only a few minutes’ walk to the central square where many cafés and restaurants are located. They can help organising all your activities such as zip-lining, canyoning, tubing, waterfalls, the butterfly farm and chocolate tour.

La Casa de Cecilia:  Booking.com / Hostelworld.com / Website

2. Cinnamon House

  • 8-bed dorm – $10
  • Single with private ensuite – $22

Cinnamon house has 3 spacious common areas, a communal kitchen, and a coffee shop/snack bar on the premises. The place has a peaceful vibe like most of Mindo, and guests always fall in love with the place. It’s located 3 minutes from the town centre and surrounded by trees so attracts a lot of birds and creates a relaxing atmosphere.

 

The dorm rooms have privacy curtains on the bunks, personal lamps, and electrical sockets. This would be our top pick for backpackers looking to meet other travellers whilst in Mindo.

Cinnamon House:  Booking.com / Hostelworld.com

 

3. Casa de Piedra

  • Twin Room with shared bathroom – $30

Casa de Piedra is surrounded by lush gardens full of birds and butterflies.  With a large swimming pool and lots of open spaces, it’s the perfect place to relax and unwind. It’s also looked after well by the staff and the rooms and communal areas are clean and comfortable.

 

Casa de Piedra also offers a bar and restaurant, BBQ, table soccer, snooker pool, board games & a stunning location with lots of nature.

Casa de Piedra:  Booking.com

4. Bio Hostal Mindo

  • $40 for a twin room with private ensuite

We stayed at Bio Hostal Mindo Cloud Forest which had comfortable twin rooms and a decent breakfast of pancakes and fruit.  

Bio Hostal:  Booking.com

5. El Quetzal

  • $28 for a double room with private ensuite

You can book a room above the El Quetzal Chocolate Café for $28 a night.  The café is right in the centre of Mindo, and the room is comfortable with its own private bathroom. Breakfast and the chocolate tour are included in the price, so this is a great deal!

El Quetzal:  Airbnb

The Best Places To Eat In Mindo

Best Cafes In Mindo

The best thing about eating out in Mindo is all the ingredients (coffee, chocolate etc.) are locally grown and sourced. All the cafes mentioned below use coffee beans grown in the region and make all their delicious treats with chocolate grown here too.

 

  • El Quetzal Café – this is the café where you can find the amazing chocolate farm tour. The tour is incredible, and their food is even better. They make fresh meals all with food harvested straight from their own organic gardens. The menu selection includes authentic Ecuadorian dishes and typical American food options. Freshly made vegetarian options are available daily. Make sure to try their famous brownie, you get a small taste at the end of the chocolate tour but once you’ve had this you will have to eat a whole one.

 

  • Mindo Coffee Shop – Great selection coffees, teas, and American style frappes. This is where you can find the coffee tour mentioned above.

 

  • Mindo Forest Coffee & Tea – A nice spacious cafe to work in, chill for an afternoon or socialise. They have good wifi and lots of charging points available. Only drinks and cakes available, so best for a quick snack or rest stop.

 

  • The Beehive – this a welcoming and cosy café/restaurant. They have couches to relax in and there’s a huge open window at the back, where you can sit and admire the cloud forest and hummingbirds feeding. They have a great selection of cakes, brownies and other delicious treats and the coffee is excellent. They also have daily specials and larger meals so can easily be visited for a bigger meal if you wish.

Best Restaurants In Mindo

The beehive and El Quetzal are also great picks for larger meals. As mentioned, at most restaurants you eat at in Mindo, you are eating something made with locally grown ingredients. Below our two of our favourites restaurants in Mindo:

 

  • Mishqui Quinde (Sweet Hummingbird) – great option for vegetarian and vegans with quinoa burgers, quinoa milkshakes and lots of other dishes. The owners are welcoming and like to experiment with their healthy dishes.

 

  • The Food Studio – small and simple menu with a focus on organic locally grown ingredients. The salad bowl with roasted tomatoes, beans and pumpkin seeds is a great option.

How To Get To Mindo

How To Get From Quito To Mindo

  • Cost: $6-8 dollar taxi from central to the bus station + $2 bus ticket
  • Duration: 2-3 hours depending on traffic in central Quito

Getting to Mindo from Quito is simple and takes about 2 ½ hours by bus.

 

The bus leaves from the northern bus terminal called Terminal de la Ofelia. It’s a bit of a journey outside the city and took us around 40 minutes to get there in a uber (costing $8) or you could take a metro bus from the central terminal in town. Once at the bus station, find one of the counters selling tickets to Mindo and hop on the next bus.

 

Buses in Ecuador are super cheap, and the ticket cost us no more than $2 each.

 

Annoyingly, our bus dropped us at the side of the highway outside of Mindo. The walk was too far with our bags but there were a couple of ‘taxis’ (basically locals in there cars) waiting to take us into the town centre for a couple of dollars. We aren’t too sure whether the bus always does this or the driver was feeling lazy. However, returning from Mindo to Quito is easier as there is a bus station in town.

How To Get From Otavalo To Mindo

  • Cost: $4 for bus tickets (Otavalo to Quito > Quito to Mindo)
  • Duration: 3-4 hours depending on traffic and bus changeover in Quito

If you are coming from Otavalo, then there is no direct bus to Mindo – you will have to take one bus back to Quito which drops you off at the northern bus station and then takes a second bus to Mindo. Bus timetables aren’t a thing in Quito, so we just turned up when we wanted to go and, in most cases, we were able to jump on a bus right away.

 

For more on Otavalo, check out our guides: