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MINDO, ECUADOR GUIDE: BEST THINGS TO DO & 3 DAY ITINERARY

For a brief escape from the heights of Quito, take a trip into the deep misty valley of Mindo, the heart of Ecuador’s chocolate producing region. Whilst the small town may not seem like much at first, backpackers and adventure lovers are frequent visitors to the area to enjoy activities such as tubing along the flowing rivers, trekking amongst the many waterfalls or birdwatching in the lush forest. Here’s our complete guide to enjoying the town along with everything you need to know including hostels, how to get there, the best things to do and a planned 3-day itinerary.

BEST THINGS TO DO IN MINDO

1. Tubing Down The Rio Blanco

Mindo has several rivers running through the cloud forest, all with semi-rapid waters.

 

You will be lashed together with other backpackers and tourists in a giant raft made of rubber rings and dragged for miles down the river. 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.

 

Mindo Extreme offer tubing on all three divers as well as a host of other activities.

2. Go Hiking In The Waterfall Sanctuary

Mindo is host to hundreds of waterfalls and there’s a fantastic route in the cloud forest that will take you to not just one but seven of them.

 

Reaching the trek requires riding the cable car across the forest, flying 150 meters above ground through breath-taking scenery. And from there, a 2-hour hike will take you along jungle paths leading to secluded waterfalls.

 

You can either 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. We cover everything you need to know in our itinerary below.

3. Experience The Incredible Biodiversity On A Birdwatching Tour

Aside from a collection of adrenaline-fuelled activities, the area 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 a renowned bird watching spot around the world 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.

 

Mindo Birding provide half and full day toursand Mindo Bird Paradise provide one day or multi day tours. But if your interest is casual, you can access trails on your own from Casa Amarilla (Yellow House), located a couple of blocks from the parque central. We saw may hummingbirds whilst on the waterfall trek but didn’t have the expertise to locate anything else 

4. Mindo Forest Night Tour

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

 

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

 

Night Walks Mindo have tours in English and money from your tickets goes to help with conversation projects in the area. Or Mindo Biking does the same thing but on bicycles.

5. Chocolate Farm Tour And Tasting

The lush forest ecosystems are also the perfect conditions to grow what is renowned as some of the best chocolate in the world, and in town, you will be able to visit the plantations.

 

A tour around the farm will show you the cacao plant and how it is grown and harvested.

 

You can also watch the process of turning the bean into chocolate. The best part however is at the end when you get to make some yourself by mixing pure coca with sugar and other ingredients, and of course, taste all the different flavours and combinations made by the company!

 

El Quetzal Café and Chocolate Tour give hour long tours for $10. 

6. Visit The Butterfly House

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

 

For $7.50 you can walk through the butterfly garden surrounded by hundreds of different species of butterfly and see them in all their different forms, from caterpillar to chrysalis to beautiful butterfly.

7. Canyoning, Ziplining and Rafting

Theres 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.

HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN MINDO?

For the casual backpacker who just wants to see the cloud forest then 2 days is enough.

 

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.

 

For the forest, nature and animal lover backpackers, 3 days to see it all and tick off everything – tubing, hiking and a night tour. Our 3 day itinerary below has it all planned out for you. 

MINDO 3 DAY ITINERARY

Day 1 - Arrival And Chocolate Tour

We arrived late as we were coming straight from Otovalo so decided to take our first day easy by stuffing our faces with chocolate. In town, you can find El Quetzal Café and Chocolate Tour. 

 

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

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.

 

Top Tip – obvious, but 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.

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. 

Day 3 - Tubing And Forest Night Tour

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, its time to head back into the forest to see frogs, snakes, lizards and all manner of insects on a jungle night tour.

 

If the tubing isn’t for you then this is easily swapped out with something more casual like bird watching or the butterfly garden. Or if you want to do both, simply add another day!

IS A DAY TOUR TO MINDO WORTH IT?

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.

 

We’ve compared a handful of day tours you can do from Quito on price, timing and whether we think they are worth it or not. We’ve also compared a day tour to Mindo and the cost of doing it by yourself so check it out for more detail to help with your planning.

 

If you are short on time 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.

BEST PLACES TO STAY IN MINDO

We stayed at Bio Hostal Mindo Cloud Forest which had comfortable twin rooms (£31 a night, £15 each) and a decent breakfast of pancakes and fruit.  

 

You can book a room AirBnB above the El Quetzal Chocolate Café for £33 a night – breakfast and chocolate tour is included in the price. 

HOW TO GET TO MINDO

How To Get From Quito To Mindo

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

If you are coming from Otavalo then there is no direct bus – 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 on 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.