A Step-by-Step Guide To The Mindo Waterfall Hike (Nambillo Cascadas)

Hidden in the misty cloud forests of Mindo is a winding hiking path that takes you to 7 beautiful waterfalls. This is one of the most popular activities to do in Mindo, and everything you need to know about hiking the Mindo waterfall trail is here in our guide.

How To Find The Mindo Waterfall Trek

The start of the trail is easily accessed from the town of Mindo. First, you need to get to the Tarabita Cable Car, which then transports you across the forest to the trail. 

 

You have two options to get to the cable car:

 

 

  • Walk from town – 1 hour (uphill)
  • Taxi – 15-minute journey costing $4-6

 

We walked but wouldn’t personally recommend it as we wasted time. You will also be hiking 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. We recommend grabbing a taxi. 

 

The cable car can be found here:

To get there by walking, head south from the centre of town until you reach Ruta Rio Mindo (on this road you have Mindo Greenhouse and Mindo Extreme which you can star in maps to help you navigate). 

 

Follow the road past Mindo Extreme until you come to a fork in the road. To the right is a bridge and the road ‘Via A Las Cascadas’.

 

Keep following this road until you reach the cable car. It should be well signposted and it’s a single road so you shouldn’t get lost. Download google maps or maps.me before heading out so you don’t get lost. 

Tarabita cable car mindo

  • Cost: $5 for the return trip
  • Hours: 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM

When you reach the cable car, an attendant will come out and sell you a return ticket. Make sure you keep the tab for the return journey (and bring coins and small notes to pay).

 

If you are afraid of heights, then try not to look down as the cable car flies over the cloud forest. It only lasts a couple of minutes but it’s fast and high. The car flies over a deep valley and you get incredible views of the forest canopy. 

 

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 but best to do that in town as it will be cheaper. 

 

Price from when we were there:

 

  • Pollo a la Plancha (a large piece of chicken, with salad rice and chips) – $5
  • Bottles of water – $1
  • Empanadas – $1 each. 
  • Fresh fruit smoothies – $2 each

Mindo Waterfall Hike Routes

A guide will be there once you get off the cable car to explain your route options. 

 

You have two routes to choose from:

 

 

  • Cascada Reina (2 hours)
  • Cascada Nambillo + 5 others (3 hours)

 

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

 

If you wish to see every waterfall, then you will need 5-6 hours. Make sure you get the first cable car in the morning (9 AM) so you have the whole day. 

Cascada Reina Route

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 45 minutes there, 45 back (2 hours total with time spent at the waterfall)
  • Length: 6km in total
  • Elevation gain: 401m

 

The trail to Reina is the longest trek but relatively easy. The trail is well marked and is mostly up and down without too much elevation gain. There are a few steep spots that are tough on the knees. The trail is also muddy so be careful as it can be slippery at points.

 

The trail winds through the forest so keep your eye out for wildlife. You should be able to see lots of different species of butterfly, hummingbirds and maybe monkeys if you are lucky.

 

Once you get to the waterfall, there will be a small pool at the base which you can dip your feet in but this one is mainly for photos. It’s the tallest and most powerful of all 7.  

 

Here is the All-Trails map: 

 

 

Cascada Nambillo & Waterfall Sanctuary Route

    • Difficulty: Easy
    • Route Type: Single trail out and back
    • Estimated Time: 3-4 hours total (including stops at each waterfall)
    • Length: 2km in total
    • Elevation gain: 292m

 

From the cable car, this trail goes off to the left and down the steps. These steps are steep and tough on the knees so take it slowly. 

 

The first waterfall you reach will be Nambillo. This is the most popular as it’s closest to the cable car. There’s a viewing platform that costs $3 but the view from the bridge is fine in our opinion. If it’s busy, just skip it and head towards the other 5 waterfalls. These tend to be less busy as they are further along the trail. 

 

Follow the main trail which will take you to the final 5 waterfalls known as the ‘Waterfall Sanctuary’. Each waterfall is different, with a couple having plunge pools that you can go swimming in if you want. We preferred to head to the last one first, and then make our way back down the trail.

 

At the final waterfall, Cascada de Los Maderos, you need to cross a river which can come quite high (above the ankles) if it’s the rainy reason. Take your shoes off or change into a pair of flip-flops to save your socks from getting wet.

 

 

Getting Back To Mindo

The cable car closes at 4.30 PM.

 

Once you take it back across to the road, there should be few cab drivers there waiting to take you back to town. Alternatively, you can walk back down which will be quicker and should take about 30 minutes.

 

There is also a route from Cascada Nambillo you can walk up to take you back to the main road. You will see it signposted when you are down at the river.

 

Walking back down and avoiding the overpriced taxi is a great way of saving money in Ecuador. For more great tips and a budget breakdown for backpacking Ecuador:

 

 

Tips For The Mindo Waterfall Hike

  • Bring cash for the cable car and restaurant
  • If you want to visit every waterfall, make sure you leave in the morning and get on the first cable car (9 AM) so you have the whole day.
  • Wear waterproof hiking boots or shoes as the trail is muddy and crosses several rivers.
  • Some waterfalls require you to go through ankle-knee high water so bring flip-flops or a change of shoes if you don’t want to get the pair you are wearing soaked.
  • Rainy reason will change the waterfalls and trails. More rain = deeper pools and more powerful waterfalls. The trails will be muddier, so come prepared.
  • Bring swimming trunks if you want to swim in the natural pools
  • Bring a light waterproof for if it rains. Cloud forests tend to have more rain than usual.
  • Visit on a weekday for fewer crowds. Cascada Nambillo will be packed at the weekend.
  • Elevation in Mindo is 1300m. A lot less than Quito, so altitude sickness shouldn’t be a problem here.

What To Pack For The Mindo Waterfall Hike

Here’s a list of items you should pack:

 

  • Waterproof Hiking Boots – the trails are muddy, and you will cross streams and small rivers. So, having ankle-high boots means you can hike without worrying about wet feet
  • Lightweight waterproof – short powerful downpours are the norm in cloud forests regardless of the season, so bring a waterproof that you can chuck on quickly if it starts to rain
  • Swimming trunks – if you wish to go swimming in any of the plunge pools
  • Flip-flops – better for changing into when going swimming.
  • Microfiber towel – dry yourself off after a swim
  • Waterproof bumbag – keep it on your waist and have your essentials close by. Great place to keep your phone and wallet, especially if it rains
  • Waterproof backpack – we like to use Matador’s packable range. This backpack packs down into the size of your fist and is fully waterproof. We take it out on days like this where we might get caught in a shower but don’t want to take our bigger day pack.
  • Mosquito spray – we didn’t encounter any mosquitos surprisingly, but this may have been due to the time of the year. Always come prepared.

 

For more clothing and gear tips specific for Ecuador’s climates, check out our Quilotoa Loop packing list which covers most of the things you will need to pack:

 

 

Is The Mindo Waterfall Hike Worth It?

The Mindo Waterfall Hike is well worth it. This is one of the best activities to do whilst in Mindo.

 

Reaching the trek requires riding the cable car across the forest, flying 150 meters above ground through breath-taking scenery. And from there, you have a choice of hiking routes from 2 to 6 hours, taking you along jungle paths to secluded waterfalls.

 

Along the way, you will enjoy the beautiful nature of the cloud forest and hopefully spot some of the diverse wildlife that lives there as well. 

 

If you don’t think the hike is for you then we have a list of the other best activities in Mindo, check out our guide below:

 

 

Nambillo waterfall tours from quito

  • Duration: 8 hours
  • Cost: $95 (cable car price not included)

This tour from Quito takes you to the butterfly garden, 1 hour of the waterfall hike, and then a choice of paid activities such as tubing and ziplining for a final activity.

 

For the time spent on transport and the fact that you still have to pay for an activity once you arrive, we don’t think this is worth it. Mindo deserves more of your time if you can spare it as there is so much to do there!

 

But if you don’t want to organise the journey yourself and are short on time, then this is a great option.

 

Or here is a private tour option with longer in the sanctuary for $125.

 

We’ve outlined the cost and timing of this tour and many others in our post below:

 

 

Visiting Nambillo Waterfall From Quito By Yourself

If you are short on time in Ecuador but don’t want to spend money on a tour, then visiting Mindo for a day/night is the other option.

 

  • Journey time: 3 hours
  • Cost: $10 one way (local bus and taxi)

 

Getting to Mindo from Quito is simple and takes about 2 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.

 

 

For more information on Quito:

 

 

Visiting Mindo is a great day trip to get outside of Quito, however, it may be a bit much to go and return in one day. We’d recommend packing a small day pack and booking accommodation for one night.

 

If you leave and grab the earliest bus (7 AM) you can be trekking in the waterfall Sanctuary by 10 AM. You will also have time in the afternoon once you’ve finished doing some of the other great activities in Mindo. 

 

Here are some rough timings to help you plan:

 

  • 6.30 – Taxi to Terminal de la Ofelia
  • 7.00 – Bus to Mindo
  • 9.30 – Tarabita Cable Car 
  • 10.00 – 14.00 – Mindo Waterfall Hike
  • 15.00 – Check-in at hotel
  • 16.00 – El Quetzal Chocolate Tour / Butterfly House / Jungle Tour

 

We think it’s worth staying in Mindo for longer personally. 2 days is the perfect amount of time to see everything it has to offer.

 

For more great activities in Mindo:

 

 

For more guides and tips on backpacking Ecuador and to see how Mindo fits into a longer itinerary, check out the posts below: