Our time in Ecuador was following a clear pattern — Montañita, thumbs up; Guayaquil, thumbs down; Baños, thumbs way up; Quito, thumbs down. So obviously, Mindo was going to be a thumbs up, right? You can’t argue with science. (You can, however, argue quite passionately with a science teacher, as my high school experience repeatedly confirmed.)
Turns out, this tiny cloud forest town, hidden in the hillsides just three hours outside of Quito, held more treasures and charm than we could explore in three short days. This was the one destination in Ecuador that I departed wishing I had had more time. Consider me completely won over — and here’s why.
1. Hummingbird Hunting
“I can’t leave Mindo without seeing a hummingbird. I just have to find one,” claimed a very determined Anders upon arrival. We were soon laughing at that comment — a few hours later, we had stopped counting around the twentieth hummingbird. Mindo is known as the birdwatching capital of Ecuador, and it’s easy to see why.
Without really trying (as in, waking up for prime pre-dawn bird-watching hours or going to a bird sanctuary or whatever) we stumbled upon around 100 hummingbirds in our short time in Mindo, as well as dozens of other species we couldn’t identify. A friend of ours even spotted a toucan while hiking ten minutes outside of town! There are hiking trails in every direction outside Mindo, each one offering up prime bird watching, as well as bonuses like stunning views and hidden waterfalls.
2. Butterfly Birthdays
While there are certainly butterfly farm gems out there, I’ve been to enough where the only wings I saw were in the giftshop to be wary. But this one just happened to be located at the end of a great hiking trail, and so we figured why not swing by. My eyebrow was very raised when I handed over $6 in admission — quite steep for Ecuador — but I tried to keep an open mind.
Expectations — consider them blown. The moment we entered the garden, I could tell this was no ordinary butterfly farm. The walls seemed alive, pulsing with constant wing flutters. Gingerly watching my steps, I went into sensory overload trying to capture the delicate creatures surrounding us.
A patient guide showed us how we could coax the butterflies onto our fingers by coating them with a bit of banana, and I delighted in watching Anders overcome his initial refusal to touch them (as a Certified Scandinavian Giant, Anders is understandably suspicious of anything so small and fragile).
But the best was yet to come. The butterfly farm has an active breeding program, and new butterflies are hatched every single day. Our timing was unintentionally perfect — not long after we arrived, the day’s new arrivals began dropping dramatically from their cocoons, joining the world with extreme flourish.
It was unreal, watching as the little swaddles began to vibrate, and then be still. And then, with a distinct crack, a newborn butterfly would emerge and hang stubbornly to its cocoon carcass, slowly unfolding and drying its wings while trying to adapt to its new, overwhelming surroundings. And just like that, a butterfly was born.
3. Zany Ziplining
Ziplining, like butterfly gardens, is another one of those super hit-or-miss situations. Having done it quite a few times around the world, I’m pretty picky about spending my money to do it again. Perhaps we were high on butterfly fumes, perhaps we were feeling flush, or perhaps we just walked super far and didn’t want to turn back for nothing — but in Mindo, I found myself forking over $20 for a new zipline experience.
Our lucky streak was continuing — it was a more than worthwhile investment.
Yes, the scenery was beautiful. And yes, the safety standards were high and the staff well trained. But none of that was what made this such a memorable experience.
Nope, that would be ziplining upside down, also known as “The Butterfly.” As I mentioned, I’ve been ziplining half a dozen times before and I’m not much afraid of heights, so it’s pretty hard to get my heart rate up. But when the guides proposed the upturned method, I felt myself starting to sweat — and I knew I had to do it.
It was terrifying, and slightly uncomfortable, and totally exhilarating.
4. Cool Cafes
In my last roundup, I lamented the amount of healthy eating options we had encountered in Ecuador. Not a problem in Mindo! While I was totally delinquent in taking photos of our favorite restaurants or meals in Mindo, they will long live on in my memories. Here is a sampling of my favorites:
• The Beehive: This hip cafe wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn. The quality of the small menu is matched only by the amazing view and the hummingbirds flitting around the window!
• Dragonfly Inn: We loved the veggie-filled fajitas at this charming riverside restaurant, which doubles as a guesthouse.
• El Quetzal: This organic chocolate farm is most famous for its delicious brownies (seriously, the best I’ve ever had anywhere in the world) but also boasts a creative entrees like pork with guava sauce. We ate here three times in three days!
5. Original Orchids
While this wasn’t the most thrilling orchid tour I’ve ever been on, it was still fascinating to photograph the endemic orchids that grow wild in the cloud forest surrounding Mindo. These aren’t the kind of orchids going into a 1-800-Flowers bouquet — the majority were no larger than my fingernail.
If you aren’t a photography lover, you can probably skip this one — I loved flexing my flower-snapping muscles, but the “tour” consisted of the guide holding a magnifying glass up to each orchid and stating its scientific name. The $3 entry fee was truly overpriced.
Where I stayed: CasKaffeSu. Budget options are limited around Mindo, so we felt good about this $38 per night splurge.
Where I ate: See body of post!
How I got there: We paid $2.50 US for 3 hour buses to and from Quito.
Bonus Tip: Pack your hiking shoes! Mindo’s attractions are incredibly spaced out and most will require a bit of a hike to get to. Don’t be discouraged though — that’s part of the fun.