Travelers and tourists venture to Mindo for birds and butterflies, zip-lining, chocolate tours, and hiking in the dense Andean cloud forest. While we’ve only stayed a couple of nights in Mindo, we definitely see its appeal, especially for families with children or small groups looking for more than birdwatching.
Where is Mindo, Ecuador?
Mindo is 70 miles (112 km) from the International Airport in Quito. It is located on a well-maintained highway called the E-28 that passes the well-known tourist destinations of Mitad del Mundo, the Incan-Caranqui ruins at Rumicucho, the Pululahua Crater, the El Pahuma orchid reserve, and the Alambí hummingbird garden.
The route to Mindo is also one of the main highways to the Pacific Coast. It is well-traveled, especially on weekends and holidays. It also a very windy, mountain road that is often enshrouded in fog or wet with heavy rain. That means taking your time. Please remember that it will take about 2 to 2.5 hours of travel time one way and that we do not recommend driving at night. Therefore, while Mindo is a possible day trip, we recommend staying at least one night.
Why Visit Mindo?
The number one reason to visit the Mindo? The Cloud Forest!
Home to the Mindo-Tambillo Protected Forest, Mindo has managed to protect a large portion of its primary cloud forest. This is essential for protecting the thousands of species of animals and plants that live in this region. Several tour companies specialize in nature trips, be it spotting frogs and other amphibians, like the Pinnochio Lizard, or tracking down the elusive Andean Spectacled Bear. Yet, most popular is birdwatching.
Birdwatching in Mindo
For the last couple of decades, birdwatchers have flocked to Mindo, pun intended. Just check out the multiple hotspots on e-Bird. Dedicated birdwatchers would do best to stay outside of town, preferably as close as possible to the river that leads out to the Mindo Garden Lodge.
But other guests might not mind staying very close to the center of town. In fact, long time readers Emoeke and Nikolaj Ullmann have a great guest post on our website about their stay at the Bicok Ecolodge, walking distance to the center of town. From Nikolaj’s photography in the article, it’s clear that staying near town need not get in the way of seeing birds, insects, and more!
However, if you want to consider staying well outside of town we have two of our own recommendations: the Birdwatchers House and Refugio Paz de Las Aves. The Birdwatcher’s House in Santa Rosa de Mindo is perfect for photographers looking to for excellent backdrops for hummingbirds, toucans, and other unique species. Refugio Paz is great for hummingbirds but is best known for its active Cock of the Rock lek and many species of Antpitta, like the famous Maria, that are willing come to eat worms in view of visitors!
So What AbouT The Birds?
The truth is, you don’t have to be a birdwatcher to enjoy the Mindo’s birds. While many species require a set of binoculars, others flock to the feeding stations set up at many of the lodges and hotels in the area. Hummingbirds are an obvious highlight. During the rainiest days, they mob the sugar feeders, fighting for their favorite spots and perching nearby to protect their territory. Even when flowers in the forest are in bloom, some hummingbirds come to the feeders.
Best Time to See Birds in Mindo
While there is no single best time of the year to visit, arriving when the trees are fruiting makes it easier to see other iconic species. For example, the Plate-billed Mountain Toucan normally refuses to visit plantain feeders (the Birdwatchers House is the exception!). However, these toucans (and other birds) love to eat wild avocados, a miniature cousin of the Haas, which usually ripen around July.
On the other hand, many migratory species arrive in December and January. Be warned, birdwatchers looking to maximize their checklists love coming during this season, which can last until March or April, making reservations harder to get. Consider staying at non-birding lodges, like the aforementioned Bicok EcoLodge, where you can still see many colorful birds but may not compete for space with other birders.
No matter what time of year you visit, this is the cloud forest. We recommend that visitors come prepared for rainy days. In fact, we travel with a large umbrella to better protect our camera gear.
Don’t Neglect Mindo’s Butterflies!
Many people visit Mindo for the butterflies! While it is possible to see wild butterflies, especially on sunny days, the easiest and best guarantee for spotting beauties is to visit the well known butterfly garden. One of the medium-sized hotels near the river added a Butterfly House, called a mariposario, a few years ago. While anyone can visit for a fee of about $7, overnight guests are allowed to enter the butterfly house an unlimited number of times. Better yet, only overnight guests can watch the late afternoon show. Just before dusk, dozens of Owl-Eyed Butterflies circle the garden before settling down for the night. It’s a sight not to be missed!
Zip-lining, Tubing, Chocolate, and More
For those looking for adventure beyond wildlife, Mindo offers several other outings. In recent years, a couple of companies have expanded to include zip-lining (please ask about their safety rating!) and tubing the Mindo River. Your best place to find a highly rated outfit will be to read the reviews on Trip Advisor. This kind of adventure is something we tend to skip! However, if you know someone who would like to write an article for us, please put them in touch!
Another popular activity is learning about how cacao is processed into chocolate. One of the best places to learn about this process is at El Quetzal, a coffee and chocolate farm with a small store in the village. Some of the smaller cafes in town also sell local chocolates and coffee. We’ve heard good reviews from friends who have taken young children. They’ve said the tours are good for all ages!
In short, Mindo might be a perfect place for your next trip! Let us know if you go… we’d love to hear about your favorite places to stay.
Information For Your Trip
Mindo is accessible by paved roads. However, during the rainy season, there can be washouts along the E-28. If you are driving yourself to a local lodge, please contact them for the latest road conditions. Otherwise, the driver hired to transport you from Quito will be aware of the current travel conditions.
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- For current reviews and prices of lodging in Mindo, check out Tripadvisor and Booking.com.
- Direction by Car, use WAZE and look for Mindo, Ecuador or the name of the lodge where you will be visiting.
- Direction by Public Transportation There are public buses to from Quito to Mindo. You will be able to find transport at the La Ofelia Terminal in Quito. Wikitravel has more info with schedules.