Set in a tranquil valley at an ideal elevation of 1,250 meters, surrounded by dense cloud forest teeming with birdlife, this small village has blossomed in recent years into Ecuador ’s best hub for bird-watchers.
More than 400 bird species found in the surrounding forest include toucans, barbets, golden-headed quetzals, and hummingbirds galore, and there are also 250 species of butterflies and 80 species of orchids. Mindo isn’t all about watching the trees, however; you can also fly through them on canopy zip-lines if you want a more action-packed trip.
Almost 21,000 hectares of forest, from tropical rainforest to páramo, fall within the Mindo-Nambillo Protected Forest, to the east and south of town. The rushing Mindo, Nambillo, and Cinto Rivers drain the area, and there are several waterfalls near Mindo.
It’s relatively easy to explore parts of the forest alone, but for a better-quality experience, particularly for bird-watchers, hiring a local guide is recommended.
Mindo is still a relatively low-key place and retains a village atmosphere with few cars. However, more and more hotels are springing up in town and the surrounding area, and Mindo fills up on the weekend with day-trippers from Quito , so consider coming during the week for a quieter experience.
Mindo is filled with knowledgeable bird-watching guides who can lead you through the forests at dawn to see toucans and quetzals and also up to leks where brilliant crimson-colored Andean cock-of-the-rock males compete for females. Most guides charge small groups $50 for half-day trips and $100 for a full day.
Vinicio Pérez, owner of the Birdwatchers House (Colibries, tel. 2/217-0204 or 9/947-6867, vinicioperez [at] birdwatchershouse [dot] com), is highly recommended. Other recommended guides include Marcelo Arias at Ruby Birdwatcher’s Place (tel. 9/340-6321), Danny Jumbo (tel. 9/328-0796), and Julia Patiño (tel. 8/616-2816).
For extended bird-watching tours in Mindo and elsewhere in Ecuador, contact Andean Birding (Salazar Gómez E-1482 at Eloy Alfaro, tel. 9/418-4592, www.andeanbirding.com ) in Quito.
A German-Ecuadorian couple owns seven hectares of land uphill from Mindo called Mindo Lindo (tel. 9/291-5840, www.mindolindo.com ), which offers easier access to the cloud forest than other properties in town. They charge $4 pp to use the trails and $20 pp for accommodations.
Southeast of town is the best access point into the Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo cloud forest. The road leads past several sets of accommodations before splitting. Take the left fork to reach the butterfly farm Mariposas de Mindo (www.mariposasdemindo.com , 9 a.m.–6:30 p.m. daily, $5), which breeds 25 species, including the brown owl eye and the Peleides blue morpho, the latter with a wingspan of 20 centimeters. The tour follows the life cycle from eggs to caterpillars to pupae to butterflies. Come in the early morning and you may see them hatch.
Where the road forks, walk up to the right to reach two sets of canopy-tour operators. The second company you come to, Mindo Canopy Adventure (tel. 8/542-8758, www.mindocanopy.com ) was actually the first to bring their expert knowledge of zip-lines from Costa Rica in 2006. The company is fully accredited and has an excellent safety record. There are a total of 13 lines ranging up to 400 meters in length and 120 meters in height.
You can spend 1.5 hours zipping across all 13 for $10 or do three lines for $5. Try out the “superman” or “butterfly” poses for extra fun. There is also a new “extreme Tarzan” swing, a 40-meter-long pendulum.
The newer company, local-run Mindo Ropes and Canopy (tel. 9/172-5874, www.mindoropescanopy.com ), offers 10 zip-lines for $10. A taxi from town costs $3.
If you haven’t had your fill of adrenaline kicks, an unusual alternative to rafting is tubing—tumbling down the river rapids in an inflatable tube. This can be arranged with any of the agencies in Mindo ($8 pp).
About one kilometer up the hill from the canopy companies is a more relaxed way to travel across the treetops. The La Tarabita ($5 pp) cable car cruises 150 meters above a river basin, and on the far side there are trails leading to seven waterfalls. Although the paths are not well marked, you’re unlikely to get lost because the route is circular.
The entire circuit takes about two hours, and it gets muddy in places. Bring boots and waterproof clothing as there is regular rainfall. Access to the waterfall trails is included in the cost of the cable car. There is another waterfall on the opposite side, Tambillo ($3 pp), where you can swim or slide downstream. Walking up to La Tarabita and the waterfalls takes about an hour from town, so consider taking a taxi ($7).
A recommended tour operator that can organize all of these activities, including transportation, is La Isla (Av. Quito, tel. 2/217-0181, www.laislamindo.com ), which has an office on Mindo’s main street.
In Mindo, it’s worth heading up to El Quetzal, a hotel north of town on 9 de Octubre, to see how chocolate is made. For $3.50 you get an hour-long explanation of the process and a free brownie, hot chocolate, or ice cream. West of town, Mindo Lago organizes an evening walk to listen to frogs (tel. 9/709-3544, www.mindolago.com.ec , 6:30 p.m. daily, $3.50).
The road from Quito  to Mindo runs west from Mitad del Mundo . It joins the old road just north of Mindo and continues west to Los Bancos and Puerto Quito. An eight-kilometer road connects Mindo to the main highway.
Direct buses from Quito with the Flor del Valle cooperative leave at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., and 4 p.m. Monday–Friday; 7:40 a.m., 8:20 a.m., 9:20 a.m., and 4 p.m. Saturday; and 7:40 a.m., 8:20 a.m., 9:20 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. Sunday. Daily buses return from Mindo to Quito at 6:30 a.m., 1:45 p.m., and 3 p.m. Monday–Friday; 6:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. Saturday, with extra buses at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday.
If you miss the bus from Quito, take a taxi to Carcelén terminal and take the first bus to Los Bancos, which drops you on the main road at the top of the hill above Mindo, where you can catch a taxi (from $1). Leaving Mindo, take a taxi to the main road and flag down any Quito-bound bus.