Within the province of Pichincha in Northwestern Ecuador, the biologically diverse and environmentally striking jungle village of Mindo sits nestled in the Western slope of the Andes.
It is unsurprisingly recognised as a world-renowned tourist destination, and is one of the most frequently backpacked spots in Ecuador. Founded in 1861, the town is inhabited by 3,000 natives, and encompassed by a vast Mindo-Nabillo cloud forest which is home to over 350 species of birds. Three large rivers and hundreds of streams permeate the landscape, itself a patchwork of mountainous forests, pastures and colourful human settlements. At a considerably lower altitude than nearby Quito, Mindo´s climate is also milder than the capital´s, giving a welcomed weekend break from the thick air and heat of the city.
The many activities on offer here, (rafting, tubing, trekking and kayaking to name but a few), combine with the landscape to make Mindo a destination attracting nearly 200,000 tourists every year. The first exercise on the agenda for my friends and I was a zipline of 3,500m with Mindo Canopy Adventure. After a short hike through the forest we were strapped up, secured in and ready to go, and enjoyed a series of ziplines ranging from 100 to 400m in length. Not for the faint hearted, the experience involved dizzying heights and swift accelerations, but also unbeatable panoramic views over the jungle.
Next we headed for the renowned Mindo waterfalls, reachable only by the Tarabita, a cable car scaling high over the river basin and treetops. From here the full of extent of the sprawling jungle terrain could be seen.
When the Tarabita stops there are two paths, the left one will take you to six different waterfalls and the right one to one waterfall, all of which are situated within an area known as Santinario de Cascades. Cascada Nambillo is the most visited of the waterfalls, around 15m high, it´s pools below a popular spot to go swimming. After wading in, my friends and I spent time in the streaming water, taking pictures and meeting other travellers.
The paths to and from the waterfalls are very steep and slippery at points and are shrouded with tropical plants and wildlife. It took about three hours to visit all 7, and an array of colourful flowers and ginormous trees can be seen along the way.
After returning to the top we took a trip to a local cacao farm, El Quetzal, to learn about current coco production practices and a bit about chocolate history. This was a quaint little plantation doubling as a small cafe/restaurant offering a selection of coffee and authentic Ecuadorian dishes.
During the tour the process of chocolate production was explained, and we could peruse the plants and dried beans as well as some of the machines. The chocolate tasting at the end was a highlight, involving the sampling of various flavoured syrups as well as the chocolate at different stages, and a deliciously rich and gooey chocolate brownie.
Mindo offers a variety of excellent accommodation options if you chose to spend the night. The well-established set of private reserves and lodges are famous for their unrivalled settings; enchanted montane terrain, waterfalls and the unique cloud forest. However we were obligated to return to Quito, and so boarded the bus back home with company Flor Del Valle. There is no bus station in Mindo, the bus stops in the centre of the village, and the journey back to the capital takes about two and a half hours.
From wondrous wildlife, to thrilling activities, to Ecuadorian history, Mindo is a jungle gem not to be missed whilst in this part of the world.