The Mindo Cloud forest is a short drive from bustling Quito, but it feels like an entirely different world. To get a real feel for Ecuador venture out of the city and hit the road to Mindo. Driving in Ecuador seems terrifying - common road rules like lanes & passing etiquette don’t always apply here. My mom and I opted to hire a driver through our hotel (The Quito Polo Club) to take us to Mindo for the day. The drive took about 2 ½ hours with our driver, Jimmy. Early on in our journey, Jimmy took us to Mitad del Mundo to see the monument for the center of the earth. Next to Mitad del Mundo is USAN (Union of South American Nations) headquarters.
From Mitad del Mundo we had a two-hour scenic drive ahead of us. The Quito Polo Club sent us along with packed lunches, so we had plenty of snacks for the road trip. When we arrived in Mindo our first stop was the Cascadas. To get to the hiking trail, we first took a bright orange cable car across a valley. The views were incredible! Then the hike began. The trail itself is well maintained, well marked, and the footing is secure. The tough part is the altitude. If you are not used to being at a high altitude like me, you will catch yourself getting tired and out of breath quickly. To prevent getting seriously ill take it easy during the hike - walk slower than usual, take breaks often, and drink lots of water. There are very few people, and cell service is weak so you do not want to fall ill on the hiking trail.
The hike to the Cascadas took us around 21/2 hours and was well worth it for the incredible views. Along the hike, we saw countless butterflies, hummingbirds, and some unusual flowers. The main waterfall is well worth the trek. The area surrounding the falls is beautiful and peaceful.
Besides having great hiking trails and restaurant options there are a number of cool things to do in Mindo. River rafting and zip lining are popular activities, but there was no way I was convincing my mom to do either. Many people enjoy stopping at the butterfly and hummingbird garden, but we honestly felt like the sites were a bit of a rip-off. Staff use brooms to get the butterflies to move around for tourists and I saw many dead butterflies with broken wings in the garden.
After our hike, we had lunch in downtown Mindo. There are plenty of great restaurant options, and we stopped in an Ecuadorian restaurant that Jimmy recommended. One thing you will notice about Ecuador is that there are a lot of stray dogs. If you’re a dog person like me, it will break your heart. During our lunch, the cutest puppy (I named him Pepito) wandered into the restaurant and sat next to me hoping for leftovers. It took all of my willpower not to bring Pepito back to Quito with me.
We had a wonderful time in Mindo, and I would go back in a heartbeat. My one regret was not touring a chocolate factory. Later on, in our Ecuador trip, we met many people that raved about the chocolate tour. I guess I just have an excuse to go back!