Down to the cloudforests
We rounded off our 23 days in Ecuador with a visit to the laid-back town of Mindo, in the cloudforests on the western slopes of the Andes, not too far from Quito. After spending most of our time in Ecuador in the mountains, Mindo provided a refreshing change in scenery - and it was great to go hiking without needing to catch your breath every few seconds.
First we had to find out how to get here. Instructions in the Lonely Planet were wrong, something we only discovered after a painful search for a bus terminal in Quito which had moved last year. The tourist office gave us the right departure place, though not the right times - luckily there were other buses from the Ofelia Trole station and we made it there in the end. The journey down from Quito passed through some beautiful countryside - one of the things I like most about Ecuador is that you only need to travel short distances for a huge change in scenery.
Mindo is only a small village, but there's much to see and do here, and it's well set up for travellers, with a
good choice of hotels, restaurants and bars (though no ATMs - make sure you bring enough cash with you). Orchids, butterflies & birds
Easily the highlight for us in Mindo was the Orchid and Butterfly Farm. We had seen many beautiful butterflies in Iguazu Falls in Argentina, and on the Salkantay Trail in Peru, but never so many at one time as we saw in Mindo. Butterflies are frustratingly difficult to photograph as they are always moving; and just when you've set up the perfect shot they move off again. But there were so many in this farm that we managed to get some half decent pictures. I've no idea what species we saw but both the colours and the variety were stunning.
The orchid section of the farm was also fascinating though I think it was the wrong time of year for many of the species as there wasn't a huge number on display. I think we saw as many during one hike in Peru in April. Like the butterflies, I've no idea of any of the orchid names but you can see my favourites in the pìctures.
As a bonus, this farm also has
a number of hummingbirds which you can see feeding. Like the butterflies, these are often difficult to see and photograph in the wild as they're always on the move, but it was much easier here, as the feeding station was right in front of our viewing area. Hummingbirds are named from the sound they make when flapping their wings. Some species can flap their wings an incredible 80 times a second, allowing them to hover, and even to fly backwards, sideways or any ways they want really. The sounds and the sight of these birds close up are fantastic.
While the butterflies and orchid's exceeded our expectations, the Viviero Mundi coffee plantation, which supposedly produces Ecuador's best coffee, was something of a disappointment. This was the first coffee farm we'd been to in South America, but it was a waste of time really. To explain the coffee making process they had 20 pictures on a board with very brief captions in Spanish - and that was it. No tour, no one to tell you anything about the farm or the process. We had a quick look at the coffee plants but there wasn't a hint of a tour in
We had to ask for a tasting at the end, and even then it was almost cold, felt like it had been in the thermos since the last visitors - which might have been a long time ago! Given the high numbers of gringos that visit Mindo, this place could do very well if they put a bit more effort into a proper tour and tasting. A coffee farm is unique in Ecuador, and I think so much more could be done with this. At least it was free! Chasing waterfalls
We also found time for some hiking in the forests near Mindo. The most popular hike visits a number of waterfalls in a cloudforest close to the village. We set off walking to the trail head, though after about 2km uphill in the heat we were more than happy to abandon our plan of saving 2 dollars in favour of hopping on the gringo bus which took us the rest of the way. From there, we went by tarabita (a type of cable car, though not the most secure looking device) high across the river into the forest.
We had time for 3 hours
of great hiking through the forests before the heavy rains fell. The scenery was spectacular, especially at the first waterfall, Cascada Reina. Nambillo was equally as good, though by this time there was more water falling from the sky than from the falls, so we had to hurry back to shelter. To anyone used to European rain, a first tropical downpour is quite an experience. And I now know why it's called a cloudforest!
That evening we went for dinner with Simon from Dublin, who we had previously met hiking the Santa Cruz trail in Huaraz, and whom we bumped into that morning in Mindo. It was Day 5 in our quest to stay off alcohol for 10 days (when you're travelling every night is like a Saturday night!), but meeting a fellow Irish man this far from home, well, we had to have at least one drink!
Mindo brought our travels in Ecuador to an end, and despite over three weeks in the country, it felt like we had seen so little. It's a compact country, relative to its neighbours, but there is so much to see that you could easily spent 3 or 4 months here.
As it has some of South America's most accessible hiking and climbing, we had confined ourselves to the mountains and cloudforests, therefore missing the jungles, beaches and, of course, the Galapagos, highlight of Ecuador according to many people we met. But it's always good to leave something for next time...for now it's time to say goodbye to Ecuador and continue our travels elsewhere.
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