Ecuador's Mindo and Baños
23.01.2013 - 03.02.2013 23 °C
After the chaos of a big city like Quito, arriving in the tiny town of Mindo felt like falling into the Garden Eden. The air is crisp, butterflies accompany you down the street, hummingbirds lull you to sleep and the sight of greenery everywhere calms the mind. Nestled in cloud forest and with very little development, the tiny town is a nature lover’s paradise.
— Mindo is home to 3000 people and about a million hummingbirds.
There is so much to do here. Bird watching enthusiasts from around the world flock (he he…) to Mindo to spy on something like 450 species of birds. Mindo has also taken a leaf (sorry couldn’t resist) out of Costa Rica’s book and discovered the benefits of ecotourism. You can find all sorts of green activities here like tubing, ziplining and hiking.
We kicked off our adventures with an amazing hike through the cloud forest. The route winds past about six thundering waterfalls (and a few babies). To start the Santuario de Cascadas trek you need to take a rickety cable car over the forest canopy. The ride looked like a lot of fun but once it came time to climb aboard we realised the ‘cable car’ was really just a metal crate attached to wussy wire. Anyway, we lived to tell the tale.
— A cautious smile from 150 metres above the ground.
Not only are the waterfalls of all different shapes and sizes spectacular, the biodiversity is beautiful. Everything from the delicate flowers to the enormous ferns shimmers thanks to their misty habitat. I think we were introduced to at least 300 new shades of green. And the birds! What a soundtrack!
Butterflies are beautiful creatures but they really like to play hardball when it comes to getting their picture taken. To make the task easier, we visited a butterfly farm. Here, I could pretend I was a photographer for the National Geographic, sneaking up and snapping one after the other with their colourful wings outstretched. A section of the farm is dedicated to hummingbirds. While we don’t fancy ourselves as bird watching enthusiasts, when you’re provided with hammocks to lie in and a constant parade of these unique little birds, it’s a hobby I could come to appreciate.
— Bird watching in comfort.
— Hummingbirds flap their wings 12-80 times per second!
Chocolate. Chocolate. Glorious chocolate. Do you know Ecuador produces 60% of the world’s fine grade cocoa? While a lot of the real top quality stuff gets exported overseas for processing, there are still a handful of places transforming the delicacy from bean to bar. El Quetzal in Mindo is one such place. We went on a tour around the small farm and production rooms, admiring the effort it takes to transform a funny looking fruit into the world’s most celebrated food. And the best bit? The taste testing at the end!
— Chocolate heaven!
For the princely sum of six bucks you can go tubing in the Mindo river. It’s a pretty unique experience as all the tyres are tied together to make one big flower raft. The rapids are only small but combined with the icy water, there was more than enough adrenalin on offer. Weeeeeeeeeeeee!
— Smiling through chattering teeth...the water was freezing!
— Enjoying myself, just a bit!
For our last night in Mindo we attended a concert of…. (wait for it) frogs! I saw the poster in town and was so curious, went along…dragging Brayden with me. Turned out it was a wonder through the forest, spotting frogs and listening to their harmonies. Okay, so it was a bit of a dud, but we’re practically frog spotting aficionados now.
After Mindo it was on to the tourist hotspot of Baños, 3 hours north of Quito. This little town draws crowds for its picture postcard setting and swag of outdoorsy, adrenalin activities on offer. We planned to do a couple but…disaster struck. I really should have titled this blog “Through the forest and into the toilet bowl” as that’s precisely what happened. For about the tenth time since arriving in Latin America eight months ago, an evil bug set up camp in our stomachs. During our four day stay, all we could manage was a visit to the thermal baths that give Baños its name.
— Piscina de la Virgin is the town's most famous baths, boasting its own waterfall.
— The main square.
We also did plenty of walking around the quaint little town. We sampled a few of the local delicacies but drew the line at roasted guinea pig.
— Roasted guinea pig or 'cuy' is a delicacy in the Andean regions of South America.
— The local speciality is sugar cane taffy or 'Melcocha'. It's usually hooked on to door frames and pulled relentlessly until it's just right. The result is delicious...
— Mmmm taffy...
— At night, the main square is beautifully lit.
Now for something different! Six weeks of volunteering in a small fishing village in Ecuador’s central coast. I’ll be working at a school holiday program for kids and Brayden will be working at a centre for people with disabilities.
Wish us luck and stay posted!