Ecuador is a magical place. From it’s capital, Quito, you can visit pretty much any part of the country in just a day-trip or small weekend excursion via bus. The country has so much rich culture to offer, and the views aren’t half bad either. 😉 From one coast to another, Ecuador is made up of beaches, mountains, and jungles.
The hands-down BEST weekend excursion opportunity from Quito is to travel 1.5 hours South to Mindo. Mindo is a quiet town of around 3,000 people, nestled in the “Cloud-Forest,” where hundreds of birds, butterflies, frogs, and other species can be seen in the nearby jungle. There is so much to see and do in Mindo, and the prices are incredibly low! The bus ride from Quito to Mindo costs just $3. It helps that Ecuador uses the US dollar as well, so converting money is not necessary. What a relief!
Here is how my best friend and I spent a fun-filled weekend in Ecuador for less than $100 for the two of us, and how you can do the same:
Stay at La Casa de Cecilia! ($10-$15)
La Casa de Cecilia is the CUTEST hostel located right next to a lazy stream and just walking-distance away from the main plaza/the heart of the town. You can stay at this hostel for about $10-$15 per person, per night. When I booked, my room was $11 per person, per night. Yes, on the weekend! What a deal! La Casa de Cecilia is safe, beautiful, and staffed with very friendly employees. In the lobby, you can actually book your entire weekend itinerary!
Our receptionist helped us book a taxi driver (whom she knew personally and trusted) and gave us suggestions about the best times of the day to do each activities. For example, if you’re hoping to see some rare, endangered birds, the best hours to do so are early in the morning, and if you’d like to visit the waterfall, you should do that just before lunch to avoid crowds. Not only did we feel more secure knowing that our transportation arrangements were set up with someone we could trust, but we also were able to relax knowing that we were on track to have the best weekend possible and for an affordable price!
Zipline (and take a taxi-truck there just for fun!) ($12 +)
One of the first things on our list for the morning was a canopy tour. We did the cheapest option at the time-$12 for 3 lines. That’s right, 3 lines for just $12. You can’t beat it! Zip-lining is often an expensive activity in the states. In Mindo, you’re paying less for an even more incredible experience: zip-lining over the canopy of the rain forest! And don’t worry, it is SAFE. People often assume that the adventures I go on in foreign countries are less safe because, well, they’re foreign. This is simply not true. 21st century tourism and safety protocols reach all parts of the globe these days! For more info on Mindo’s canopy zip-lining opportunities and to book your reservation, visit the “Mindo Canopy Adventure” website here.
Jump off a Waterfall! – ($3 tour)
Just before lunch, you can cool down by literally JUMPING into a WATERFALL. After zip-lining, our friendly taxi driver was waiting for us and took us up the mountain a bit further until we reached an entrance to a nature walk. It was $3 to get in, and we walked at our own pace about a mile or so down until we reached a little valley with a river. At the river, we were able to leave our stuff with a guide in a secure area (unfortunately that meant my phone/camera because I was too scared to cross the river with it). We walked across a shallower part of the stream, hiked around a bend, and came face-to-face with a HUGE waterfall!
Ok…so…full-disclosure…we were way too chickened out to actually jump. The idea is that you are fastened to a bungee cord, jump off a diving platform near the waterfall, and let the guide pull you back to the shore. The guide went first to show us how it was done, since the area under the fall is surprisingly calm enough to swim to shore with little help. He was incredible! It was an exhilarating idea that I had been looking forward to for the 2 months that I had already been in the country…but I just couldn’t do it. It’s my only adventurous regret! I do plan to go back some day and conquer that fear. And, hey, $3 for a nice walk through the jungle and getting to watch others jump into the fall wasn’t a bad price or a waste. 😉
Visit the CHOCOLATE FACTORY! ($5 tour)
El Quetzal de Mindo is one of Mindo’s most famous locations to visit, and it’s literally right next to La Casa de Cecilia! We visited the chocolate factory a few different times, once to take the tour and a couple more times because I became instantly addicted to their incredible brownies. At the chocolate factory, you can take a tour for $5 to see how the company makes chocolate “from bean to bar.” It’s a really neat experience! You go out to see the plants and the process of using the beans, and you end with a small taste-test experience (pictured above). We were able to taste pure chocolate (pictured in the little cup), then add sugar, add milk, and add other flavor combinations like chili powder (very different!). And of course, they end by letting you sample their famous brownies, which is why I came back like a billion times in the less than 48 hours we were in Mindo!
Here are some other ideas for spending time in Mindo:
Relax at your hostel and/or take a walk around the town (free!)
Have I mentioned how cool La Casa de Cecilia is? All of the rooms in the hostel have plenty of windows so that you can enjoy the breeze from your bed, and outside there are several hammocks where you can relax or read a good book. In the late afternoon, my friend and I took a nice walk around the town before dinner. Just walking around town can provide you with opportunities to see some pretty neat wildlife and nature, and it’s very peaceful.
Attend the “Frog Concert” or see the birds or mariposas (butterflies).
Here is a photo I took of the other tourist activities listed at our hostel. Some popular ones were the Frog Concert or visiting the butterfly house. My friend and I knew very little about what to expect in Mindo, so we stuck with the few activities we found to be the most intriguing and spent the rest of our time relaxing. This weekend excursion was at the end of a very long semester abroad afterall!
I would highly recommend Mindo to anyone who loves nature and/or adventure. For the quiet, peaceful nature lovers, there’s the Frog Concert, hummingbirds, butterflies, waterfall walk, and garden orchids! All of these can be done in one weekend for under $25!
For adventurers, you can jump off a waterfall, zip-line over the canopy of the jungle, try canyoning, and go tubing for a great price as well!
Mix any of these activities or try them all in just one incredible weekend or a longer stay. And no matter what kind of vacation you’re into, please make sure you try that brownie at the chocolate factory! Thank me later! 😉
Food Options are cheap too!
Eat breakfast and drink the world’s best coffee right next to a beautiful river.
I absolutely loved eating breakfast at our hostel. The outdoor eating area had a beautiful pavilion located right next to this beautiful stream! And this cup of coffee was hands-down the best coffee I had on my entire trip!
Eat some killer sandwiches/pizza downtown – El Tigrillo ($5-$10 max)
I cannot stress enough how incredible this grilled ham and cheese sandwich was! We ate at El Tigrillo for lunch and then again for dinner. The prices were great and they had a lot of variety to their menu. There are other locations to eat in Mindo too that are less than a 5 minute walk from the hostel. It was perfect!
In total, we each spent around $50-$60 for our amazing weekend.
$11 for our one-night in the hostel.
$12 for zip-lining.
$3 for the waterfall hike.
$5 for the chocolate tour.
$6 for traveling by bus ($3 each way from Quito to Mindo).
Mayyyybe $20 total for all our meals. But that counts all the brownies I ate at the chocolate factory. (:
If you’ve never been to South America, I recommend starting with Ecuador. It’s the perfect place for anyone looking for adventure or seeking some new and beautiful sights, and it’s not a bad place to pick up some Spanish! A trip to Mindo should definitely be on your itinerary, and you can enjoy this trip solo, with your bestie, or with a significant other. Enjoy!
Been to Mindo or on another adventurous trip abroad? Comment on your experience below!
Welcome to Learn-Grow-Teach-Go! I’m Rachel. Join me as I explore what it means to be a life-long learner and begin to live out a more full, balanced, and simplistic lifestyle. I am currently a high school English teacher, and I enjoy traveling the world and adventuring in my spare time. Whether you’re looking for advice on living minimally and simplistically, teaching ideas and lessons, or travel tips and trips, you’ve found the right place. Glad to have you here!