Ecuador // The northern lowlands and coast //


Set at 1250m on the forested western slopes of Volcán Pichincha, MINDO resembles an Alpine village transplanted to the tropics, with steep-roofed, chalet-like farmhouses punctuating its lush and beautiful landscape. Its pleasant subtropical climate attracts an increasing number of visitors seeking to spend a few days hiking, horseriding, “canopying” (zipping over the forest canopy on wires) or taking part in regatas – floating down rivers on inflatable tubes. But above all, the town is most renowned as a base for birdwatching in the surrounding hills, part of the biologically diverse Chocó Endemic Bird Area, which BirdLife International has officially designated an “Important Bird Area”, the first in South America.

Mindo has been held in high regard among birdwatchers ever since ornithologist Frank M. Chapman described the local avifauna in his seminal 1926 book, The Distribution of Bird-Life in Ecuador. One reason for Mindo’s prolific biodiversity is its location in a transitional area between higher-altitude temperate zones and the lower humid tropical forests. This sector encompasses several habitats and harbours some 370 bird species, many of them endemic, including the velvet-purple coronet (one of 33 hummingbirds), yellow-collared chlorophonia and the endangered long-wattled umbrella bird – resembling a crow with an unmistakeable, dangling black wattle and a large Elvis quiff for a crest. With a good guide, you may see at least thirty endemic species and many dozens of other birds on a three- to four-day tour of Mindo’s forests, which also hold several leks (courting grounds) for the Andean cock-of-the-rock and the club-winged manakin.

There are also several hundred types of butterflies and a wealth of orchids here. There are between 25 and 32 species of colourful lepidoptera at Mariposas de Mindo, about 2.5km along the signposted track from the southwest corner of the town square, bred for export around the world. The best orquideario ($2), at the Armonía hotel, cultivates around 200 orchid varieties, which can grow up to 5m, though many are so small they require a magnifying glass to be seen in any detail. A block from the park on 9 de Octubre, Jardín Nathaly ($3) exhibits a smaller assemblage of both orchids and butterflies.

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