Under three hours’ drive from Quito and yet a world apart from the concrete of the capital, the cloudforest area around the town of Mindo makes a delightful and unexpected surprise.
The mountains here tumble down the western flanks of the Andes towards the Pacific, beginning with elfin forest and icy streams higher up that transform as one descends to a humid forest world of towering mahogany, waterfalls and sediment-rich rivers. This is the world of the cloudforest, the higher-elevation cousins of rainforests, which although lesser-known, are arguably more magical and intriguing, and proven to be more biodiverse.
Starting early in order to make the most of the bird life, we take to the trails of various forest reserves in the company of expert guides. If we’re lucky, we can spot the colourful cock-of-the-rock prancing in the understory, perhaps a toucan perched on a canopy branch, colourful tanagers, shy antipittas, and come what may, dozens of glorious hummingbirds flitting from flower to flower.
The Mindo area is renowned as one the richest for bird life in the world, with over 500 species recorded to date in this tiny part of the planet. In many ways, the birds have saved the forest: the interest in spotting them gave rise to the development of ecotourism in this area, saving the forest from becoming pasture or fields of sugar cane or palm heart.
The forests here are more dramatic than their lower-lying cousins, the hills and valleys undulating as far as the eye can see, the trees festooned with a thousand bromeliads, orchids, lichens and mosses, the rivers crashing over rock ledges. Adventure opportunities abound, too, from tubing on the slower rivers, canyoning down waterfalls, and even ziplining across gulleys. Mindo has something for everyone.