Welcome to the Jungle: Mindo Cloud Forest
Updated: Mar 8
"Come on car, you can do it!!" I kept repeating to our tiny rental car as we climbed up the Western slope of the Andes Mountains. Chugging along, I was mesmerized by the view of probably the most luscious greenery I'd ever seen. The windows were down, the air was crisp and untouched. The entrance of Mindo Cloud Forest felt like I was on cloud nine...and it was partially reality, I really was in a cloud.
The route in the clouds following Nanegalito - December 28, 2022
I've been so fortunate to have the luxury of travel. There are a ton of forests I have seen and driven through, especially as a kid through our 30 day road trips to nearly every National and Provincial Park in the US and Canada. But this felt different. I felt elevated and breathless, appreciating the beauty this 'tiny' corner of Northern Ecuador had to offer. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the beginning of our trip had completely shifted due to protests occurring in Peru. The plans in our first 5 days of the journey in Ecuador (which were supposed to be Peru) were smashed together within days prior to our departure from Canada, whereas the trip as a whole had been planned bit by bit for 3 months. So once again, like the Middle of the World, here we are on the fly, wishing we could have spent more time in Mindo Cloud Forest.
Behind the sheets of green
We entered the Cloud Forest around 3:45PM, eager to catch one of the last rides on the Tarabita Cable Car which closed at 6PM (as told by a local when we were leaving the Middle of the World). The drive was an estimated hour and a half from where we were, so of course the intention was to hit the road running but then again, could I really zoom through these winding mountains and not take it all in?
Entering the green mountains around 4PM - December 28, 2022
Mindo Cloud Forest is known for the astonishing diversity of birds, all 400+ species of them. So it is a shock to report that I didn't see a single one of them. BUT, I did hear them. In fact, the sounds of the birds and waterfalls were our soundtrack on this fairytale drive. The forest is also home to kinkajous, Spectacled bears, pumas, and another very unexpected animal that I was able to get a quick photo of (shown later). It would have been exhilarating to have the opportunity for a hike behind these sheets of green but alas, time was not in our favour. Especially because our arrival was nearing the evening hours.
If you plan to take this journey, be very prepared for windy roads, mist, fog, vehicles passing around corners, and well, basically being on the edge of a cliff at some points. I consider myself a great driver (maybe I'm biased??) so this type of thing didn't worry me at all. What I will say though is if you plan on taking the bus, you need to be one of those people who is okay with not being in control because those things are practically flying through the crevices of these mountains. Obviously, it is the cheaper route but it could also come with some minor heart palpitations. The huge advantage of the car rental is that you're on your on schedule. In our case, this may have taken us a bit off 'schedule' because we wanted to stop and see as much as we could! There are not many places to pullover whatsoever but when we had the opportunity and thought there was enough time, we did so at random.
Random stop along the Highway E-28 - December 28, 2022
As we proceeded to climb up the mountains, it was inevitable that we were going to hit some rain - so make sure you have good windshield wipers if you take this journey! The highest elevations we reached along the E-28 were nearly 10,000ft. but this was only near the beginning. The route takes you way, way up, then a small decline when you're nearing Nanegalito (around 5000ft.), and then back up again. I found the foggiest part to be this second climb. We had been prescribed altitude sickness pills when we thought we were going to Peru but we actually didn't bother bringing them for Ecuador. There was a bit of ear popping but nothing that made us feel sick!
We finally approached the tight left turn onto Via a Mindo around 5:30PM, slowly chugging down the hill into what seemed to be a valley region, veering left again onto Av. Quito and it was in that moment, my heart shattered. The patios, the people, the shops of local handmade products, the bikes, the signs for 'Ecolodges' everywhere...we had arrived in the endearing town of Mindo, otherwise known as what I would consider heaven. A place I only learned of during this last minute drive to the Tarabita Cable Car. As I looked around, envisioning myself living like a local here for months on end, our 6 minute drive through Mindo took me into a zone of fantasy. I couldn't stop, the sun had nearly disappeared, and that is what broke my heart. I still have a knot in my throat even typing this now...so if you do get the opportunity to spend a few days here, soak in this incredible village (and tell me all about it)!
If you see this statue, you made the correct left turn! December 28, 2022
Unfortunately, this was the only shot we got heading into Mindo...I swear it was much more appealing on the other side of these trucks! December 28, 2022
How to get to the Tarabita Cable Car
Saddened by the quick departure of Mindo, we kept going towards Via al Mariposario which turned into a dirt road with a hint of mud as the rain started coming down. We reached a fork in the road with a sign directing us over a rickety bridge that led to the cable car. There were a few people surrounding the area but we made the poor decision to not learn Spanish fluently prior to this trip, so we weren't getting many answers when we tried to confirm that this bridge was the right way to go.
Sign to the left of the bridge at the fork in the road - December 28, 2022
The bridge we eventually crossed!
We travelled the dirt road through twists and turns with a little confusion.
When you get to the first fork in the road where the yellow gate is, stay right!
Keep left for the majority of the route, as most right turns go into Ecolodges or tours. Drive past the Mindo Ziplining Tour road (unless of course you have time for this pitstop!)
Continue on the road and it will lead you right to the parking lot for the cable car (which apparently you have to pay for - if it's open)
We made our grand entrance at 6:02PM and it was evident that there hadn't been anyone here for a while. The cable car ride was just not in the cards (which my boyfriend was secretly thrilled about - he hates heights)! I think it was safe to say that this cable car closed much earlier than 6PM.
The top of the cable car ride
We did hang out in the parking lot for nearly an hour. Taking in the sounds of the birds, breathing in the most fresh air; it was beautiful. Following the rain, mud squished between my toes through the barely there flip flops I was wearing. We were truly in the depths of nature, in the middle of a jungle, watching the clouds looming into any opening they could seep into.
Back to Quito
Night was upon us and it was time to head back to the city. It was a bit sad we didn't get to go on the cable car but the pause we took to become one with nature was more than I could ask for. We were able to see quite a bit with such a short planning duration - which included seeing the animal below...
Out of all of the animals to see while visiting Ecuador, the first one was a deer?!