I’ve shared travelogues on the majority of our South America trip: the Galapagos Islands, watching Condors in Colca Canyon, hiking the Lares Trek, visiting Machu Picchu, and two posts highlighting the rest of our time in Peru.
But there’s one day I haven’t posted about yet: the day we spent in Mindo touring a chocolate factory, watching hummingbirds and butterflies, and getting a personal tour of an orchid greenhouse. I would feel mean withholding photos of chocolate, birds, butterflies and flowers from your day, so I’d better tell you about Mindo!
Mindo is a small town about 2 to 3 hours outside of Quito. Here’s a little background, from Wikipedia:
Mindo (also known as the Mindo Valley) is a mountainous watershed situated in the western slopes of the Andes, where two of the most biologically diverse ecoregions in the world meet: the Chocoan lowlands and the Tropical Andes. In this transitional area — which covers an area of 268 square kilometers (103 sq mi) and ranges from 960–3,440 metres (3,150–11,290 ft) above sea level — three rivers (Mindo, Saloya and Cinto) and hundreds of streams irrigate the landscape, which consists of a patchwork of cloud forests, secondary forests, agricultural land, and human settlements.
It’s a beautiful place, and sort of Hippie-ish, in the best way. There are several hotels/retreats there where you can lodge, and a lot of activities beyond what we got to do during our day trip: zip-lining, river tubing, hiking, etc. The climate in Ecuador creates incredible biodiversity, and Mindo really showcases it. We really enjoyed our time there, and wished we could have spent a few days there – it’s beautiful and relaxing.
On the way to Mindo we stopped at a national park to admire the view over a volcano crater valley, where people currently live and farm:
Once we arrived in Mindo we started off with a visit to a butterfly farm that is home to a wide variety of butterfly species and many displays of cocoons, some of them hatching in front of our eyes. The farm helps protect butterfly diversity in the area, and releases the butterflies into the wild shortly after they hatch.
Let’s look closer at those shiny ones: they look like jewelry, but they’re cocoons! They are camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings in the wet forests.
Right outside the Butterfly Farm, there are feeders swarming with hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are all over Mindo; it’s a delight. Here are some photos & a video:
After I had my fill of butterflies and hummingbirds, which took a while, we went to the El Quetzal de Mindo chocolate factory, for a tour and chocolate tasting. (Fun fact: it’s owned by former Michiganders.) We learned how Ecuadorian chocolate is produced, from beans to retail packaging, and then sampled some of the divine chocolate. We started out with a cup of melted, pure cacao, and then sweetened it ourselves, and tried spoonfuls with additions of chili peppers, coffee, and coco nibs. All were delicious, especially the chili peppers. The brownie was, in truth, the best brownie I’ve ever had in my life.
After the tour and tasting, we had a delicious lunch at a restaurant right in the chocolate factory, and then set off to meet a man who grows hundreds of varieties of Ecuadorian Orchids in his greenhouse. He gave us a tour and showed us the orchids that were currently in bloom: dozens and dozens. And they are so tiny! And perfect. I’m not flower expert or connoisseur, but it was a wonderful tour.
This is the greenhouse entrance, and the friendly greenhouse pup:
Here are just a few of the Orchids we saw:
This one is nicknamed the Orangutan, for obvious & delightful reasons:
There are also a lot of Hummingbirds in the greenhouse, and we spent a while watching them there too.
In addition to the Hummingbirds, there were very adorable little birds with yellow bellies who were also very interested in the food. They got a bit cheeky, and it was really fun to watch them interact with the Hummingbirds.
On the way back to Quito, we stopped at the Equator and had a fun time taking pictures of Graham in one hemisphere and me in the other, and both of us in both:
We had a great day in Mindo: it was one of those travel experiences where you set off to a place with no idea what to expect, and end up with a day full of surprises and joy. Have you had experiences like that? What places held unexpected magic?