We had an early pick-up from the NH Collection Hotel on our second day in Quito. Our guide, Alejandro, met us in the lobby at 7:30am. We would be heading out of Quito today a drive across the western Andes to one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world - the Mindo Valley - where 3 major rivers converge in the midst of cloud forests and lush agricultural lands.
About an hour into our drive we made a minor detour from the main road and entered the southern tip of the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve. While the park was open, there were no vehicles in the parking lot at the entrance to the reserve. We walked about 200 meters from the entrance to a lookout with a spectacular view of the crater of the Pululahua Volcano. Expecting to see a typical rocky, barren crater, we were totally surprised by the vista of lush, cultivated fields surrounding a village of approximately 800 people. In fact, the Pululahua crater is only one of 2 volcanic craters in the world that are inhabited, and the only one that is farmed for agriculture. The self-sustaining community made a decision at the beginning of the pandemic to fully isolate, and as a result had no incidents of Covid infections.
Leaving the reserve, we continued our scenic journey for 2 hours travelling on a well paved road winding around the mountains and through the valleys of the Andes. As we approached the town of Mindo, we left the main highway and bumped along a dirt road for about 5 miles before we stopped at the entrance to Tarabita and Mindo Waterfall Sanctuary. Prior to being allowed to enter the parking lot, our car was disinfected by a park attendant with a tank sprayer (yet another example of how seriously Ecuador was taking the Covid pandemic).
Alejandro purchased our tickets to the sanctuary and we began our hike down a narrow trail through the cloud forest on our way to the waterfall. The 30 minute hike to the falls was mostly downhill and Alejandro pointed out some of the native plants and flora along the way. We were also fortunate to spot colourful toucanets perched among the treetops.
We arrived at the falls which spilled into a shallow, rocky river that wound through the valley. After spending some time enjoying the cool mist coming off the falls, we crossed over the river and continued along the trail. The river was at the lowest point of the trail and as we looped back towards the starting point the rest of the hike would be uphill.
The trail eventually stopped at the top of a mountain overlooking a deep ravine. The final leg of the trek would be via the Tarabita cable car which crosses the ravine at a height of 150 metres and offers breathtaking views of the valley, mountains and cloud forest.
We exited the cable car at the entrance to the sanctuary and made the short drive into the quaint and colourful town of Mindo. Alejandro took us to a small local restaurant where we enjoyed a traditional Ecuadorian lunch of crab and shrimp ceviche accompanied with plantain chips.
After lunch we visited one of the special attractions of this area, the Mariposario de Mindo, a family owned Butterfly garden that focuses on the conservation of these beautiful and delicate insects. As well as the nearly 40 species of butterflies that the garden houses, there are also an array of stunning orchids and countless flitting hummingbirds.
We spent quite a bit of time meandering with the butterflies. Several stations were lined against one netted wall of the garden where pupa were in various stages of transformation prior to emerging as majestic butterflies. There are nearly 1200 mature butterflies in the garden and it seems almost magical to be able to walk amongst them as they dance about. Some would land briefly on our shoulder before darting off again and Kim was able to have one perch on her hand.
Just a few metres up the street from the Mariposario is another favourite spot in the town of Mindo - Yumbos Chocolate - an artesanal chocolatier that takes you through the process of making chocolate from bean to finished product. The entrance takes you into a small storefront which displays a large variety of chocolates and chocolate based products. We walked through the store and emerged into an outdoor area with several sorters and roasters set up where we were instructed on the 40 day process to convert cocoa beans to chocolate bars.
After our lesson, we walked into a forested garden where several large tables were set up for chocolate tasting. Here we sampled several versions of hot chocolate, chocolate treats ranging from 60% to 100% cocoa and brownies. Afterwards, we went back into the store where we purchased a couple of packages of our favourites to take home with us.
Yumbos was our last stop in Mindo and we headed back on the 2 1/2 hour journey to our hotel in Quito where we arrived at 6:30pm. After getting changed we walked one block up the street to La Briciola, a highly regarded Italian restaurant where we had a 7:00pm dinner reservation. Like the Gloria restaurant where we ate the night before, there were only a few other patrons in the restaurant. The exposed brick archways and walls, coupled with the wooden chairs and red table coverings give the restaurant a warm ambiance. We ordered a shrimp appetizer followed by mains of ravioli stuffed with ricotta and seafood farfalle. The freshly made pasta was mouthwatering with rich and vibrant flavours. We enjoyed the restaurant and food so much that we made a reservation for the following week when we would be returning to Quito prior to our flight home. It was certainly the perfecting ending to an busy day.
Continue to Day 3 - click here
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