In my last post I discussed the amazing hostel that is the Secret Garden Cotopaxi. I briefly mentioned that included with your stay is a free guided hike to some of the nearby waterfalls, but I wanted to share more about what that was like.
For me, it wasn't that great.
While this was a fantastic opportunity to explore the area and see some amazing scenery, I highly recommend allowing yourself to acclimate to the altitude before attempting any type of physical activity. I personally arrived in Quito the night before, slept for about six hours, and then headed straight to the mountains. I do not recommend doing this.
I somehow managed to make it through the hike, which was quite honestly not terribly difficult. I was just very sleep-deprived from traveling and not at all adjusted to the higher elevation.
If you enjoy hiking, waterfalls, and trudging through knee-deep water uphill in gigantic rubber boots, this is the activity for you. The hostel will provide you with the boots needed, and while they may be uncomfortable and awkward to walk in, I cannot stress enough how much I recommend that you wear these and not whatever pair of hiking shoes you brought with you. It. Is. Muddy. And wet and slippery and messy.
The part that I vividly remember the most is scaling a low all over the river, arms stretched out in front and behind me along a ledge, muddy and wet, when the girl behind me suddenly exclaims, "Oh my gosh your ring is GORGEOUS!" She was referring to my engagement ring, which at that exact moment was streaked with mud and I probably should not have been wearing. Forgetting the position I was in, I of course responded, "oh wow that is SO nice thank you SO much."
The entire hike was made worth it when we caught a brief glimpse of the volcano peak for which the park is named after. That sight with the sun shining after a quick rainstorm was the cherry on top. Of course, getting back to the hostel and enjoying a nice dip in the jacuzzi was an added bonus.
Horses? Check. Mountains? Check. Adrenaline-pumping blood in your veins as the wind whips across your face? Check!
Horseback riding through the foothills of the Andes Mountains in scenic Ecuadorian countryside is not only a descriptive mouthful, but a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, or Cotopaxi National Park, occupies over 82,000 acres in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador and sits roughly 30 miles south of the capital city of Quito. Gaining its name after the Cotopaxi volcano that sits within its borders, the park also features two other volcanoes. Cotopaxi volcano is the second highest summit in Ecuador at 19,347 feet and one of the most active volcanoes in the region. Cotopaxi can be seen from Quito on a clear day and is one of the most commonly depicted landmarks in Ecuadorian art and culture.
Now- back to the horses! If you have never been horseback riding before- this experience is for you. If you are a seasoned pro- this experience is for you! No matter what you experience or comfort level when it comes to horses is, this is guaranteed to become a memory you will never forget.
Upon arrival, you will likely have a bit of waiting to do as the guides saddle up your horses. During this time you can shop the small market for any urgent goodies- in my case, I ended up buying socks, a hat, and gloves, as it was quite frigid, and I knew it would only get colder as we sped along on our mighty beasts. Remember, the elevation is high and the air is thinner- it gets cold!
Once the horses are geared up and ready to go, things start to move pretty quickly. You will be paired with a horse and assisted in getting on and getting situated. And then you're off! This was such a fantastic way to see the park because you will cover substantially more ground than if you were to hike or bike. At the halfway point, we stopped for snacks and tea, and then mounted back up and headed back out.
We were lucky and got to see a small herd of wild horses on our return journey. Wild horses are found throughout the park and being able to watch them run through such untouched beauty was a truly majestic sight.
The small town of Mindo, Ecuador is nestled tightly in the Andes Mountains cloud forest, one of the richest bio-diverse ecoregions in the world. Mindo is a well-kept secret and has no shortage of fascinating attractions, but its reputation and popularity as an adventure destination is growing rapidly.
Just a block or two off the main square, you will find a tall building looming over the trees. Featuring on-site chocolate making, a delicious cafe, locally roasted coffee, and rooms with a view, El Quetzal is THE destination for chocolate lovers and adventure seekers the world over.
After you grab a bite to eat at one of the many delicious cafes in town, you can check into your room at the chocolate factory! Located up a few flights of stairs, we choose the room that features a balcony, swinging hammock, and amazing views of Mindo and the surrounding mountains.
Because we were guests in the lodge, we were permitted free entrance into one of their world-famous tours. You can follow along as a guide walks you step by step through the bean-to-bar chocolate-making process. Starting with the cacoa bean, you will learn about the ins and out of how modern-day artisans have turned this amazing bean into one of the most lusted after flavors across the world. You'll even get to sample a batch of fresh chocolate brownies and experience for yourself the rich flavors grown right in the Ecuadorian valley!
Breakfast the next day was the cherry on top! We woke up and were treated to special seating on the veranda, surrounded by beautiful foliage and the sounds of the town waking up. Choose from a selection of cooked-to-order meals and fresh coffee-there's really no better way to start your day!
Staying at El Quetzal was more than just finding a room on Airbnb- we got to experience part of the amazing chocolate-making culture of Mindo. The secluded atmosphere allowed us to observe Mindo life from above, taking it all in.
Need to Know:
- Chocolate tours are offered 7 days a week, from starting each hour on the hour from 10:00am-5:00pm
- Cost $10/person (*Free entry if you are staying in one of their Airbnb suites!)
- You can book a stay in the lodge here
new to airbnb? use my referral code here and get $55 off your first booking
Visiting the Mariposario de Mindo, or butterfly gardens, is a must-do activity during your time in Mindo, Ecuador.
Located on the grounds of Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo, a full-service hotel, the gardens offer a highly interactive and vibrant experience for visitors. Whether you're interested in learning more about the lifecycle of butterfly species native to the region, or you simply want to witness nature's beautiful kaleidoscope, a visit is well worth your time.
Be sure to check out the rest of the grounds, including the observation tower and hummingbird feeding platform. Take in great views of the surrounding cloud forest and enjoy up close and personal experiences with some of Ecuador's amazing flying species.
Need to know:
Hours: Monday- Sunday 9:00am-4:00pm
Address: Mindo Sector La Yaguira- 2km from town of Mindo
Best time to visit: 10:00am-12:00pm- the butterflies are most active during this time
Don't use insect repellant before entering
Check out their website for more information:
The small town of Mindo, Ecuador, is located where two of the most biologically diverse areas of the world, the Chocoan lowlands and Tropical Andes, converge together, creating an ecoregion like no other.
As the most popular tourist destination in Ecuador, with nearly 200,000 visitors a year, Mindo has quickly become known for its wide offerings of adventurous activities, including rafting, hiking, tubing, mountain biking, canyoning, zip-lining, and more. If high-speed adrenaline-rushing activities aren't really your style, Mindo also offers many opportunities for connecting with nature through bird-watching, butterfly and orchid gardens, and learning about the Andean chocolate-making process.
Roughly a two-hour bus ride from Quito, Mindo makes for the perfect day-trip or weekend getaway. Full of color, adventure, and raw natural beauty, you will love everything that this charming town has to offer.
Follow along as I share my favorite things to do in Mindo and how you can see a different side to the beautiful country of Ecuador!
I like hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, and offbeat destinations