On Saturday, August 17th, two volunteers and I woke up bright and early in the morning and met at the Ofelia bus stop to head over to Mindo, a 2.5 hour ride away. Mindo sits at a much lower elevation than Quito, and as the bus drove towards the town, you could feel the temperature rising with the humidity. The landscape also became thicker and greener with a change from the kind of dry vegetation that I am used to seeing in and around Quito.
When we arrived in Mindo, it was cool to see that it was a place that was enjoyed equally by foreign tourists as native Ecuadorians with their families. Since one of the travel companions had to work on her thesis on Sunday, we just had the one day on Saturday to stay in Mindo. We first bought our return bus ticket before the seats filled up. Unfortunately, the buses back to Quito do not run late, with the last bus leaving Mindo at 5:00pm. With our limited time, we decided to go to the Tarabita first. The Tarabita is a cable car that shoots you above the treetops across 530 meters to the other side in less than a minute and a half. Once you reach the other side, you can enter the hiking trails that lead you to the different waterfalls in the Santaurio de Cascadas.
Since we were pressed for time and still wanted to see other things, we opted for the longer hike with the larger waterfall, Cascada Reina. The guide at the trailhead told us that the hike would take about 50 minutes at a slow pace. We booked it through the dense forest, stopping occasionally to admire its beauty and the views across the treetops when a space opened between the trees and vines by the trail. However, it still took us about an hour and 15 minutes to reach the waterfall.
It was totally worth it though - it was absolutely beautiful. And because the hike is longer, there were fewer tourists there. I wish I had water shoes because I would have wanted to swim in the water (unlike Sangolqui, the water here was fresh but not bitingly cold - it was rockier, though). We stayed by the falls for a bit and waded in the water before drying our feet and heading back through the trail. It only took 40 minutes (maybe less) on the way back - not really sure why though because it felt just about even in terms of the uphill and downhill parts of the trail. We estimated that the trail was about 5 to 6 miles total.
We hopped the Tarabita back to zip above the treetops where I shot the video below. We were moving really fast. The scenery was gorgeous though.
When we got to the side from which we started, we hopped into the back of a pickup truck to take us back into the town. We found this little cafe called Cafe Mimi (a friend's recommendation) which turned out to be very good. After lunch, we hopped into another truck to go back to the Mariposario to see butterflies. Unfortunately for us, the best time to see butterflies is at 9:00am and they pretty much go to sleep by 2:00pm. Which was kind of a bummer because we showed up around 3:50pm. We walked around the garden for a bit, fed some giant goldfish, and watched the humming birds go from feeder to feeder. They were fairly large for humming birds (at least compared to the ones I have seen in Michigan), and it was fun to see a few different species.
We didn't have too much time left, so we went to a chocolate place to buy some chocolate made in Mindo. It was amazing - very dark and very pure and very delicious. After sampling some chocolate, it was time to head back to the bus stop to catch our ride home. If we had more time available (or later buses), it would have been nice to do some tubing or rafting. All in all, it was another fun weekend trip. Now, just one more week of work left, then off to Peru for a few days, and then back to the U.S. to finish up law school!