Mindo, Ecuador

Not dissimilar to Banos, Mindo is another outdoorsy adventure kind of place, but with a different, warmer and muggier climate, as it’s in the jungly cloud forest. The vibe feels really relaxed as the town’s tiny and basically just consists of a few dirt roads and a plaza, before tracks trail off into the waterfall-studded cloud forest.

We immediately felt more relaxed than we had in Quito, as we strolled past local families washing their clothes and galavanting in rivers, and lethargic market vendors and fruit stands glistening in the heat. Whenever we went into one of the little shops there, there was always a couple of ladies just chatting at the till, and they often barely looked up to serve us! Life just trundled by…

We found an INCREDIBLE hostel/eco lodge that we would NEVER be able to afford normally, but they offered a sheltered camping spot for a bargain $5 pp/pn! We excitedly put our tent up for the first time on the comfy flat grass, and delighted in using all the lush facilities, from the outdoors swimming pool with brightly painted mural, to the open air showers, hammocks and outdoors kitchen.

The staff were incredibly friendly and attentive and let us leave our valuables with them which was a huge relief, and we even got away with drinking our rum and coke outside our tent every night. There was a pretty funny Ecuadorian family staying there at the time, who were constantly splashing around in the pool, the adults totally wasted on rum and the kids finding EVERYTHING they did hilarious! In the evenings we were treated to them performing Karaoke in the outdoors kitchen – a fun background for our sneaky drinking!

As you can tell, we LOVED hanging at the lodge, but we also managed a day of trekking through the cloud forest, which involved some stressful sweaty uphill clambering and some dusty downhill, with fun additions like pulleys across rivers and giant swings in trees. Annoyingly, the local tourist racket have really commodified all of the natural beauty in the area, and we had to pay $3 each to walk down to our first waterfall (where Sam went down a huge water slide and where we sat in a mosaic-y mini pool in the river) Cheekily, they then wanted another $5 each to go any further / see any more waterfalls, so with our noses out of joint (and our budgeting hats on!) we called it quits at this point.

There’s also more river-based activities like tubing and rafting, but we didn’t really fancy joining the throngs of early 20s backpackers taking part, instead opting for some relaxing pool time and lots of swimming lengths to burn off the delicious steak that we found in town for lunch.

After a couple of relaxing days, we started our nightmare journey to the coast, which consisted of a bus back to Quito, a couple of horribly crowded local buses from the North to South terminals (we timed it when the Pope was in town.. not the smartest move!), then a huge error in judgement – a night bus that dropped us halfway down the coast at 4am!

After asking the bus dudes how we could get further down the coast, they (heart warmingly) took us to another terminal for free (the one we needed!) where, although technically closed, the lovely terminal security folk let us flop on a bench for a couple of hours before we could catch the first bus. So, a free night’s accommodation, but some very poor planning! After travelling such short distances for a while in tiny Ecuador, we’d totally forgotten how to time a night bus!

Anyway, YAWN, onto our next stop – surfer stoner haven, Montanita. Duuuuude….