When planning my family visit to Ecuador this Christmas, I asked my trusty college roommate for advice. She had studied abroad there during our last semester of college and her program took her all over the country.
“Mindo,” she said. “Don’t miss Mindo.”
But we missed Mindo.
One of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, thanks to it’s equatorial location, the Andes mountain range, two major ocean currents along its coast, the tropical Amazon basin, and the Galapagos, Ecuador is one of the 17 megadiverse countries of the world.
With only 10 days to pick and choose among the many activities to do in Ecuador, Mindo just didn’t make the cut.
However, just days before departing from Quito, the city that we grew to love after spending nearly two months discovering its beautiful dog-friednly parks, thriving vegan scene, and making new friends, the opportunity to visit Mindo landed in our laps. And we said yes without hesitation.
If you missed our piece on dog-friendly parks and vegan restaurants in Quito, be sure to check out my post Dog-Friendly Quito: Parks and Vegan Bites.
Megadiverse Meets Ultradiverse
If Ecuador is one of the most diverse countries in the world, Mindo is one of the most biodiverse eco regions. The Mindo Cloud Forest covers an area of 268 square kilometers (103 sq mi) and ranges from 960–3,440 metres (3,150–11,290 ft), irrigated by three principal rivers and hundreds of streams, Mindo has a bit of adventure for everyone.
Because of its unique location to the equator, every 200 meters in Ecuador exists a different habitat, according to 18th Century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, resulting in the largest concentrated diversity of plants and bird species in the world. High altitude in the land of eternal spring, means that plants and animal species develop more quickly due to the strong sun. While Colombia and Brazil may have more bird and plant species overall, they are much larger countries. Ecuador is the size of Oregon. In Mindo alone, there are over 400 species of birds, including 128 different species of humming birds.
Fun fact: Because Ecuador doesn’t really have seasons (other than dry and wet), trees don’t age the same way we learned in school. In Ecuador, counting the rings of a tree is useless because the trees make their own winters. Depending on the species a 50 years old tree may only have 10-15 rings. Only tree experts can decipher the true age of a tree in this part of the world.
Leaving the City Behind for an Ecolodge in the Clouds
The perpetual traffic, thick pollution, and constant movement leading out of Quito quickly became an afterthought once we entered the cloud forest. In an instant, the leaden skies of Quito, heavy with abnormal amounts of rain melted into low-hanging clouds that hugged the verdant mountains below. The fast-moving clouds reminded me of my visit to Cajas National Park near Cuenca, Ecuador.
To read more about another beautiful area in Ecuador, read my blog post about my Cajas Hiking Tour.
Our guide, Karla pulled onto a maintained dirt road with views of the forest on either side. Ten minutes later, the road ended at a modest lodge hidden ensconced among the flowers like lilies and orchids, a variety of trees, and the tallest ferns I’ve ever seen. Hummingbirds darted past our heads in search of the feeders set out alongside the dining tables, or more likely, in search of a mate, as our visit coincided with mating season.
Located just 72km from the capital city, the Pachijal Ecolodge Reserve is a boutique dog-friendly lodge set on 140 hectares of land, much of which has been replanted with native habitat after having been clear-cut years prior for agricultural purposes, a common threat to the region.
A colorful breakfast of local fruits and juice, cereals, and the best bread we’ve consumed in South America awaited us upon arrival. The open terrace dining area invites birds to feast among the orchids and hummingbird feeders, providing live entertainment at every meal.
Put a Bird on It
Since we were in one of the bird capitals of the world, we set off after breakfast with our guide Sandro, a birding expert who guarantees at least 40 different bird species sightings during a single tour.
Almost on cue, as we emerged from one of the 40km of trails on the property to a dirt road, we watched a tree crash to the ground as workers made way for an orange grove. What took years to grow was cleared down in days in order to produce oranges for people in countries around the world who need their freshly-squeezed juice year round.
Everyone likes to make fun of birders, but I found the activity quite meditative. Walking along a road, I may hear the chirp of birds, but rarely do I recognize a specific species, song, a swoop of the wings. Sandro, however could hear the call of birds when we heard absolute silence and saw nothing but trees. He’d stop, lift his binoculars, and bring to life previously invisible birds feasting and flittering among the trees. Lowering the binoculars, he’d point, describe a location and I’d take my turn. Peering through the binoculars, an entirely new world would open before me. I noticed several varieties of species of birds climbing tree trunks, pecking at seeds, diving among branches—none of which would we have seen without Sandro’s guidance.[easy-image-collage id=3213]
Bringing the Forest Back to Life
After rain forced the birds into cover, we returned to Pachijal Ecolodge Reserve and set off onto a, steep, muddy, and slippery trail just behind the lodge. The well-maintained path led us along a forested loop, which prior to Pachijal existing had been pastureland for cows. Twelve years later, trees, ferns, and other plants provided shelter to the falling rain and a habitat for bird, plant, and animal species, which Sandro pointed out to us and explained their medicinal properties. Sora even helped us track an armadillo.
Given that we ride on bikes unfit for off-road cycling, we don’t find the opportunity to get deep into nature often. It just takes getting off our bikes and going the extra effort to find places that welcome Sora. With the rain dripping off the leaves and dispersing drops of water on my head, this was the exact nature RX we had been seeking.
We returned to our table overlooking the forest, hungry for lunch after a day of walking. Sora, tired from the hike, passed out next to us at the table, waking up only when Karla snuck her pieces of bread from the table.
Traveling as vegans through many parts of the world has required a lot of explanation (no, we don’t even eat a little bit of chicken), but the staff at Pachijal Ecolodge Reserve understood our diet without question or mistake.
A gorgeous vegan array of mushrooms with asparagus, artichoke, native potato salad made from mellocos, cucumber salad, and rice with vegetables arrived at our table. We dug in almost as soon as the plate hit the wood. As much as we wanted to eat everything in front of us, our swollen bellies dictated otherwise. We did, however, leave room for a cup of Mindo’s famous coffee.
We Wish We Had Had More Time at Pachijal Ecolodge Reserve!
As we hiked, bird watched, ate, and walked around Pachijal’s breathtaking lodge and property, we kept thinking how much my family would have loved it here. This quiet dog-friendly oasis, dedicated to sustainability and located just over an hour from Quito invites the nature lover into its cozy arms for an unforgettable experience.