Eating in Mindo, Ecuador

Mindo is a charming little town north of Quito and smack in the middle of the cloud forest so there are plenty of canyons, rivers and waterfalls to suit the active traveler.

Ecuador

The town has a bit of an Old West vibe with wooden fronted shops lining streets that crawl up the sides of the nearby mountain.

Ecuador

We ate at El Chef

Mindo, Ecuador

Where their specialty, as you can see, is lomo a la piedra or Steak on a Rock

El Chef de Mindo

The steak is served sizzling atop a blazing hot piece of slate and our friend Jorge says it’s the best steak in Ecuador.

I got the almuerzito, which in Ecuador consists of chicken, rice, french fries and some kind of vegetable

Mindo, Ecuador

But the area is known for tilapia so that’s what Jules got.

El Chef de Mindo

So pretty!

I liked El Chef. It’s got nothing unusual but the food is fresh and well cooked and the restaurant is clean and pleasant. I’d recommend stopping in between the zipline tour and the afternoon of canyoning, or perhaps before the white water rafting. Outdoor activities can make you hungry so don’t forget your carbs!

Mindo Chocolate Factory

While in Mindo for ziplining and canyoning, we stopped by El Quetzal to get a tour of the Mindo Chocolate Factory.

Mindo, Ecuador

Jose, the owner of El Quetzal, was kind enough to give us a tour.

Mindo Chocolate Factory

He spent 20 years living in Ann Arbor, Michigan so his English is excellent and his chocolate is available in the states.

We started with the cacao bean, the only part of the Mindo chocolate process that isn’t grown on site.

Mindo Chocolate Factory

At 4,000+ feet above sea level, Mindo is at too high an elevation to grow cacao so Jose buys their cacao from a local farm about 100 miles away at an elevation about 100ft lower. Jose explained that he’s part of a small but growing sector of the artesian chocolate business that uses single-origin cacao for a concentration of flavor.

The beans are fermented

Mindo Chocolate Factory

And air dried

Mindo Chocolate Factory
Before being skinned, roasted and broken into pieces. The next process can separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder or can heat, grind and temper the beans into a paste to which they’ll add sugar (which they process themselves from sugar cane).

Mindo, Ecuador

It’s a complex process with a lot of steps and the chocolate could be ruined at any given step.

We sat down with some cacao paste and a lot of add ins like raw sugar, ginger syrup, chocolate honey and aji chilis to make our own chocolate.

Mindo, Ecuador

Ginger and chocolate is a surprisingly good combination and the aji chili is the perfect kick of heat. Jose says they’ll start offering Chocolate Honey sometime this year, a different kind of cacao process that creates a sort of chocolate butter that would be good on toast. Had it been available right then, I’d have bought some because I’ve never tasted anything like it.

The brownie we got at the end was one of the best I’d ever had.

Mindo, Ecuador

Even if you don’t have time to tour the whole factory, stop in for lunch and a brownie. And then buy some chocolate to go!

Canyoning in Mindo, Ecuador

I actually had to look this up to see if Canyoning means “rappelling down a waterfall” all over the world or only in Latin America. It seems that the English word is a more general term for things you might do in a canyon whereas in Ecuador it always involves going over an 80 foot waterfall backwards.

Like this

Mindo, Ecuador

But first you have to get to the waterfall, which involves a lot of hiking and scrambling over a bridge made of rope.

Mindo, Ecuador

That’s only slightly terrifying, which is good because canyoning is super terrifying and the bridge gets you all prepped and ready.

Again, going backwards.

Mindo, Ecuador

Into water

Mindo, Ecuador

It’s scary town but really fun.

While special gear might help, we wore shorts and trail runners and it worked out ok. I would recommend a hat though, it helps keep water out of your face.

There are a ton of places to go canyoning in Ecuador but Mindo and Banos specialize in outdoor activities, so I’d try it there. And if I had to choose between Mindo and Banos, I’d go with Mindo.

Mindo, Ecuador

Ziplining in Mindo, Ecuador

Mindo, Ecuador

Neither Jules nor I had ever ziplined before but Mindo is the perfect place for to try it since they’re right near the Cloud Forest. We were staying at Bellavista so they organized the event through Mindo Ropes and Canopy Tours, which had 10 lines all at different heights and lengths.

I don’t know how ziplining works in other places, but in Mindo there’s a lot of freedom (and encouragement) to go a little wild.

Mindo, Ecuador

hang upside down

Mindo, Ecuador

Go tandem with your friends

Mindo, Ecuador

And bring your camera along so you can document the view from the line

Mindo, Ecuador

The guides love it if you agree to go “Superman” or try the Mariposa

Mindo, Ecuador

I’d totally recommend Mindo Ropes and Canopy Tours. Their guides are fun, the equipment is in great shape and it’s a great 2 hours worth of adrenaline filled flying through the jungle.

But look out for the kangaroo line… It’s a surprise so that’s all I can say!

Mindo, Ecuador

Bellavista in Ecuador’s Cloud Forest

Nanegalito, Ecuador

Getting to Bellavista involves taking a bus to Nanegalito and then catching a pickup truck (camioneta) up the dirt road and deep into the jungle. The lodge is located on the southern edge of the Amazonian rain forest and it’s quite isolated, so be prepared to eat all your meals there and organize most of your activities through their staff.

Nanegalito, Ecuador

The lodge itself is beautifully built out of wood and bamboo with lots of windows and balconies so the forest is visible from every room.

Nanegalito, Ecuador

It’s at high altitude so it was cold and rainy the whole time we were there but that made for beautiful clouds.

Nanegalito, Ecuador

And gorgeous rain drenched foliage

Nanegalito, Ecuador

Birding is the main attraction in the cloud forest

Nanegalito, Ecuador

Jules prefers her birding with wine, which we call Happy Hour Birding. Get into it!

Bellavista, Ecuador