On the Western slope of Ecuador’s Andes lies the small cloud forest town of Mindo. It is hardly a blip on the map, yet Mindo has attracted visitors from the world over for its bird-sighting opportunities. With more than 400 avian species viewed in the area, this is a birders paradise. However, my family is not hard-core enough with the watching of birds to desire a pre-dawn wake up call, so we took our chances on a self-guided hike to nearby Cascada Reina.
To reach the waterfall, we first had to travel a half kilometer by cable car suspended high over a jungle gorge. Pretty fun if you’re the type to enjoy thrill rides with stunning vistas. David, on the other hand, has an ongoing battle with heights. But he insisted he wanted to make it to the other side and the only way to do so was by putting our lives in the hands of an open-air basket attached to two steel cables. Luckily, the ride zipped by quickly and David only had to spend a couple of minutes desperately searching for his happy place.
Half an hour down the trail, after trekking as quietly as possible in hopes of glimpsing a tropical bird or two, David decided that we had been lied to and there were no birds in Mindo. With his theory, all the tweeting, whistling, and squawking that came from the forest canopy was simply recorded bird calls meant to draw suckers to Mindo. I might have been tempted to agree if it weren’t for the flashy red we spotted gliding through the trees minutes later. My husband may be terrible at finding his house keys or cell phone, but he is an expert bird spotter and within a few seconds he had his binoculars trained on the goofy looking cock-of-the-rock. Just a few yards further I heard something large swoop past my head and Jesse pointed out the black and yellow choco toucan which had come to rest in the tree that towered above us. Eventually several varieties of hummingbirds gave us a show along with several other species that I’ve yet to identify.
The birds were great, but our hiking also paid off when we finally came to the waterfall itself. First we were greeted by a smaller fall and a set of very narrow concrete steps held together by questionable timber and a shaky handrail.
At the top we passed through a small canyon to find this:
The guys brought their swim trunks with the intention of swimming under the falls, but rapidly changed their minds after testing the water. It was CHILLY! But gorgeous and definitely worth the effort.
IF YOU GO
- Taxi fare from town to the cable car (La Tarabita) is $8 (US).
- The cost for La Tarabita is $5 (US)/person round trip and kids are half price.
- La Tarabita begins operating at approximately 9:00 a.m.
- Bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen.
- Bring binoculars and a camera.
- Early morning is best for a chance at spotting birds.