Ecuador is for the birds. The relatively small country holds about 16% of the world’s bird species, so if you’re a bird nerd like us, you’ll enjoy the heck out of Ecuador. And while you can spend thousands on a pre-arranged tour, it is easy enough to do DIY birding which makes it an affordable location. One of the best places in Ecuador to go birding is Mindo’s cloud forest.
Getting to Mindo
I have seen flights to Ecuador’s capital for bargain basement prices, so set up an alert with Google Flights, Hopper, or Skyscanner and wait for a deal.
Once in Quito, check out the Botanical Gardens for some city bird-watching, then grab a bus from Caracen terminal to Mindo for $6. The buses in Ecuador are a safe and reliable way to travel. Just keep your belongings close. Some asshat tried to rifle through my purse that I had beside me on an empty seat from the seat behind it. I wore it on me at all times after that.
Other options include a private car hire for about $80 or and Uber for $60-80.
Where to Go Birding in Mindo
Mindo is a delightfully quaint small town in the rain forest just 2 hours northeast of Quito. It features excellent restaurants, opportunities to look for birds right in town, and plenty of options for tours to fit most budgets. Also, if birding is not your style, Mindo offers rafting, cycling, zip-lining, and quading as well.
But this post is about birds, so we’re going to focus on them. From dozens of species of hummingbirds to the famous Andean cock of the rock, there is an astonishing diversity of birds that can be seen in the Mindo area. Some are harder to find than others, a cock of the rock for example requires waking up at 5:30 in the morning and hiking to a “lek” (aka where bird dude bros hang out) to catch them singing and showing off at sunrise. They wise up and spend the rest of the day hiding shortly after that. Their brilliant red plumage makes them an easy target for predators after all. Others can be seen by simply going to one of the many places that has set up blinds and feeders.
Where to See Birds in Mindo
The Yellow House can be reached by a roughly ten minute walk from the centre of the small town. Often there are good bird sightings along the way. Once there, you can access the property’s extensive walking trails for a $6US fee. They have a lek that can be reached by way of a long hike starting at about 4:45 in the morning, as well as the opportunity to see toucans, queztels, parrots, barbets and many more birds. Spectacled bears, cavvys, and monkeys can be spotted from the trails too. It is best to plan for a full day if you want to do this since it could easily take over 4 hours to hike all the trails. We recommend bringing snacks, lots of water, and bug spray.
There are also hummingbird feeders set up on the Yellow House’s patio where you can easily spy several species of hummingbirds that don’t seem to mind that you’re there.
We also saw some tanagers, parrots, and crimson-rumped anacaris from the patio, but our most exciting visitor, was the choco-toucan that had been teasing us on the trails. With a bit of patience, we were finally able to get a photograph of one near the house. This page features more information about the species that can be seen there.
Rooms start at $25US/pp/night for a room, breakfast, and access to the trails so it’s a good budget option. There are also longterm rental options if you want to spend longer in Mindo, which probably will happen.
If you’re looking for an even more inexpensive experience, consider renting a room or bed at any one of the cheap hostels in town and spending a day walking the trails.
San Tadeo Birdwatching
This cute little place is just outside of Mindo along Highway 28. The family that lives there set up a blind with multiple feeders where you can easily see a dozen different tanagers, anacaris, toucanets, and barbets. They also have a hummingbird feeding station with a breathtaking view of the valley below. A ride from town to there should cost about $5US and it is $5US to birdwatch on their property. Tell the taxi driver that you need a ride to the “Y”.
They were the sweetest people who told me that “the birds were their babies” and they even rescued a poor female cock of the rock who had been hit by a car. They brought her over to us to look after while they carried on with their business. We gave her some water and a quiet spot to recover and to our delight, she flew off after about an hour. She rested in a tall tree for another 30 minutes or so, before disappearing into the valley. I truly think that if they hadn’t of found her on the road and brought her to safety, she might not have made it.
Cock of the Rock Tours
While the female we met who we named Helen stole our hearts, many people flock to (sorry had to) Mindo for an opportunity to see the male cock of the rocks do their morning ritual singing to try to attract a mate. Groups of males hang out together in what is called a lek, early in the morning before disappearing deep into the canopy for the rest of the day. A cock of the rock tour can be arranged before arriving to Ecuador, but that pretty much guarantees overpaying for something that can be easily arranged onsite. There are multiple shops in Mindo that can set up a tour for you and they cost about $50 for 3-4 hours of guided birdwatching, leaving at 5:30 in the morning. The main attraction is the Andean cock of the rock lek, but you can see many other birds on these trips as well.
Santarosa Bird Lodge
Santarosa Bird Lodge is owned by Vinicio Perez who is one of the best bird guides in the country. He has set up the most incredible hummingbird feeding station at his house so you can easily see at least 10 different kinds of hummingbirds just in his front yard. He also has blinds set up where you can see toucan and toucanets feeding, as well as many different tanagers, and a blind where you can see forest birds feeding at the crack of dawn. All in, we probably saw at least 40 different species of birds just at his house. He has extensive knowledge of Ecuadorian birds and most graciously (and very patiently) went through our pictures with us to help us make positive IDs.
The lodge is 11kms from Mindo along a country road and can be a bit of a challenge to get to but it’s totally worth it, since you basically have the rain forest right outside your door. Taxis in town may not know how to get there, so tell them to go to the “Y” turn right onto the “eco-ruta” and drive straight for a long time until you see a sign for the property, at which point you would turn left shortly after the sign. Rex the resident floofy dog may bark at first but he turns into your friend pretty quickly. A taxi should cost $8-10US. If you’re coming straight there from Quito, you could ask to be let out at the “Y” and then hail a cab (which may be a pick up truck rather than yellow cab) to the lodge.
It costs about $65US per night and that includes breakfast and use of the blinds. Dinners are steep for Ecuador at $12 per person, but you’re only other option is to get a ride to and from town, or bring your own easy to assemble food. It still remains an affordable option because you don’t have to pay for a bird tour this way, you can do your own right at the property. Also, many tour groups brought their clients there anyway and it seemed like the going rate to access his blinds was $20US per person.
While we liked being deep in the forest and highly recommend Santarosa Bird Lodge, we would also consider staying at Yellow House next time to have more opportunities to explore those trails. Seeing a spectacled bear would be pretty cool too!
The above-mentioned options would allow you to do a DIY bird tour in Ecuador hundreds, rather than thousands of dollars. Saving $$ on a bird tour in Mindo means you can extend your trip in Ecuador and head to the Cuyobeno, Amazon region, or even the famed Galapagos Islands for even more wildlife watching.
But whether you’re looking for a custom-made experience that spares no expense, or seeking a budget, DIY birding experience, Ecuador can accommodate it all.