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Mindo: Cloud Nine Two Hours From Quito |

The area known as Mindo – which encompasses the watersheds of the rivers Tandayapa, Nambillo and Mindo – is world-renowned as one of the most bird-diverse corners of the planet. But the birds wouldn’t thrive without an effusive, enigmatic and intact montane forest to call home (or even habitat). Divided by rivers to tube, raft and rappel andcriss-crossed with trails to blaze, trek and explore, the whole area is a world-class playground for lovers of the great outdoors.

The Mindo area was declared the first “Important Area for Birds” (IBA) by BirdLife International, the NGO which works tirelessly for the conservation of birds and their habitats. This was in recognition of Mindo’s immensely rich forests. They harbour an estimated 500 species(more than all of Europe), including some 36 endemics.

"Where do birders go in Latin America? They go to Ecuador. Where in Ecuador? The Mindo IBA. It's become an icon for birders," says Ian Davidson, head of BirdLife International's Americas programme. "They fly to Quito, and within an hour, they can have their fill of western-Andes endemics."

The popularity of the Mindo region has gonefrom strength to strength over the years. Quiteñans visit escaping from the city and international travellers come to enjoy its myriad attractions and activities.

Its cloudforest environment is truly dramatic, tumbling down from the icy peaks of the Pichincha Volcano at nearly 4,600 metres to the steamy tropical rainforest at around 1,000 metres. This difference in elevation explains the very highbiological diversity one encounters: there is a huge range of varying habitats between the elevations, each providing a niche for a species to exploit. Visitors do the same.

The area’s list of lodging and activities has increased in tandem with the species of bird, amphibians and insect identified. There is now lodging for every style and budget, ranging from plush lodges with heated indoorswimming pools to rustic cabins with hammocks deep in the forest. Visitors can take to hundreds of kilometres of trails throughout the region, the best located within a clutch of private reserves such as Maquipucuna, Santa Lucía, Bellavista and El Pahuma.

Activities to enjoy include birdwatching (of course!), trekking and camping, visits to orchidaria and butterfly farms and horseback riding.Making the most of the numerous rivers which cascade down from the volcanoes, operators offer rappelling and canyoning down waterfalls, tubing (sitting in a truck-size inner tube as the river carries you effortlessly downriver) and, further downstream, white-water rafting and kayaking.

One of the best ways to appreciate the drama of the landscape and its island of forest (part of theChocó-Andean ecological corridor) is to take the EcoRuta from the eastern flanks of the Pichincha Volcano from Quito. This passes over one of the highest roads in the country and the town of Nono, from where the views down towards the Pacific are truly breathtaking. The EcoRuta passes through the Tandayapa watershed, before joining the main highway from Quito to the coast further down.

The northwesternMindo area is well-covered in the Quito Visitors’ Bureau’s “Quito-Tulipe Route” which takes in the impressive Yumbo ruins of Tulipe. From there, one rejoins the main highway at Nanegalito, before taking the fork marked for Mindo at Km78. The town of Mindo lies about 20 minutes’ drive below, in a lush valley surrounded by forested hills. |

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