We inspected eight different lodges in the Mindo area in 2007. Details of each follow.
The Mindo area is the best travel destination in Ecuador for birdwatching. Just two hours north west of Quito, Mindo is a small but pleasant town with a scattering of rainforest lodges amongst the surrounding cloudforest. The biodiversity in the area is exceptionally high in part due to the Andes' steep slopes and rapidly changing altitude. Those who come on birdwatching tours will discover that the biodiversity is so great that it is worth visiting two or even three birdwatching lodges as the birdlife will be different at each.
In addition to birdwatching, other things to do in Mindo include rainforest tours, hikes to waterfalls, visiting the butterfly farm and tubing (similar to rafting, but in large inflatable rubber rings / tyres).
Mindo Birdwatching Lodges
El Monte Lodge - El Monte is the best overall lodge in Mindo in our opinion. The setting is beautiful and peaceful, the birdlife abundant and the cabin-rooms are simple but stylish, clean and very spacious. Each guest has their own individual thatched cabin. The staff are very friendly and communal areas such as the restaurant are excellent. The lodges only drawback is that it only serves vegetarian organic food (no meat).
Maquipucuna Cloud Forest Lodge - this is a great lodge for those who are slightly more adventurous. Maquipucuna is more off the beaten track than the other lodges in Mindo, but one is rewarded with some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities. Rooms are basic but clean and characterful, and the remote setting is very beautiful. This is the only lodge in Mindo that can genuinely claim to be an "ecolodge" as it practices various ecotourism practices. There are ongoing conservation and local community development projects associated with the ecolodge, which is clearly run with conservation in mind. There are also various volunteering opportunities available at Maquipucuna Lodge. Practice responsible tourism in Ecuador and visit this lodge - it's great.
Sachatamia Lodge - Sachatamia is probably the most comfortable of the lodges inspected. Rooms are spacious and clean, but the place has a feel of a hotel rather than a rainforest lodge. The location next to the main road leading into Mindo town means that there is no feeling of remoteness at the lodge. Sachatamia is the only lodge in Mindo that has a zipline through the forest canopy. The 200 hectares of grounds are home to 29 species of hummingbirds, and hikes through the nearby cloudforest can be made. There is also an indoor swimming pool. Overall, the lodge is a good option for those who seek a taster of Mindo cloudforest but are not particularly adventurous.
Bellavista Cloudforest Lodge: Bellavista is probably the best lodge in Mindo for those who are avid birdwatchers. The lodge has some of the best birdwatching guides in Ecuador and is an excellent location for birding tours. If you are not a birdwatcher, Bellavista provides with an excellent array of trails into the unique cloudforest, which great for hikers and nature and adventure lovers.
Septimo Paraiso - Septimo Paraiso hotel's decor is antique-like style and characterful. The lodge is very comfortable - almost on a par with Sachatamia. Communal areas are particularly attractive. There is also a pool and jacuzzi, but most visitors come for the birding and nearby primary cloudforest.
Mindo Gardens - the location near Mindo town means that Mindo Gardens would suit those that might want to eat out in the evenings and don't want to be too far away from civilisation. The communal areas are very pleasant, though the rooms were not particularly clean when we inspected.
Tandayapa Lodge - clean and comfortable rooms, but the hotel has few endearing features and somehow feels like a hospital.
Arasha Resort - we couldn't get over quite how tacky Arasha Lodge is. Having inspected many wonderful, small, characterful other lodges in the Mindo area, Arasha's tackiness really hit home. Arasha is not a lodge - it's a large resort built in the rainforest. It would suit families who normally go on package style holidays, and no-one else. There's a swimming pool, karoake room, cinema (who goes to the rainforest to watch TV?) and host of organised activities. All tours are done as a group, and many of the guides speak no English. Arasha is clearly aimed at Ecuadorean tourists, not savvy travellers.
Other lodges that were not inspected but might be of interest to travellers include Shishink Ecological Lodge and El Carmelo de Mindo (more of a resort style hotel).
Tinalandia - while I didn't inspect this ecolodge, it does look good, and is found in a slightly different location. Rather than being in Mindo itself, this birdwatching ecolodge is in the cloudforest near Santo Domingo - so if you're travelling from either Guayaquil or Ecuador's coast up to Quito, it makes an ideal stop off point.
Other rainforest lodges in Ecuador
There's plenty of scope for wildlife viewing and rainforest tours elsewhere in Ecuador. The Amazon region is popular, as is Piedra Blanca.
Piedra Blanca Ecotourism Project - Piedra Blanca is a pioneering community run ecotourism project in Bolivar Province. The region is spectacularly beautiful but rarely visited by tourists. Piedra Blanca, located near San Luis de Pambil, provides a great opportunity to get off the beaten track in Ecuador. In addition to rainforest tours and nature hikes, there are various other trekking routes into the Andes that can be arranged. Horseback riding tours and visits to small village communities and markets are with local guides. Farmstays are also offered in the surrounding region. Rafting in ancient design (Kon Tiki style) rafts can even take tourists as far as Guayaquil.