Memorial day 2017 for most people meant burgers and brews in a close friends backyard. Memorial day for us was 8,000 miles away on the back of a motorcycle surrounded by clouds on top of a mountain. We heard that purring through the mountains of Ecuador on a bike was a bucket list item people take months or years to commit to – we signed up just a month before we left.
Minimize the Risk. Maximize the Adventure
Many people thought we were insane when we told them we were spending Memorial day on a motorcycle driving through the clouds atop a mountain in Ecuador. In the end, they were crazy for not coming with us!
We did the Self-Guided Chocolate & Cloud Forest tour, and it was life changing! It sounded insane and dangerous, but it didn’t feel like it. That’s because Freedom Bike Rental provided us with all the tools, and resources we needed to have a fantastic trip. No trip like this is without risk, but Freedom minimized all the known risks to make us feel as safe as possible.
The route is excellent, and all the stops are pre-populated into the GPS they provide you. The scenery is beautiful, and there are a ton of great stop off points. The roads are so much fun to drive on; around every winding turn and each beautiful overlook are backdrops any car commercial producer would die to get a shot of.
As part of the self-guided tour, you get almost all the equipment you could need. From clothes to tech it’s all there. Below is a gear list.
- GPS – A nifty Zumo + Garmin GPS that charges while driving via the motorcycle. It comes preloaded with all the points of interest.
- Pants – Standard motorcycle pants to protect you from the pavement and the elements
- Gloves – Standard motorcycle gloves.
- Helmet – Many helmet options that were are all high quality, and DOT approved. Several helmets also included GoPro mounts.
- Motorcycle Jacket – Great multi-layer motorcycle jacket. A jacket with multiple layers ensures you can match the elements without losing the protection from the body armor.
- Emergency Equipment – This included a replacement tube, air compressor, and a first aid kit. They have a 24-hour support line and a mobile mechanic, but they provide you the tools to do it yourself if desired.
- Lockable Cargo Boxes – Depending on the bike model, multiple removable and lockable cargo boxes.
- Bungee Cords – heavy duty bungee cords to tie down additional load.
- Video Camera – You can rent a GoPro or a Garmin VIRB HD camera for only $10/day.
- Tank Bag – A bag that mounts on the motorcycle tank $5/day
- Communication Headsets – A Uclear communication headset to communicate with other riders for $5/day.
For a full list of the optional add-ons and exact models check out their website. All in all, each add-on was very cheap for the value provided. For example, a GoPro costs hundred of dollars so having access to one for a few days at less than $50 is a bargain.
The equipment is great, but the tour itself is excellent. In 24-hours we saw and experienced what the average person does in a few weeks.
The Tour Stops
We obviously won’t cover every single one of the 17 stops that make up this tour. However, we picked out our favorites to provide a sufficient overview and story.
Virgin Del Camino Overlook
The overlook is one of the first stops along the tour. Whether you are religious or not, it’s recommended to pray for a good ride here. When we found ourselves looking hundreds of feet down over a daunting ledge from a motorcycle, we became religious REAL QUICK. Anyways, the Virgin Del Camino Overlook is one of the best parts throughout the tour to grab photos, so have your camera ready.
The waterfall hides in a scenic valley. The hike to get there is pleasant and eye catching. It’s no Victoria Falls, but it’s on the route and easy enough to get to which makes it worth your time. The waterfall is great, but the hike there rivals the beauty of the waterfall itself.
The Bellavista Cloud Forest Preserve
The Cloud Forest where the Bellavista Nature Reserve sits is breathtaking. Driving into the fog on a dirt road in the mountains has a strong cinematic feeling. I half expected a bunch of orcs to come storming through the fog at any moment. At the Reserve, you can hike, learn a ton about the forest, and stay in one of their rooms that has a breathtaking view of the mountains.
The Bellavista Cloud Forest Preserve has an incredibly knowledgeable owner and the operator by the name of Richard Parsons. He is an Englishman who is referred to by some as a walking BBC documentary. If he is around while you are there pick his brain as much as possible, as he is extremely knowledgeable about the cloud forest and travel in general. He built the Cloud Forest from the ground up.
While we traversed through the cloud forest, we stumbled upon some spectacular views and this beautiful swing that went right over a massive drop down into a valley. It was a surreal experience, but it is not for the faint of heart. Taking a spill off the swing could have put a monkey wrench in our vacation experience. As they say though, no risk no reward.
The Small Town of Mindo
Mindo is a small town north of Quito, Ecuador that has a population of just a few thousand people. While the tour is self-guided and we could choose our pace, following Freedom Ecuador’s advice and staying a night in Mindo is the right move.
For $15 we had an excellent steak with a Club Cerveza. If you want a night out, there is a small Karaoke bar called late night bar. They have drink specials and seem to be relatively accustomed to foreigners.
We stayed at the Dragonfly Inn BnB for just $49 (Spring 2017) a night, and it was an excellent place. They provided secure/gated parking for our motorcycle and the manager even woke up at 5 am to give us our complimentary breakfast.
The Butterfly Garden
The Mariposas de Mindo Butterfly Garden in Mindo is a rare experience. It is a small café and garden where you can enter a netted area filled with over 1200 butterflies and moths. There is also a small restaurant and hotel here. If you are lucky, a butterfly might just land on your hand!
The Chocolate and Coffee Tour
The El Quetzal Restaurant and Chocolate Factory is delicious and informative. We didn’t make it in time to see their detailed tour that shows the age-old process of making chocolate from bean to bar, but we enjoyed a delicious mocha coffee. The tours run all day 10am-5pm every day on the hour. The coffee and chocolate are incredible, as promised.
The Pululahua Crater
The Pululahua Crater is a dormant volcano that sits north of Quito. The Caldera is 5km wide and filled with beautiful greenery. If you have free time, you can even stop and do horseback riding in the bottom of the crater.
The Crater was the best or second best part of the trip. We parked our motorcycle for free just in front of the small, unassuming entrance. Just around the corner is a beautiful lush green crater that has a small town right in the middle of it. A fantastic view seemingly tucked away like this is quintessential Ecuador. At every turn, you are surprised with a view so spectacular it seems to rival the one you saw just moments ago.
Conclusion: Ecuador Freedom’s Cloud Forest Tour is Daring and Beautiful
The Freedom Bike Rental Self-guided Chocolate & Cloud Forest Tour is a once in a lifetime experience. The Freedom Bike Rental company is well organized and kind. The whole process exceeded our expectations! It was risky, but in the end, the only time we almost laid the bike down was when a few tiny dogs chased us – they felt bigger in the moment :).
If you are on the edge of taking up a daring adventure – just go! Walking around Los Angeles at night or driving through rush hour traffic can be more dangerous than a motorcycle tour through Ecuador. We can’t wait to go back to Ecuador and rip through the mountains, but this time we want to make it all the way to the beach! If you are unsure take a peek at the video below that pushed me over the edge and convinced me that I absolutely had to go!
Note: All views expressed are our own and we were NOT compensated by Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental.
All Images are taken by Life Nomading unless otherwise stated.
Cloudforest – Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, Dragonfly Bnb – Bed and Breakfasts Europe, Chocolate Tour – Rodrigo Buendia., Mariposas De Mindo – Tripadvisor
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