Ecuador

Butterfly Garden – Hosteria Mariposas (Mindo, Ecuador)

Written by Mark McElroy

I’m not sure what to expect from a “butterfly garden,” but Diego, our excellent guide in Quito and Mindo, tells us the Hosteria Mariposas is something we need to see. Still dripping wet and slimy with mud from our hike into the cloud forest, we pile into Diego’s car and head that way.

The facility is bright and cheerful, with flowering trellises and hummingbird feeders outside and low-slung 1980’s era garden furniture inside the lobby. Shortly after forking over six bucks a head, we’re joined by a broad-faced, matter-of-fact American woman who, in about four minutes, reels off the life cycle of the butterfly, escorts us into the tented expanse of the garden, and tells us to look around for as long as we like.

The highlight of her brief (some would say “perfunctory”) tour is the rack of chrysalises. (I checked — the plural is not “chrysali.”) The researchers harvest them by the hundreds from the nearby cloud forest:

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I expect these to be crusty and leathery, but the truth is, they come in a dazzling variety of colors: metallic gold, turquoise with a gold stripe, emerald green, mottled brown. On another rack, butterflies are actually hatching. Once one struggles free from the chrysalis, she stands around posing, allowing her wings to dry:

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A few minutes later, she simply flies away, without so much as having taken a single lesson. What a strange thing it must be to go to sleep as a worm and wake up as an angel! (Some would say that’s a pretty good summary of a human’s life cycle, too, I suppose.)

It doesn’t take the butterflies long to find the big trays of mashed bananas hidden throughout the property. Metamorphosing from caterpillar to butterfly must be hard work, because these little suckers wake up hungry. In fact, they’re so intent on food, you can slather the tip of your finger with fruit paste, and the butterflies will hop right on:

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My new friend is in no hurry at all to leave, in fact, and for the rest of my half-hour walk through the garden, she sits right there on my finger, enjoying the butterfly equivalent of a dinner cruise:

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With more than 1200 butterflies in the garden, I had imagined being swarmed by fluttering, feathery, winged creatures. As it happens, we’re here on a cold day, and chilly butterflies are sleepy butterflies. That actually suits me just fine. One butterfly on your finger is endearing; a few hundred on your body at once would be a little creepy, I think.

With all the zip-lining, canopy walking, river rafting, and inner tubing going on in Mindo’s adventure-travel venues, the butterfly garden would be easy to overlook — and that would be a shame. We do a lot of things during our whirlwind tour of Mindo, but both Clyde and I agree our time at the butterfly garden is one of our favorite experiences — topped only by our tasting tour at Mindo Chocolate Makers.

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Mark McElroy

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