When in Ecuador–Visit Cajas National Park
Ecuador has a lot of incredible landscapes. Landscape photographers should have no problem enjoying every last inch of this country. For me, the Cotopaxi volcano was definitely a highlight but the most fairytale-like landscapes we found in Cajas National Park near the city of Cuenca.
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The City of Cuenca
Cuenca is a city in southern Ecuador’s Andes mountains. It's known for its Tomebamba River waterfront and the famous Panama hats. We really liked Cuenca so we stayed more than a week there. We spent our time working on my YouTube channel, the website and that's about it. In our free time, we enjoyed walking around in the city looking for food and local snacks.
The main plaza is the best place to relax and the temperature in Cuenca was spot on. Photographically, this relaxed city didn't inspire me so I had to look for photographs elsewhere. It was an easy decision to visit Cajas National Park. It's the main attraction here but when I say “main”, it doesn't mean there were thousands of tourists. No, most of the travelers in Ecuador don't make it that far south unless they're crossing the border with Peru, like we did...
How to Visit Cajas National Park
Anyway, Cajas National Park is a high altitude area known for trails through evergreen cloud forests and more than 500 lakes. It also has a lot of wildlife like condors, giant hummingbirds and raccoon-like coatis. We didn't see any of those by the way... Just outside the park, the Santuario de la Vírgen del Cajas is an outdoor pilgrimage site where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared. Who knows, right?
We took the bus early in the morning from the main bus terminal and arrived at the park around an hour later. Ask around in the terminal, there's only one bus to Cajas National Park. It's straight forward bus ride and it drops you off right at the entrance. Next to the Laguna Toreadora is the Visitor's Centre. This is where most of the trails start and you can pick hikes lasting from two hours to several days. We decided to go for a 4-5 hour hike. I think it was called Route 1 and it takes you to most of the cool views. When we arrived, there were only a dozen people and most of them just walk around the Visitor's Centre, snap a few photos and hop back on the bus.
Hiking in Cajas National Park
The sun was out but the temperature nice and cool. The perfect day for a hike in Cajas National Park. The hike is not too difficult. There are a few steep parts but nothing crazy and if you go early, there's enough time to rest and admire the landscape. Yeah, the landscapes in Cajas National Park are incredible. Sometimes, it looks like Scotland and an hour later, it looks like a location from a Lord of the Rings movie. All those tones of green and lakes scattered all over. It's probably one of the best hikes in Ecuador.
Over half way, the sun disappeared and clouds took over. No rain, though. We made our way crossing rivers and around lakes and during the whole hike, we only saw a few other people. The Llama's that live here, we didn't see, unfortunately. Around four hours later we arrived back at the Visitor's centre and a pick-up truck was waiting for people to return. If you don't want to wait for the next bus, go with these guys. They charge just a little bit more than the bus.
How to navigate in Cajas National Park
The trail is well marked but it's still possible to miss a marker. We did and had to walk back for twenty minutes to get on the trail again. Luckily, I have Maps.me on my phone and it has all the trails in Cajas. It almost never let us down during more than a year of traveling and we use it to navigate in cities, National Parks and when taking taxis or public transport. It doesn't need mobile internet by the way…
If you're visiting Ecuador, you might not have thought about visiting Cuenca and Cajas but you should definitely consider it. It's a bit off the main tourist trail but worth it. Cuenca is a nice relaxed city and Cajas is like nothing you've ever seen before...