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El Cajas National Park – A Day Trip from Cuenca, Ecuador

El Cajas National Park – A Day Trip from Cuenca, Ecuador

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Day Trip from Cuenca Ecuador

The Parque Nacional Cajas (Parque National el Cajas) is located in the Ecuadorian Andes, an approximate 30 — 45 minute drive from Cuenca, Ecuador.

This makes it an easy day trip from the city and a great opportunity to get in some hiking in a truly beautiful place.

Cuenca Ecuador

Beautiful Cuenca Ecuador

Before deciding to visit El Cajas National Park, it’s important to note that the elevation is pretty high. The elevation of Cuenca itself is 8,517 feet (2,596 meters) above sea level.

El Cajas soars above this at 10,170 feet (3100 meters) to 14,600 feet (4,450 meters) above sea level.  So if you are planning on a hike, it may be a good idea to get acclimated before you go.

Getting to El Cajas National Park

We decided to take the bus which leaves from the Transporte Occidental bus stop approximately every hour.  Getting to the bus terminal is an easy cab ride costing about $2.50 US.

The bus is an even better deal at $1.50 US for the 45-minute ride. 

The roads are well-maintained and you can get a good view of the local lifestyle along the way.

Closer to the city, new construction sits shoulder to shoulder with crumbling buildings and small farms in varying degrees of use. Further into the mountains, farms perch on steep inclines that look a little like ski slopes.

As the bus made the grinding climb through the mountains, I was surprised to see farm animals grazing on the steep slopes. (Is that a goat? No, it’s a cow.  How is it eating let alone hanging on?)

The bus dropped us at the ranger station where we were immediately greeted by a Llama.  So far so good.

El Cajas Llama

There is also the option of taking a guided tour to El Cajas for those who want to leave the planning and drive to someone else. Not a bad option.

Hiking in El Cajas National Park

We checked in at the ranger station, and the ranger told us that there were two basic trails.  The easy Trail #1 loops around the lake, and the more challenging Trail #2 climbs to the nearby summit.  

The ranger recommended Trail #1 for those who were not acclimated to the 11,500 feet in altitude, as it was the “facil” (easy) trail.

El Cajas National Park View

Trail #2 reportedly takes you up a steep mountain and requires “technique” to make it up and then down the 60% grade. Feeling like our technique and acclimation were both in question we opted for trail #1.

The entire hike took us about three hours. There were some great views along the way, and I have to say that the ranger’s description of the trail as “easy” was true in most sections. 

Steam Crossing Parque National El Cajas

The parts that had us hopping rock to rock over streams, crashing through thickets, and sliding down muddy steep trails lined with spiky plants were not so easy.

el cajas national park

Particularly when it began to rain. (All of this made me all the more impressed with the cows)

Despite that, it was a lot of fun and we were rewarded with great views and justification for a big dinner when we made it back to Cuenca.

El Cajas National Park Ecuador

Return trip to Cuenca

The return trip is accomplished by either sitting at the bus stop by the ranger station or just flagging down any bus that is happening by on the road.

We were able to hop on a “luxury” bus that actually had a movie playing for our trip back — also costing $3 for the two of us.

Parque National El Cajas Forest

In summary — great views, a cheap date, a sense of accomplishment, justification for a huge dinner, and llamas. What more do you need?

Beautiful El Cajas National Park

For more information about Cajas, you can visit the El Cajas National Park National Park website.  

You may also enjoy these related articles about travel in Ecuador that you might enjoy! 

Uncover Your Caribbean

Monday 29th of June 2015

It sounds like a great walk. The landscape looks amazing.

Inma

Monday 29th of June 2015

Thanks for this! I will pass it on to a friend headed to Cuenca next week! He's the outdoorsy one and will love Cajas!

Laura

Sunday 28th of June 2015

That looks like a fun hike to do. We're you affected much by the altitude?

Sean

Sunday 28th of June 2015

The altitude wasn't too bad, as long as we took it slow. We always talk about hiking in altitude being just like normal hiking, except you're breathing through a straw. :)

Christa

Sunday 28th of June 2015

That's a beautiful place. I'm surprised that it doesn't look anything like the Peruvian Andes...except for the llama :)

Michele TravelwithMrsT

Sunday 28th of June 2015

I adore the beautiful photo of the purple cactus-looking plants! The easy trail looked like it provided a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing!