Cuenca Side Trip – El Cajas National Park

(Last Updated On: February 11, 2016)

The Parque Nacional Cajas (Cajas National Park) is located in the Ecuadorian Andes, an approximate 30 – 45 minute drive from Cuenca, Ecuador, which makes it an easy day trip from the city. 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 local lifestyle along the way. Closer to the city, new construction sits shoulder to shoulder with crumbling buildings and small farms in vary 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
El Cajas Llama

We checked in at the ranger station, and the ranger told us that there were 2 basic trails: the easy Trail #1 that loops around the lake, and the more challenging Trail #2 the climbs to the nearby summit.  The ranger recommended Trail #1 for those that were not acclimated to the 11,500 feet in altitude, as it was the “facil” (easy) trail. Trail #2 reportedly takes you up a steep mountain and requires “technique” in order 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.cajas4

 

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. 

Stream Crossing
Stream Crossing

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. 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.

beautiful cactus-like plants throughout the landscape
beautiful cactus-like plants throughout the landscape

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.

forest in Cajas
Making our way through the thick forest was worth the views

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

For more information about Cajas you can visit the National Park website here:  Cajas National Park

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18 thoughts on “Cuenca Side Trip – El Cajas National Park”

  1. Great photos! So relieved you chose Trail #1. In some cultures, it seems there is a tradition of minimizing things (times, distances, amounts). When we were in Costa Rica, we asked how long of a walk it was to the ATM. “10 minutes” turned out to be almost an hour. Good thing they were serving cold beer next door to the ATM. Love your website. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

    • Costa Rica is on our list! As long as most of our problems are small enough that they can be overcome with a cold beer we should all be in good shape.

    • 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. 🙂

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