If you’ve ever wanted to go trekking at altitude, El Cajas in Ecuador is a great place to start. It will leave you out of breath, both from the stunning scenery and from the elevation.
El Cajas National Park
El Cajas National Park is unlike any other place in South America. The park’s elevation is between 3100 – 4450 m. The combination of high humidity, elevation and its location near the equator results in a unique alpine tundra landscape called paramo. As we walked through the park we marveled at the many unusual trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses.
The park’s rolling hills are covered in straw grass and end in small valleys filled with pristine lakes and ponds. Beyond the hills are rugged mountains with steep dramatic cliffs. We were there in December which should be dry season, but there were low clouds hanging on the hills providing an eerie ambiance.
There are many different hiking trails in the park. They range from easy, flat walks to long hikes with a lot of elevation gain. Many of the hikes intersect allowing you to combine different routes. The trails pass by lakes and climb over hills. Our favourite though, was the trail that took us through a very peculiar forest. The trail weaves between bizarre looking quenua tree. They look mangled with their gnarled branches taking over the trail. They’re also called paper trees because of the thin bark they shed.
We didn’t see many animals in the park but we did spot a herd of wild llamas. They seemed to fit in perfectly with the extraordinary views.
Tips for Visiting El Cajas National Park
The park is 33 km northwest of Cuenca so it’s easy to do in a day trip. The hiking trails are not difficult and we found them to be well marked. Be aware that the park has a very high elevation (3100m – 4450m) so make sure you are acclimatized. Trail maps are available at the Lago Torreadora Visitor’s Centre.
Entry Fee – There is no fee, but you do have to sign in at the Visitor’s Centre
Getting to El Cajas National Park
By bus – From Cuenca take one of Occidental Bus company’s morning buses leaving from Terminal Terrestre ($2 USD). Ask to get off at Lago Torreadora Visitor’s Centre. To return to Cuenca, flag down a passing bus headed for Cuenca. Or if you’re lucky like we were, take a taxi that is returning to the city.
By taxi – Taxis will cost $15-20 USD one way.
Tours – There are many tour companies in Cuenca offering day trips to El Cajas. We went on our own and found the trails were clearly marked and in good condition so we don’t think a tour is necessary.
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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