One of the things I was excited to do while in Cuenca was to get out and explore Parque Nacional Cajas. So I signed up for a day tour with one of the agencies in town and was joined by a family of 3 from the US.
We all crammed into a very small car for the half hour ride to the National Park (fortunately I had the front seat 🙂 ), where our first “hike” was along the Uku path around Laguna Llaviucu (Zorrocucho) – the first time I’ve ever seen signs restricting the number of visitors per day!
It was nice, and the surroundings were pretty, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a hike. Or even a walk. More like a very slow stroll around a lake…
From there it was back in the car for the drive up to the lookout at Tres Cruzes, named for the crosses that remember the three travelers who died of exposure in these high parts near Cuenca. Morbid story aside, it has a spectacular view back down over the park – such a pity that the highway cuts right through it though…
The name – Cajas – mean “boxes” in English – and refers to the more than 200 small (and not so small) lakes that store water all year round in the park. Our next stop was one of the larger lakes – Laguna Toreadora – which is also where the main visitors centre is.
There we started our very slow stroll around the lake which, again, was very beautiful, but incredibly frustrating.
When I signed up for the trip, I had anticipated some decent walking (at least) that would cover a fair bit of ground … lesson learned – ask for more details when you are told it is a “1.5 hour and 3 hour hike”!
Given how slowly we were walking, I had plenty of time to take pictures of the flora.
Including the bromeliads that created what was a soft carpet for us to walk on.
And the Polylepis (paper tree) dwarf forest that is only found above 3,300m.
We then had a very late lunch (3pm) at a restaurant 1/2 way back to Cuenca.
For me, I have to admit, it was an incredibly frustrating day and I wished I had come up with another way to explore what is a really beautiful park. I expected some proper walking and I would have preferred to bring my own lunch and eat it at a reasonable time. That being said, the family were really struggling with the altitude – so I guess it is all relative (I have done quite a bit of hiking at altitude after all).
Recommendation: If you enjoy proper hiking – I would investigate more deeply the tours offered in Cuenca. There must be a way to arrange a good hike in the park – there are certainly plenty of trails.
Cost: The tour I did to Cajas National Park cost $50, and can be booked through a number of providers. Includes guide, transportation and lunch.
Time: 8 hours, though it could easily have been done in half that time.