El Cajas is a national park in the southern highlands of Ecuador. In contrast to the green valleys of the Quilotoa Loop the scenery in El Cajas is much more marshy, barren and almost slightly haunting. Every afternoon legendary thick mists descend on the park so hiking is best done early in the mornings.
The park is located 35km northwest of Cuenca, making for a great day trip for those staying in the city. The altitude in the park ranged from 3156m to 4450m so the weather can be quite different to that in Cuenca. Pack accordingly.
The best day hikes in El Cajas start from the La Torreadora Visitors Centre.
Buses leave Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre at 08:30, 10:20, 12:00, 14:00 and 14:30. You can also take a bus from Cuenca’s South Station (Feria Libre Market) at 07:00, 08:45, 10:30, 12:20, 12:45, 13:30 and 14:44. The bus costs $2 and takes just under 1 hour. To get back just flag any bus passing La Torreadora heading to Cuenca.
Entering the park is free but you must register at La Torreadora. We assumed this was for safety reasons and therefore diligently tried to sign out at the end of our hike so they wouldn’t think we were lost, but they weren’t interested.
If your lucky at La Torreadora Visitors Centre they will give you a map of El Cajas, but when we were there they had ran out. The two most popular day trails are route 1 or route 2. Alternatively if your super keen like us you can combine the two!
5.6km. Altitude 3801m – 3982m
Relatively flat. Well marked with regular pink arrows and stones.
6.8km. Altitude 3928m – 4267m
Ascends and descends Cerro San Luis pretty steeply! Good walking shoes required. Would be pretty hairy in wet conditions.
11km. Altitude 3801m – 4267m.
Follow the directions for route 2, but after descending Cerro San Luis, when it meets Lake Torreadora turn left onto route 1.
We are Nic and Kingsley… we married and now we are Kic (sic). We are currently taking some time out of our busy careers to travel Central and South America. This blog will detail our adventures from the volcanoes of Nicaragua down to the mountains of Peru. Hope you enjoy reading and let us know what you think!