Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Yesterday I went to Parque Nacional Cajas, a one-hour bus-ride from Cuenca ($2 in a nice bus with a movie showing). I registered at the office (El Refugio), which required giving them my passport number and the route I planned to take. No fee! (But the bathroom had no toilet paper, so maybe they should charge a fee so that they can afford toilet paper.)

The Park is in south Ecuador, not far from Cuenca. 
I started my hike at 8:30, and it was heavily overcast, and cool. Probably about 5 degrees. I had been told, warned, about how cold the park was, so I had 8 layers for the top, and only ever wore 3 of them. Hence, my pack was much bigger and heavier than necessary.

I got a kick out of this sign at the beginning of the trail. 

I had also been warned by a couple from Indiana that I had best do the Laguna Toreadora Trail first before trying anything more difficult. And then the lady looked at the sandals I was wearing and said, "And I hope you have better footwear than that!"

However, I didn't want to go all the way to Cajas and only do the easy hike. And I'm really glad I didn't, because although Laguna Toreador is beautiful, you're never away from the highway sounds, or the sight of the registration office. And it's only about a 2-hour hike. Might be okay for "walkers," but not for a hiker. That's why I didn't opt for a tour, because they all just did the easy hike, and they cost $50 (and mine cost $2 for transport!).

The start of the hike with Laguna Toreadora down below

So I started out at 8:30, with nary another hiker in sight, and set off around the Laguna. The flowers amazed me, flowers like this at close to 4000 meters?! The trail, contrary to some reports, was easy to follow, and where there weren't signs or paint blazes, I could usually easy see the route, even when it crossed rocks.

Some of the beautiful flowers along the hike:

The sign at the junction.

When I rounded the end of the Laguna, the sign pointed back to the office (only 20 minutes away). It had taken me two hours to this point, and I'd been ambling along, taking pictures (I took almost 300 on the hike), and had taken a slightly longer route, as the trail was braided around the lake and there were different trails. Once again, I was glad I hadn't opted to only do the Toreador Hike. So, I turned left, and shortly after I heard voices and looking behind me saw a group of about 10. Oh, I thought, I'm so glad I'm not in a group like that. By this time, I couldn't hear the traffic anymore, and the solitude was wonderful.

Then I entered the magical quinoa or "paper tree" forest. It is similar to arbutus, though, with it's peeling bark, so not as magical as it might have been.

In the quinoa forest

There was yucca along much of the route, albeit not blooming

Shortly after that, I stopped for a snack, and the large group descended the hill above me, but veered off before reaching me.

Some of the UVic students with one of the guides. 

I envied their tiny daypacks, wondering who was wiser, me, with enough gear to weather a blizzard, or them. They turned off to the right, but their was a blaze on a rock in front of me so I reasoned they must be taking a different route.

Informative signage detailing distance/time, and elevation gain/lost between points.
Originally they had 29 of these signs over a 5 k. distance, but seems like about 1/2
had disappeared. 

And where there weren't signs, rocks were painted. 
The other group passed me about here. 
I continued on down the slope, and they were there, and then I came to a mud patch, which they would have avoided on their route. Ah, their guide knows this route well, I thought. There were about 10 of the youth, and I had heard some of them talking, in English, but since the guide was talking to them, I didn't stop to chat.

Then the scenery became spectacular as I neared Laguna Patoquinuas. About then, the large group passed me and as they went by I said to one, "De donde eres?" "Canada," he replied. I was so surprised, I lost my Spanish. Turns out, they are UVic students, and are in Cuenca for a term abroad. Lucky kids! We chatted a bit, before they continued on, moving faster than I.

The UVic students and their guides passed me about here. 

Laguna Patoquinuas

The view from near the end of the hike.

When I reached the end of the hike at the highway, I asked the Guide if a bus would stop there, and he said yes, but said I could catch a ride back to Cuenca in their tourist van. So, I travelled back to the city in style!


  1. What an asombruso adventure you are having, John. You are brave to be hiking around by yourself.. Those are hermosas fotos with narrative to go along with them..Enjoying your blog.
    Happy travels. Ann

  2. Gracias

    I hiked in there too John, starting at the top and working down - the easy route!


  3. Looks like a great hike, John. Did you go for a swim in the lake? Looks like it would get the furnace going!