A Guide to Cajas National Park in Ecuador

A Guide to Cajas National Park in Ecuador

Cajas National Park looked like it was on another planet. The pictures of rolling moss landscapes, vast lakes and endless hills didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of Ecuador. It looked more akin to the windy moors of Scotland, or baron landscapes one might find in Ireland. One thing was for sure, there was no way I was going to miss Cajas National Park on my travels in Ecuador.

Situated in the south of Ecuador, the closest city to Cajas National Park is Cuenca, which is one hour away by bus. Cuenca is also roughly 10 hours from the Peru border and thus a perfect stop off for adventurous traveller heading south.

Cajas National Park - Route One Trek
The boardwalks down to Teodora Lake

At 3,800 metres, Cajas National Park is a high altitude place to visit. Whilst it might give some trekkers a slight shortage of breath, it means the variety of flora, fauna and animals are unreal. Over 150 bird species, 40 mammals, 17 amphibians and plants endemic only to Cajas. You might not see it all them all, but what you do experience will be unforgettable.

Undertaking Trekking Route One, we ventured down from the ranger station to Teodora Lake. Looking out over the lake was sheer tranquillity. The only sounds we could hear were croaking frogs trying to attract mates. As we descended further and scanned the horizon, a pack of llamas came in to view on the other side of the lake. We decided to go and say hello. Still keeping a safe distance, we were able to get close to these wild and beautiful creatures. A truly unforgettable experience.

Teodora Lake - Cajas National Park
Teodora Lake

Following the red markers of Route One, we ascended the side of a mountain and then ventured in to a beautiful enchanted forest. It looked like a scene from a fairy tale. If Snow White or The Seven Dwarves had crossed the path at that moment, we wouldn’t have even blinked. Tangled branches, mists of cloud and even a cave were here. Hard to get your head around, this is also one of the highest forests in the world. Trees can rarely grow at such altitude, so enjoy and absorb your unique place in the world at this time.

Exiting the forest, we were greeted by distant waterfalls and lakes. The path descends down and takes you through a second forest, bringing you out in to the centre of a lake. A small wooden walkway leads you across it and it’s the perfect place to take a rest.

Every twist and turn through the Route One trek reveals new scenic delights. For the next two hours we were treated to fields, valleys, rock formations, lakes and flowing rivers. For us, this is up there as one of our favourite experiences travelling in Ecuador. It’s no understatement to say that Cajas National Park really is a ‘must see’.

How to get to Cajas National Park

To reach Cajas National Park, you can arrange a tour with one of the many agents in Cuenca, or your accommodation.

It is also very easy (and cheap) to visit Cajas yourself on the public bus. To do this, make your way to Terminal Terreste, which is a 40 minute walk from Cuenca town, or 10 minutes in a taxi (which will cost $2 USD). Within the terminal, head to Gate Four where there is a counter selling tickets to Cajas National Park for $2 USD. The journey takes one hour and the driver will drop you off at the entrance to the ranger station.

Llamas at Cajas National Park Ecuador
We were so happy to meet this family of Llamas on our trek

The first bus leaves somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00AM. I say ‘somewhere between’ because the bus times change regularly. All the information I had read online and in guide books about the bus times was wrong. Our bus left at 6:50AM and I highly recommend you aim to be on the first bus. It does mean an early start, but it allows you to get the best out of Cajas National Park.

The weather at Cajas can change quickly. One moment there can be beautiful sunshine creeping over the hills. The next clouds and rain render the mountain peaks invisible! The earlier you start your trek, the greater the opportunity for good weather. In addition, it gives you more time to stop and enjoy the scenery, have breaks and not rush.

Time needed to visit Cajas National Park

There are eight treks and it is up to you which to undertake. The ranger station at the entrance can offer you advice on the most suitable one for you. Only treks seven and eight are multi day adventures and they area also the only ones where a guide is mandatory. There are suitable options for everyone and we decided to undertake Route One. Signs state that it will take between three and a half and five hours, but you can easily do it in two and a half.

Depending on your love of trekking, you can set aside anywhere from half a day to a full day for Cajas. If you wish to do the multi day treks, speak to a travel agent in Cuenca and make arrangements in advance.

Cajas National Park - Teodora Lake

Essential things to know before visiting Cajas National Park

  • Cajas National Park is open from 8:00AM – 4:30PM.
  • Upon arrival you will need to sign in at the ranger station. This is an essential requirement of your visit. Bring your passport, or some form of ID as they need to input your personal details in to a computer.
  • Cajas National Park has a limit of 92 visitors at a time. When we left Cajas at 11:00AM, it was already at capacity and people were being told to wait or turned away. By that time the weather was also horrendous. Don’t make that mistake. Arrive as early as you can.

The cost of visiting Cajas National Park

It’s free! Unbelievably, entry to this beautiful site will not cost you a single penny!

Tours of Cajas National Park

If you don’t want to visit independently, you can book a tour of Cajas National Park. Get Your Guide is an excellent place to look, especially if you want to make plans in advance. You can also read reviews from past travellers, so you can feel confident that you’re going to be going on a quality tour.

Get the best value accommodation in Cuenca (the base for visiting Cajas National Park) here:



A Guide to Cajas National Parak

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