Dave and I wavered on paying a tour company to take us to Cajas National Park, but it was going to be about $40 each to do this. We did some research online and found that this park is one of the few in Ecuador that has some marked trails. We took a trip to the tourism office in Cuenca and they provided us with information on how to get there and assured us the trails were actually marked. So we decided to save some money and do it ourselves.
How to get to Cajas National Park:
- Take any bus from downtown Cuenca to south terminal, also called Feria Libre which is listed on the front of the bus. Bus Ride $0.25 each and about 15 minutes long. We started to look for a bus at 6:15-6:30 am.
- Take any bus from Feria Libre headed to Guayaquil through Cajas. We confirmed with the bus driver and asked them to let us know when we were at the park office. Bus ride $2.00 each and about 30 minutes long. We arrived at Feria Libre at 6:45 am and the bus to Guayaquil came at about 7:20 am.
- No entrance fee to Cajas and they provide you with a map. We decided to do trail #2.
- After hiking, wait on the street for buses from Guayaquil to Cuenca to flag down. We were told they come every 30-40 minutes. Another $2.00 ride. Right as we got back to the office there was a bus coming down the road, we ran and caught it. The run was probably the hardest part of the day.
- Once at Feria Libre, take any bus headed to downtown Cuenca. Another $0.25 ride.
Once we were at the park, they provided us with a map, information on the weather (it was a really clear day and should be no fog/clouds), and provided guidance on which trail to take. We were told that trail #2 has better views but has higher elevation change than trail #1. We had decided before we came that we were going to do trail #1. We were easily persuaded with thought of better views and from the assurance we got from a couple, a Peruvian women and an Australian man, who also decided to do trail #2.
The actual trail head is behind the lake. We took a clearly worn trail around the lake with some great views of the lake. One of my favorite shots came from around the lake.
While on this trail, we eventually caught up with the couple and started chatting. We got along so well that we ended up spending the day and night with them. Jake co-owns a guiding company in Riobamba and also started an eco-volunteer website for Ecuador called Ecuadorecovolunteer.org. His girlfriend, Natalia, works as a biologist in the Amazonian jungle. Both of them were very interesting people to talk and share the day with. Jake had a lot of useful information for us on where to hike in south america, people to contact, books to read, and movies to watch. We were both very fortunate and excited to have met them both.
The four of us took a little while to find the start of trail #2 and once we did we realized it went straight up a mountain side. Breathing was very hard because of the altitude and we took many breaks. There was also some spots were it was a little scary because the trail was very steep and the path was loose gravel.
The views from the top were pretty spectacular and you had a full 360 degree view. The mountains in Ecuador are huge. This peak stood at 4,260 meters, which is 13,976 ft. This is the highest I’ve ever been!
The way down was also steep and required some technique, for me anyway. The technique was to grab the dry, very strong grass and then slowly take a step. It worked, I’m here to talk about it uninjured. I think we also got off trail at the bottom of the mountains. There were many unmarked trails that lead back to the lake and we followed one of them. It worked out, but I don’t believe we did the full #2 trail.
After a day full of hiking with awesome views and meeting some great people, we saved ourselves $71 to top it all off. This was by far one of the best days of our trip. Below are some more pictures of the day. Click on the images to see a larger version.