Posts Tagged With: Cuenca

A day hike in Cajas National Park

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.

View from the park office at Cajas National Park.

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.

Dave and I at the park entrance.

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.

Trail #2 is green on the map we were provided.

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.

One of the many good views from around the lake.

My favorite shot of the day.

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.

Jake helping Natalia up the scariest part of the trail.

Taking a break to catch our breath and calm ourselves from the really steep section.

Almost to the top of the really steep section.

Pretty scenic trail to the top.

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!

Soaking up the sun and the views. It was also VERY quiet and peaceful.

Dave enjoying his peanut butter and banana sandwich and checking out the map. Of course.

The group, myself, Dave, Jake, Natalia, and two girls from Germany that we met up there.

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.

Perfect technique.

I want to point out how amazed I was at how Natalia hiked the whole trail in dress boots. She was also amazed but said she’d never do it again.

I think this one portrays how big the mountains are.

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.

It is really rare to see forest above 4,000 meters, but in Cajas they have the quinua forest which is shown behind Dave. They were mostly in the shadows behind big peaks.

Very interesting plant that grew through the spongy like plants. You can see the water it’s holding.

Dave on the trail around the lake.

Very spiky plant that grew throughout the park.

Another panoramic of the park.

Categories: Nature, South America, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cuenca: One of the many gems of Ecuador

By the time we arrived in Cuenca we had spent a little over 3 weeks in Ecuador, by which time we had visited a handful of its cities and driven threw a dozen more. Those places shaped our view of Ecuador and allowed us to make assumptions about the next town we might visit. It’s safe to say that the city of Cuenca didn’t quite fit the mold of those other places. Cuenca and the surrounding area—especially Cajas National Park—were beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, there is an abundance of beautiful places in Ecuador, but of the places we saw, Cuenca and Cajas National Park top the list.

The most obvious example of this is the architecture. Most of the buildings are in good shape and nearly all of them had vibrant red/orange clay tiled roofs. Some of the streets were paved with nice stones, specifically near the town square. Though small, the town square rivals that of the capital city Quito. The overall beauty of the city, in addition to the low relative cost of living, might be part of what attracts many of the retirees from the U.S. and other wealthy countries. Cuenca has a relatively large expatriate community, somewhere around 1500 people living permanently and another 1,000 with long term visas—according to a New York Times article. It was pretty obvious too–we saw lots of gringos. But it seemed as though the expats and other visitors stuck to a small chunk of the city.

Travelers that might be turned off by the fact that it’s popular stop along the gringo trail shouldn’t be. It’s a friendly and attractive city with great historical architecture, and not to mention, the best variety of food we came across during our travels in Ecuador. The cost of our hostel wasn’t so bad either, probably because we were there just after the busy season.

Here are some pics from our visit, as well as couple shots of the drive from Guayaquil to Cuenca through Cajas National Park. The next post will go into more detail about Cajas National Park.

Cuenca Panoramic

Drive through Cajas National Park.

A couple peaks in Cajas National Park.

The drive through Cajas National Park was spectacular. The road reminds me of the kind they use in car commercials showing a sweet sports car driving in a beautiful location on crazy windy roads.

The view from our hostel. We stayed at “Tourists of the World” hostel.

The church in the central square.

Cuenca central square.

Beautiful building near the square.

Same building, different view.

Blue dome and blue sky…awesome.

This flower market was open every day that we were there. The stalls were all run by local women.

The local market where we bought most of our food. As usual we had to shop around and negotiate a bit to get the best prices. It had two levels and had pretty much everything you need. What’s interesting is that many of the towns we visit have local markets like this as well as more modern grocery stores. I wonder how long these markets will hang in there.

The Pumppungo site was created and occupied by groups that were part of the Incan empire. I believe the site construction dates back to the late 15th century and was later destroyed by the Spanish.

Our last night in Cuenca. This was the view from one of the balconies at our hostel.

 

Categories: Architecture, South America, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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