As I was in Cuenca for an extended stay this time, I knew I had to do another day of hiking in Cajas National Park. Hiking in Cajas had been the highlight of my previous stay in Cuenca. Ever since then I couldn’t wait to check out more trails.
Getting to Cajas National Park is really easy from Cuenca. You can read all the details on how to get here and what you will need in my first post in this series.
As I was house-sitting a little outside of Cuenca this time, I needed a much earlier start. Not only did I have to feed the dog and cats before I left, but I also had to hike down to the highway to catch a bus into Cuenca. But I still made it to the main bus terminal in Cuenca in time for the 7 am departure to Cajas.
I arrived at the ranger station in Cajas National Park at 7.50am. The park doesn’t actually open until 8am. But the friendly park ranger was already there and signed me in anyway. I asked which route he recommended I do that day. As I had already done Route 3 he suggested Route 2 followed by Route 1.
Route 2 is rated as one of the most difficult trails in the park. The trail starts at around 4000M above sea level so you are out of breath before you even begin!
Like Route 3, Route 2 starts with a short walk along the road toward Guayaquil. After about 15 minutes you will see the start of the trail on your right. Unlike Route 3, this trail is actually well signposted.
On the day that I visited, the start of the trail was very wet, and good, waterproof boots were a must. I don’t know for sure but I’m willing to bet it’s like that most days. It starts out fairly flat and is a pleasant walk along the small streams before the ascent really begins.
With this trail being rated as “very difficult” I was fully expecting a tough climb. Especially as I was already at 4000M. The climb did get quite steep and a little technically challenging in places. But to be honest, It was nowhere near as difficult as I was expecting.
The more I climbed, the worse the weather got. Getting any decent photos on the way up was almost impossible with the clouds, blowing mist and rain. I began to wonder if it was worth continuing, as getting any decent views from the top looked out of the question. But if you have hiked at this altitude before, you know the weather can change so fast. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. With that in mind I continued the climb to the summit of Cerro San Luis.
After what seemed like a fairly short but steep climb, I reached the top. Here the trail flattens out and meanders along the summit. With all the clouds and mist, it was hard to really see what the landscape up top really looked like. All I can tell you is that at this point, you will really appreciate all the extra layers you have been carrying in your backpack up until now. It was cold. Really cold. I couldn’t get my jacket, hat and gloves on fast enough.
As I continued along the trail at the top, I could only imagine how this place must be on a clear day. The trail itself was really fun, with tons of huge rocks to navigate your way over or around.
At this point, I had been hiking for about 2 hours from the visitors center. I knew I had to tough it out and wait for a break in the weather to get some good photos. I found a sheltered spot amongst some rocks and sat and ate a sandwich while waiting for a break in the clouds. As expected, I was never rewarded with clear blue skies and sunshine. Fortunately, the clouds did break up enough to get some shots of the lakes and the amazing scenery below.
After a few breaks in the clouds, I knew things weren’t going to get any better. At this point, my hands were too cold to take any more pictures. I figured it was time to start the descent.
I wasn’t long into the descent when I realized why this trail is rated as “very difficult”. It was steep. And wet. And slippery. Sorry, no photos of this part of the trail. Both hands were needed to hold onto anything I could find to stop me from sliding down the trail. My gloves were very much appreciated at this point also as you never knew what you were grabbing on to. I began to wonder what I was doing out here alone.
Well obviously I survived that part of the trail and was soon on a much easier part of the descent to Lake Toreadora. I felt much safer now with the lake and the visitors center back in sight.
From here I would take the trail to the lake and back towards the visitor center and link up with Route 1. Route 1 is a loop but I planned on taking the shorter part of it back to the park’s entrance and checkpoint.
As I joined back up with the trail around Lake Toreadora, I realized that there were actually other people in the park. Most of them don’t venture too far from the visitors center. And to be honest, the trail from the visitors center around the lake is worth the trip itself. It’s really quite beautiful.
At this point the weather was not looking so good. I debated whether or not I should continue on Route 1. The rain began to get heavier and I soon found myself with a hot chocolate in the restaurant at the visitors center. Everyone else that day had the same idea.
The restaurant wasn’t open the last time I visited. Today they were doing a great business. It also has a well stocked shop for snacks if you didn’t bring your own. And the view is amazing. I’m sure some people spend more time in the restaurant than out on the trails.
After about 1/2 an hour I got a break in the weather. As it was only 12.30pm I decided to venture back out. Instead of doing Route 1 as planned, I decided to stay closer to home and do the tourist loop around the lake. If you are short on time, or energy, this loop itself is really worth the trip from Cuenca.
This trail took me about 1 hour and 15 minutes. And with the exception of a few selfie takers close to the visitors center, I had the trail to myself. It’s not a difficult trail but was pretty wet in places. You really don’t have to venture far here to get spectacular views of the park.
I don’t know about you, but after 5+ hours of hiking at 4000M, I was pretty tired. Luckily back at the visitors center, there is a nice sheltered bus stop with seats to wait for the next bus back to Cuenca. Just make sure the bus driver sees you or they won’t stop.
Even after 3 months here in Ecuador, I’m still amazed that I can go to such beautiful places and have them to myself. Hiking in Cajas National Park is truly an amazing experience.
This time the park ranger gave me a nice map of the park and all of its trails. I now realize what a small part of it I’ve seen so far. I guess I’ll just have to stay in Cuenca a little longer and come back and explore more. Hopefully with better weather next time!
Have you done any of the other trails in Cajas National Park? Which ones do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.
If you found this post useful, please check out my other posts on hiking in Cajas National Park