During my extended stay in Cuenca, Ecuador, hiking in Cajas National Park was one of my favorite things to do. Every time I go there it just seems to get more and more beautiful. The hike on Route 1 was no exception. Even in shitty weather it was absolutely stunning.
For more information about getting to Cajas National Park, and what you will need for your trip, please see my first post, Hiking in Cajas National Park – Part 1. After this trip out to the park, I really need to emphasize the need for good rain gear!!
After a solid night of rain in Cuenca I was wondering if we should postpone our trip. But you just never know until you arrive at Cajas National Park what the weather will be like. And you must be prepared for it to change whilst you are there.
When the bus pulled up at the ranger station everything was covered in mist. Even Lake Toreador was barely visible. Anyway, we continued to check in with the park ranger and told him we wanted to do Route 1. I had already done Route 2 & Route 3. On this trip, I had a friend accompanying me who had just arrived from sea level in the Galapagos Islands. As she had not had much time to acclimate to the altitude we chose an easier route. It was also something new for me. Route 1 starts at 3850M above sea level but ends up lower so there is more downhill than uphill.
The park ranger advised that Route 1 should take us about 3 1/2 hours. We would not come back to the ranger station and catch the bus back to Cuenca further down the highway. He also told us to expect crappy weather for the rest of the day.
As it was my friend’s first trip to Cajas National Park, we opted to add the loop around Lake Toreadora. This takes around an hour and is really worth the trip in itself to Cajas National Park. We did the loop in a clockwise direction. This way you will link up with Route 1 about 3/4 of the way around. I recommend going a little further past the start of Route 1 for some of the best views of the lake.
Once you’ve seen enough of the lake, turn around and head back to the start of Route 1. It’s possible to a loop on Route 1 and end up back at the ranger station but that would take about 5 1/2 hours. We chose the one-way route.
The trail is not that well marked and Maps.me will be incredibly helpful to you. Even with Maps.me we still took a few wrong turns. But with stunning views all around, a wrong turn or two doesn’t hurt.
Probably the highlight of Route 1 is the “bosque”. The bosque is a forest of old trees that seem to grow at any angle and is probably the most Instagrammable spot in the park. I can only imagine how cool it would be if we had had a little sunshine poking through.
The trail twists and winds through this incredible forest. There are also a few caves hidden in there somewhere for you to check out. Although the forest isn’t that big it seems to take forever to get through with all the great photo opportunities around. You’ll probably end up getting a little lost but that is part of the fun.
We even found a guy who was lost in the bosque. It looks he has been there for a while!
If and when you have had enough of this awesome forest you will need to find your way back to the main trail. The map on your phone will come in handy for this.
Once back on the main trail you will be treated to some glorious mountain vistas and more great photo opportunities. I truly believe that you may actually spend more time taking pictures than you will actually walking on this route.
After the previous nights rain, the main trail was very wet and slippery in places. And I’m sure it is probably like this more often than not.
We did manage to find a few nice, dry rocks to sit and eat a little lunch before tackling the rest of the trail. Unfortunately, that was the last dry spot we were to find that day. We had been taking our rain jackets on and off all morning. But from now on they would be on for the rest of the day. Luckily both of us had umbrellas in our backpacks. This was a great help although tackling some parts of the trail with only one hand free was a challenge.
The already slippery dirt became even worse as it turned to mud. Many parts of the trail turned into small rivers. Thank God for waterproof boots! Sadly, I was missing waterproof pants. These would have helped immensely as I walked through tall wet grass and bushes. They would have helped even more the several times I fell on my ass in the wet mud!
After about an hour of heavy rain, the clouds finally broke a little. The timing couldn’t have been better and we were treated to some more great photo opportunities. As we trekked through the mud and miniature rivers we came across a family of about 8 llamas blocking the trail. My camera was deeply buried in my backpack after the rain but I new I was going to need it ASAP.
Although we were the only people out on the trail that day, the llamas didn’t seem to be afraid of humans. In fact the only thing they seemed to be in a hurry for was to use the toilet. It was at this point we realized that llamas must go in the same spot every day. They all made their way to big piles of llama poop and went about their business in unison. It was really quite a fascinating sight to watch.
We probably got to spend about 20 minutes with the llamas before they headed off into the distance. We couldn’t have met them in a more beautiful setting.
It wasn’t long after that we could see the road in the distance and knew we would soon be back on solid ground again.
Route 1 comes out on the highway about a 20 minute walk from the park checkpoint. It was not an easy or safe place to flag down a bus. We decided to walk down the road to the bus stop at the checkpoint to wait for a bus. Luckily no buses pass us on our walk to the bus stop.
As soon as we sat down at the bus stop the elusive sun finally came out. We shed a few damp layers and after a few short minutes our ride back to Cuenca showed up. I think the hardest part of the day was yet to come. Putting your mask back on after 5 1/2 hours outside for the bus ride home was just painful!
Have you done this or any of the other trails in Cajas national Park? Do you have any other great trails to recommend around Cuenca/ Let me know in the comments below.
Dont’ forget to check out my other posts from Cajas National Park