Hiking in Cajas National Park – Part 4

Hiking in Cajas National Park – Part 4

Another week had passed and it was time for another day of hiking in Cajas National Park. As I had already tackled routes 1, 2 & 3, it was time to try Route 4. Similar to the previous week, it had been raining overnight in Cuenca. And it was still raining when I left my hotel for the bus terminal.

For more details on how to get to Cajas national Park, and what you will need, please see my first post. Hiking In Cajas National Park – Part 1. Once again, I cannot stress enough the need for good raingear.

Once again, I took the 7 am bus from Cuenca, and arrived at the ranger station in the park at 8 am. I checked in with the ranger and told him I was heading out on Route 4. Route 4 is on the opposite side if the park to the previous 3 hikes I had done. It drops down on the Guayaquil side of the park. The friendly ranger advised me that he had just come from that side, where he lives, and it was raining heavily. But we both agreed that the weather is constantly changing and I should chance it and go anyway.

My other option was Route 6 and continuing onto Route 5. The ranger advised me against those routes in the current conditions.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4

Route 4 starts about 5km from the visitors center. You could wait for the next bus to come along which should be about 30 minutes after you arrived. But if you don’t mind the walk, it’s about a 45 minute walk along the highway to the trail entrance. I decided to take a walk uphill to the Tres Cruces lookout point. Well, with the weather that day, there was not much to see so I won’t bore you with a photo.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4
This is not the trail!

Route 4 starts about 50M further up the road on the opposite side to the Tres Cruces parking area. You will see a set of steps on your left. This is not the start of the trail. This goes up to a viewpoint at around 4300M. On a clear day I can imagine it would be spectacular. I decided to take a look anyway. After a breathless climb to the top I was shrouded in mist and nothing to see.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4
This is the trail!

The trail actually starts just a few meters past the steps and has a small sign pointing the way. The ranger told me the trail should take about 3 hours. The sign says 4 hours. I ended up taking around 3 1/2 hours. I’d imagine on a dry day you could easily do it in 3 hours if you wanted. But on a dry day why hurry. I could easily spend much more time out there taking photos and having a picnic lunch. But today was not the day for that!

Of all the days hiking in Cajas National park I’d done, this is definitely the easiest trail. It starts at around 4200M but is mostly a downhill trail. You actually finish up outside the park at around 3600M on the Guayaquil side.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4, llamas
A little wildlife at the start of the trail

The trail can be a little tricky to spot at the beginning as it winds to the left through some bushes. But after the first few minutes it is easy to follow. Once again, having Maps.me on your phone will be a great help.

The trail makes it’s way downhill to the smaller lakes in the distance. It was extremely wet and slippery. A good walking stick would be really helpful on a day like today. Although it wasn’t actually raining when I started the trail, the mist alone was enough to get you wet. With the wind too, it was pretty cold and miserable. I had my doubts if this was really a good idea. But it was probably the last chance I had to be out here for a while, so I continued on anyway.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4
It’s all downhill from here

Even though it wasn’t raining to begin with, the wet, long grass that lines the trail made it impossible to keep dry. My pants and boots were wet long before the rain came. As soon as I reached the side of the first little lake, the rain began. And it’s cold rain at this altitude. Luckily I had a small umbrella in my backpack to at least keep the upper half of my body dry. With the wind and the wet grass, anything below the belt was cold and wet.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4, lakes

But from this point on the scenery became spectacular. I had considered turning around but I knew in the end the wet and cold would be worth it. Unfortunately the wind and rain made it difficult to get good photos. My camera lens would be soaked before I could focus on the shot.

Once you get down to the lakes, there appears to be quite a few variations in the trail. The ranger had told me that as long as you keep the lakes to your left hand side, you should be okay. There are a few brightly painted rocks along the way for reassurance.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4, river, stream
One of many stream crossings

As the trail winds it’s way past the lakes you are going to have to cross many of the streams that feed the lakes. In the wet and slippery conditions I had that day, that was not always easy. I’m amazed I never went swimming.

Even though I couldn’t photograph it like I would have liked, the scenery continued to amaze me. This side of Cajas National Park just seemed so much greener than the other side. I can’t image how beautiful this trail would be on a sunny day.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4

After what seemed like forever walking through these saturated bright green meadows, I finally reached the last lake. Laguna Luspa is the largest lake you will come across when hiking in Cajas National Park. It is stunning with it’s mountainous backdrop and a few small islands in the middle. But at this point there was no chance of getting the camera out of the backpack. I guess I’ll just have to come back again in the future.

As the lakes disappeared behind me, the wet and muddy trail continued. Just as the rain began as soon as I approached the first lake, it stopped not long after I left the last lake. I finally managed to find a dry enough spot to sit down and eat my picnic lunch. I did contemplate heading back to the last lake to get some pictures but I was just too cold and wet at this point to care.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4
Homeward bound

Looking at my phone, which now actually had signal again, I figured I had about 30 minutes left to reach the road. The trail ran alongside a beautiful river valley and I could see the road in the distance. Now the weather had cleared up a little I didn’t want the trail to end. But eventually it did. Route 4 drops you out on the main road just outside of the park checkpoint. There is a restaurant there to warm up if you want. At this point the rain started up again and I just toughed it out and waited for the first bus back to Cuenca.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4
The end of the trail

Three friendly dogs from the restaurant across the street came and kept me company for what seemed like forever waiting for the bus. After about 20 minutes in the wind and rain I managed to flag down a bus from Guayaquil. It was one of the more luxurious buses on that route and was fairly full. I think the entire bus woke up to stare at the wet and muddy gringo with a broken umbrella and prayed I wouldn’t sit next to them.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4
Laundry time!

Like every hike for me in Cajas, the bus ride home is the hardest part. The bus ride from this side of the park was $3 and took about 1 1/2 hours to reach Cuenca.

I love hiking in Cajas National Park, but Route 4 was definitely a challenge with the weather. If or when I make it back to Cajas National Park, I think Route 4 would be the trail I would do again first. I just can’t help imagining how stunning this route would be with a little sunshine.

hiking, Cajas National Park, Parque Nacional Cajas, Cuenca, Ecuador, Route 4
One last look

I hope you have enjoyed the series of posts on hiking in Cajas National Park as much as I enjoyed the actual hikes. If you have done any of the other trails in the park, I would love to hear about it. Or I would love to see your pictures of Route 4 on a sunny day!

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