Some of the most beautiful scenery in southern Ecuador is to be found in Parque Nacional de Cajas, 30 kms up into the mountains outside of Cuenca.
Eschewing the guided tours, extortionately priced at $50 each, we opted to DIY and jumped on a bus for a bargain $1.25 each way!
Getting to the bus proved the most challenging part of the trip. We asked the driver to take us to the south terminal to catch the bus to Cajas. After a while, Carolyn noticed that we appeared to be following the route back to the north terminal where we had arrived! I told him that we needed the south terminal. A discussion ensued in Spanish in which he said he was sorry but he only knew how to get to the north terminal and would take us there. A heated “discussion” took place, he eventually stopped and we jumped out and found another taxi. Pretty normal for taxis in Ecuador!
El Cajas is one of the most bio-diverse ecological sites in the Andes. The Park has an area of 28,544 hectares and the altitude ranges from is 3,150 meters asl to 4450 meters. The landscape includes, mountains, wetlands, cloud forest, lots of waterfalls and some 275 lakes. Wild flowers of many different varieties are everywhere, the lakes are brim full of trout and butterflies and birds are everywhere. It is quite some place.
At the park refuge we register with the warden who explains about the place and the various hiking trails. We choose one of the shorter hikes directly from the centre, around the first lake and back
The park is well maintained and well organised with signs along some of the paths. the way. The walk is short at 2.5 hours (longer than expected because of an unintended diversion) , but packs in a huge amount. We find ourselves stopping every few metres to look at something new.
Butterflies fill the air, some smaller than a little fingernail, some as a big as a hand. We see many different birds around and, using the guide provided by the park warden we identify some Black Chested Buzzard-Eagles, a few kestrels and even a couple of parrots. We see animal droppings along the path, probably alpacas, but no alpacas. Loads of trout are swimming in the lake. Oh for a fishing rod!
Apart from the abundancy wild flowers growing everywhere in the grass and there are orchids growing in the trees but sadly no orchids are in bloom. It must be quite something when they are.
Most parts of the walk are fairly straightforward but we still somehow manage to take a wrong turn and end up climbing a small crag and find our way into some boggy ground and have to scramble down some very steep paths but all of it is really beautiful and well worth the effort.
We make our way back to the park refuge happy that we did not opt for a guided tour. $5 compared with $100 – no contest! As we return to the main road , we see our bus to Cuenca hurtling around the bend and have to sprint the last 50 metres uphill or wait another hour. We make it. Just! Sprinting at altitude is not to be recommended.
A highly recommended day out from Cuenca. If we had known how beautiful it was we would have spent longer here.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013