Located in the province of Azuay, this National Park awaits only 21 miles away from the city of Cuenca. Here, altitude ranges from 9.480 to 11.480 feet.
The protected area consists of 71.186 acres, that encompass mountains, extensive valleys, and hundreds of bodies of water including lagoons of glacial origins, rivers and streams. The significant water storage space in the area serves as a provision of water to nearby towns and for this reason, the Cajas National Park is also recognized as a Wetland of International Importance.
An Inca Vestige
The National Park also holds an archaeological value. There are traces of an Inca trail that crossed through the park! The remains are now the vestige of a road that linked Tomebamba with Tambo de Paredones, serving as a resting area for Inca couriers due to its strategic location on the route that used to connect the highlands with the coast. Before a road was built by the Incas, the Cañaris who inhabited the region traveled across this natural passageway from Sierra to Coast.
National Park Status
The area was originally declared as a National Recreation Area, until 1996 when its status was changed to National Park. In 2013 UNESCO established the Macizo de Cajas Biosphere reserve (due to water provision and regulation and important bird conservation) which englobes this territory.
ACTIVITIES WITHIN THE PARK
- Camping: We recommend camping because nighttime is magical! Be sure to take all your equipment and ask the guides at the entrance where to set your campsite. There are some spots by a lake, where you will wake up with a breathtaking morning view. Be prepared for the cold!
- Fishing: There are several spots inside the park where you can practice artisanal fishing. You will mostly fish trouts which are served fresh as a local plate.
- Hiking: there are multiple hiking trails throughout the park, ranging from short circuits to overnight adventures. Whether you’re here for the day or you’re spending the night, ask the guides at the information center for a tour guide or advice on which hikes to take given the length of your stay.
- Bird watching: there are over 150 species of birds!
Other animals include more than 40 species of mammals, 15 species of amphibians and 4 species of reptiles. You can see rabbits, ducks and caracara birds. If you’re lucky you could also spot spectacled bears, pumas, white tailed deer, Andean tapir, or even a condor.
Visiting hours: 08H00 to16H00
Cost: Free for the day, $4 per night for internationals, $2 the night for locals
We suggest that you plan your trip ahead, being prepared for the activities listed above will give you the opportunity to fully enjoy this area of fantastic scenery, flora and fauna.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Cuenca to the Toreadora lagoon: Cuenca-Molleturo-Puerto Inca road (about 40 km from Cuenca). You’ll find an office, an interpretation center, access to many trails.
From Cuenca to Llaviucu: Cuenca-Molleturo-Puerto Inca road (entry about 7.5 km on from the “Y” at Sayausí on the left). You will follow along the road for 2.5 km until reaching the park entrance.
WHAT TO TAKE:
- Water: an essential for all the walking! Stay hydrated and carry your own water bottle.
- Sunscreen: the Paramo sun is very intense. Put on sunblock before you start your day and take it with you.
- Hat: for more protection from the sun! You can also take a hat to cover your ears from the cold at night.
- Snacks: if you’re going on a hike remember to take snacks for energy.
- Comfortable shoes: make sure your shoes are comfortable for long walks. Make sure they are waterproof since you can encounter mud and water.
- Long sleeved shirt: a light long sleeved shirt is great for protection from the sun and cold.
- Layers: bring along cozy sweaters or jackets and keep in mind that you’ll be walking a lot (its better if they are light).
- Rain jacket: there is a lot of rainfall in the area!