Yesterday I joined five other hikers for a day exploring Ecuador’s Cajas National Park. The park is a 40 minute drive west of Cuenca and includes over 70,000 acres of spectacular untouched land in the Andes. Altitudes range from 10,000 to 14,500 feet and Cajas has many distinctions. It’s a candidate for UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage Site, listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, and globally recognized among birdwatchers.
We began our hike in the cloud forest at about 10,000 feet and walked around a beautiful lagoon. Diverse ecosystems in the park are amazing with open areas, a multitude of grasses, lush forests of ferns and mosses, bromeliads, orchids, and tiny exotic wild flowers. There are 235 glacier lakes in Cajas.
The second more strenuous part of the hike was at 14,500 feet where we continued for three hours and observed flora and fauna typical of the Andean Páramo. The two hikes were in very different environments. Between them we were able to see the major ecosystem highlights of the park.
Our group included a couple from Italy, a couple from Holland, one Aussie, and me. Our guide, Raudio with Polylepis Tours, gave excellent commentary. We saw rabbits, llama, a fox, two toucans, and several other species of birds. It was a fulfilling day!
Everyone was hungry after the hike and we stopped at an Ecuadorian restaurant for late lunch. The dishes served were traditional Ecuadorian cuisine beginning with canelazo – an intense citrus and cinnamon-flavored drink, cheese and roasted fava beans with spicy aji criollo dipping sauce, locro de papa – a tasty potato soup, and fresh grilled trout with vegetables and rice. It was a delicious meal!
Today I head for Alamor via Loja to experience the flowering of the Guayacanes. It’s another long bus ride – almost 12 hours. Hoping the scenery will make it seem shorter.