Cajas NP

  • © William Mackesy
  • Inca road above Laguna Llaviuco - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Paramo rabbit - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Inca road emerging at west park boundary - © William Mackesy
  • Cloud forest at Laguna Llaviuco - © William Mackesy
  • Inca road to Laguna Llaviuco - © William Mackesy
  • Laguna Llaviuvo - © William Mackesy
  • Laguna Llaviuvo - © William Mackesy

Key information: Cajas NP

    • An unusual area of high, glaciated rocky peaks and moorland, harboring a myriad of lakes and tarns and beautiful paramo grassland, with rare cloud forest in its lower valleys.
      • A selection of excellent walking, short frolics to a 3 day traverse.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating84
  • Beauty32
  • Natural interest16
  • Human interest4
  • Charisma32
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating84

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Your choice
  • Maximum Altitude: 4,167 m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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© William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

El Cajas is a "highland moor island", a secluded area of high, rugged, eroded mountains and lakes in the last southern gasp of the western cordillera near Cuenca, with a huge variety of landscapes and thus of walking. It ranges from peaks at up to 4,450m, to high and exceptionally attractive paramo grass and shrublands, to a rare example of cloud forest on the eastern flanks of the western cordillera at some 3,100m. Its grassy, treeless, rocky high lands will remind many of those other famous Highlands in Scotland.

This area of old andesite rock, the produce of long-gone volcanoes, was under an ice sheet in the last ice Age, and is, unlike much of Ecuador, heavily glaciated as a result. You will find many classic glacial features, including some 275 lakes and a multitude of tarns in glacial scoops, a generally heavily scraped and worn look, including drumlins, and spectacular U-shaped valleys in some of the lower reaches.

There is a rich variety of plant and animal life, as might be expected with such a range of habitats. While there are few condors left in the area, you could see several species of hummingbird, toucans, and the gorgeous blue tit-like dacnis. And paramo rabbits.

As if this isn't enough, an Inca road crossed the area, from roughly from east to west, running from what is now Cuenca to the lowlands. While most of it is in poor condition (indeed invisible), there are some stretches where remains of the road can be seen. And wherever you are on its course, there is a fascination to it. Other old trade routes over the high ground now form the basis of walking routes.

The continental divide runs across the heart of the area, marked at the Tres Cruces pass.

The area gets its share of cloud and mist (and rain!) which can increase the impression of something Gaelic.

There is a plethora of great walks here, from short explorations to multi-dayers. There are a number of walks recommended by the park which will be on better paths, but you really can just take off in the multitude of faint tracks, creating your own route. Note that most paths are not marked, so a map and good map-reading skills are needed if you are planning a longer walk.

High level day walks:

There are plenty of paths to follow, and wonderful scenery everywhere, so you can take off into the landscape almost anywhere, although there aren't a mass of places to park and only one road, so most people will park at the ranger station and explore at will in that area: you can tailor your route to your time and energy.

If you have transport available, you can get dropped and walk a linear route to an agreed destination. (Walkopedia did this, starting east of the ranger station and walking via several tarns and small lakes to Laguna Toreadara below the ranger station. Gorgeous scenery, and we saw some fabulous birds and a paramo rabbit to boot.)

Lakes and Inca road: A particularly exciting day walk would be a 4hr or so route dropping steeply south from just west of the high (4,167m) Tres Cruces pass to the fabulous Laguna Larga and Laguna Togilacocha lakes, then turn west on the Inca road and walk down a gorgeous paramo valley, back out to the main road.

2.5-3 hours north of the road and significantly lower is Patul, a village which (uniquely in this area) still has no road access, so is particularly interesting to visit - and the journey there is through fine Cajas scenery. The track leaves the road about 1 km on the Cuenca side of the 4,167m Tres Cruces pass, so the return journey involves a longish ascent at altitude. You can get there and back in a day, or, if you take a sleeping bag, they will accommodate you at the village.

Lower level/cloud forest walks:

The cloud forest around Laguna Llaviuco, on the eastern edge of the park and not far from the Cuenca road, is worth spending time in. A fine selection of epiphyte-and-moss ridden trees, bird life galore, an attractive lake and grassy valley bottom not yet taken back by the forest, high broken crags above, and a stretch of the local Inca road to contemplate. Walkopedia enjoyed it.

Multi-dayers:

You could create all sorts of treks of a length to suit your time and stamina. Camping is the only option. It is possible to hire horses to carry tents etc in the highlands if you wish. (Not available for cloud forest sections.)

Inca road: you can cross the area, roughly from east to west (or vice versa), on the old Inca road. A fabulous selection of habitats and scenery, from cloud forest to the high passes and innumerable lakes to the roof of the park. 2 days.

3 day tour of the NP: starting near the Tres Cruces pass, drop to the fabulous Laguna Larga and Laguna Togilacocha lakes, then cross the Inca road to pass Laguna Luspa and reach lovely Laguna Canutillos. Day 2 crosses two passes to reach dramatically sited Laguna Osohuaycu, then descends to finish by some Inca walls (4-6 hrs). The third day descends down a valley into rare and interesting cloud forest to Laguna Llaviuco.

This can be tough walking in high, remote mountains with unpredictable weather,frequently cloud-bound and thus difficult to navigate and with a reputation for being cold. You will have to be self-sufficient. Altitude can cause problems. Come fully prepared, including proper acclimatization.

Have a look at TripAdvisor - there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on guides, places to hike and places to stay on the Galapagos.

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION

We have a lot of helpful practical information and tips about this walk, covering everything from the best books and maps, to timing and weather, geting there, possible problems, whether you need a guide and where to find them, and useful websites. This section is only open to members.

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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

© William Mackesy

OTHER ACCOUNTS
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Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Inca road above Laguna Llaviuco - © William Mackesy...
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