Visiting unique destinations in countries like Ecuador never ceases to amaze me. Ecuador is known really well for its amazing beaches, volcanos, waterfalls, and its portion of the Amazon. Cajas National Park is like none of those, and it’s great.
Once we arrived in Cuenca, I knew this would be like walking into a completely different world. You can easily spend a week here and still not see it all.
The best part about visiting this national park is how accessible it is and the many different trails they have for you to go on.
Before heading to Cajas National Park, I will review everything you need to know in this guide.
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What is Cajas National Park?
Cajas National Park is in the highlands or lake district of Ecuador. Walking through parts of the park, I felt like I was on a movie set of a fantasy movie like Lord of the Rings. It was intense.
There are many lagoons and lakes spread across the park as well. That altitude is high, so make sure you come prepared.
When visiting the park, there are a handful of day hike trails that you can do. This is also a popular park to go camping in; I’ll go over that in more detail later.
Where is Cajas Located?
Cajas National Park is located between 30 and 40 minutes outside of Cuenca. This is the expat capital of Ecuador and is a popular place amongst locals and tourists.
Getting here is fairly easy, either by renting a car or bus. The drive is simple and easy. We took the bus from Cuenca, but I suggest getting there early as there are big gaps in the bus departure times.
Things to Know about Cajas National Park
There wasn’t a ton of information on the internet when I went to visit Cajas National Park. It’s smart to be prepared when hiking, especially here because of the quick weather change.
Below, I’ll go over some details about the park that I wish I had known before I went.
What Are the Best Trails to Take
There are many trails to take, and Cajas created an app to help you with much of this information.
We did a portion of the Cerro San Luis Loop, which is a portion of Ruta 1 and Ruta 2. But that’s the beauty of visiting this park. You can choose a loop and edit it however you’d like!
I’d suggest downloading Mapsme before coming. Having this enabled us to go our own route when we wanted to see a different part of the park.
Many of the most popular trails will be around the entrance to the park, but if you’re planning on camping, you’ll likely visit sections most don’t visit.
There are 15 different official routes in the park that you can do. The possibilities are endless!
Best Time to Visit
There is no single best time to visit Cajas National Park. The weather is almost the same year-round. We went during the dry season, and it still looked like it could rain any second.
The biggest issue is the altitude of the park, which starts at 3,200 meters and gets up to 4,000 meters in certain parts. This creates a chilly environment that you must come prepared for.
Can You Camp Inside Cajas National Park?
Yes, you can camp inside Cajas National Park! When you visit the park for the first time, you must go to the main office and sign in. There’s also a fee that needs to be paid if camping overnight.
The fee is $4 USD for foreigners and $2 USD for all other visitors. This fee is for both tent camping and staying in a refuge.
Camping here won’t be exactly like the Quilotoa Loop, but it can be just as enjoyable!
What to Bring
Below are some of the items you should bring no matter if you’re going for the day or camping.
I bring these items with me to every country when traveling through South America. The weather can be unpredictable in the Andes, and it’s nice to be prepared!
What Can You See in Cajas National Park?
Cajas is famous because of the unique type of environment it creates. This means there are many unique plants and animals that are commonly spotted here.
Flora is fairly common here, and the main species is the Polylepsis tree. These are the reddish trees you see in some of the photos that remind me of walking through a forest in Lord of the Rings.
If you’re more interested in animals, Cajas is also a great place to spot many! There are wolves, foxes, llamas, deer, and even porcupines!
Make sure to always keep an eye out because you never know when they might show their face!
Cajas National Park Map
- Distance: This hike is 3.2-mile loop hike. This number is for the San Luis Loop.
- Duration: On average, it will take 2 hours to finish. This depends on your fitness level and how long you stay at each destination.
- Difficulty: I’d rank this hike easy to moderate because while there are steep sections, it’s also flat in many areas.
- Incline: The elevation for this hike is around 1223 feet or 373 meters.
- Hiking Guide: A guide is not needed for this hike and is easily accessible by the public
How to Get to Cajas National Park
Most people visiting Ecuador won’t have their own form of transportation and will rely on the bus system. I thought the bus system was easy to use here, especially in this park.
If you have a car or want to take a taxi, it’s pretty straightforward. Below, I will go over how to get here by bus.
Cuenca to Cajas National Park
If you want to take the bus to Cajas from Cuenca, you’ll need to head to Terminal Terrestre Cuenca.
The taxi for us costs $2 but should be cheaper for most since we live on the outer edge of town. Once at the bus terminal, look for the bus company occidental.
The bus should cost $2.50 each way, and the bus schedule is as follows:
Best Places to Stay in Cuenca
- Pepe’s House: This boutique hotel in Cuenca is one of the most beautiful in town and for a good price, too! Only a 15-minute drive from Cajas National Park!
- Hotel La Farola: La Farola is one of the best deals in town and puts you in a jungle setting. Get away from the hustle of Cuenca and relax.
- Casa Macondo: If you’re looking for a good bed & breakfast, this is the place. Very cheap, with a superb breakfast included with your stay.
My Experience at Cajas National Park
I had always wanted to visit Cuenca, and I was excited when I found out that there was a temperate forest to hike in nearby!
This was our main activity when visiting Cuenca; I’m not mad. I like to do more adventurous things when traveling, which was definitely up there.
We had planned to take a 9:00 a.m. bus, as previously read online. When we had arrived at 8:40 and realized we missed the bus by 10 minutes, I was upset.
There was no bust at 9:00, and the next one wasn’t until 10:20. That was alright as we had a coffee, and time flew by in no time.
It took us about 40 minutes to arrive by bus, and then we got there, signed in, and began exploring the park!
We followed the San Luis trail but ended up going up to different peaks and simply exploring the park.
I haven’t done a trail like this in a while, so it was nice to follow a rigid plan and look at all of the cool plants.
After a few hours, we decided to head back, went across the street where we were dropped off, and waited for one of the buses to leave.
We were short on time because we arrived later than we had hoped, and we had to make sure to catch the bus back to Cuenca.
The park was like nothing I’ve experienced before, and the ground was of a frozen tundra.
FAQs about Cajas National Park
What is the Altitude of Cajas National Park?
The starting altitude of Cajas National Park is 3,100 meters and can get as high as 4,450 meters in some parts. This means it’s smart to acclimate in Cuenca for a few days before visiting.
When is Cajas National Park Open?
If you’re not camping, the park hours of operation are from 8:00 to 16:30 Monday through Sunday.
Is Cajas National Park Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! If you’re visiting Cuenca, then coming to this park is a must. This unique landscape has thousands of acres of protected land to explore.
How Much Does it Cost to Go to El Cajas National Park?
There is no entrance fee to enter the park, but if you plan to stay overnight, there are a few for that.
The cost to stay overnight is $4 per person for foreigners and $2 for everyone else.
I’m so glad I decided to visit Cajas, as it was one of my favorite things during my stay in Ecuador. I wish I’d tried camping, but it’s difficult to have gear like that on you when traveling full-time. Being how cheap this activity is, there should be no reason you don’t go and see it for yourself!
Thanks you for reading my guide on Cajas National Park! I hope this has helped you create that perfect itinerary for Ecuador!
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