Cajas National Park: the gem of Ecuador that will blow you away. If you come towards the south of Ecuador put it on your list. It truly cannot be missed.
This national park covers a vast territory — 110 square miles with hundreds of lakes — and stands high reaching 4,500m elevation. While I believe that every tourist needs to put this on their list, it is clear that it is not for everyone. If you’re not outdoorsy or struggle with elevation, you may very well be miserable.
You can reference my mini how-to guide when it comes to visiting the park. For those who enjoy a light (or no) hike or prefer to enjoy the beautiful views without the trek, this post is for you.
The truth is, this park is not yet established as a major tourist site. Unfortunately, you cannot show up without a plan or unprepared. It is dangerous, and yes I have gotten lost (even with a guide). There is no cell service and unpredictable weather (thick fog and heavy rains).
If you’re going to do Cajas, do it right. There is a new government app called “Parque Nacional Cajas” that I would highly recommend you download. The GPS should work on the maps function without cell service.
Here are my recommendations for tourists/locals who want to experience the park without a major hike.
This lake is the closest to the city of Cuenca, thus it has the lowest elevation of the park. It is a common spot for families to spend the day and serves as a friendly camping spot. You’ll see a sign on the left side of the main road and then will head down about 2 kilometers on the old stone road. Busses cannot arrive to the official park entrance, but cars can. The natural and constructed trails around the lake are very well maintained and great for kids or anyone with challenges walking.
Hosteria Dos Chorreras
Dos Chorreras is an upscale lodge nestled in Cajas National Park. You can make a weekend out of it by spending a night here (rooms start at $100/night, and/or enjoy their diverse activities (fishing, horseback riding, trails, etc) for the day. Their restaurant and cafe are delicious. Be sure to try Cajas’ famous trucha (trout) fresh from the lake. It is a popular venue for weddings, so you may hear a dance party on the weekends.
Torreadora is the hub of tourism in Cajas. Here you will find the park’s official office, a restaurant, and bathrooms. Many folks who are traveling between Guayaquil and Cuenca will make a pit stop here to enjoy the view. You can enjoy affordable local cuisine in the restaurant, do a 1.5 hour hike around the Torreadora lake, or take one Route 1, which is the park’s only loop hike (beginning and ending at Torreadora). The route 1 hike is now very well marked and will take you 3-4 hours (5km). Note, the only point where it is possible to get lost is when you reach a wide flat area — if you go left, you’ll head out to the main road (which is fine if you want to hitch hike back to Cuenca), and if you head right you’ll stay on the trail (the rest of which is uphill).
Stop Along the Road
It takes nearly two hours to drive through the park from Cuenca to Guayaquil. The protected area with official gates takes about 45 minutes to get through. There are tons of great spots along the road to eat, enjoy the view, and even fish fresh trout from a lake. Another popular stop spot is “Tres Cruces” overlook which is about 5-7 minutes after Laguna Torreadora. It is the highest point of the park that is on the road (13,651 ft). Coming from Cuenca, there is even a new swing about twenty five minutes past Laguna Torreadora.
On a very clear day (which comes very rarely) you can even see the Chimborazo volcano, which is a 6-hour drive away! I’ve seen it once and it was absolutely breathtaking. If you’d like to enjoy the drive, I recommend going as early as possible to potentially see the sunrise, and avoid afternoon rains/fog. The roads are very windy – drive with caution and please, do not pass on the curves.
Have any questions? Shoot me a message on the contact page.