Shortly after arriving in Cuenca, arguably Ecuador’s most charming city, Edwin and I realized that Christmas was just around the corner. We were not too keen on spending our first Christmas together in a busy city, we preferred to be surrounded by nature. After asking around, it became clear that our best option for an outdoorsy getaway was the Cajas National Park, located just 30 km away from Cuenca.
Part of our plan included indulging on all sorts of fancy treats for our special Christmas dinner. We bought enough goodies to camp out at least a couple of nights. However, on the morning of December 24th we slept in and missed the chance of going to Cajas that day. Fortunately, it worked out to our advantage as we ended up enjoying a very particular Christmas tradition in Cuenca.
The next morning, we made sure to get early to the bus terminal. We bought a ticket to Guayaquil and asked the driver to let us out at the entrance of the park. In the main office, we registered with the park authorities and paid our camping fees. We asked for a map, but there were none available so we took a photo of the one at the office and asked a few questions to plan our journey. It was a beautiful day for hiking so we got out as quickly as possible to enjoy the beautiful views.
At the start of our hike, it was sunny with a mix of clouds and moderate winds. After walking for a couple of hours we picked a spot with nice views to have our lunch. There are over 250 lakes and lagoons within the boundaries of the park, making it an important water source for this region. The Cajas National Park provides 60% of the drinking water for Cuenca and its surrounding area.
The altitude at the park ranges from 3000 to 4400 meters above sea level. Since we had spent a couple of days in Cuenca (2530 meters above sea level) before, we were already kind of used to the altitude. The high páramo vegetation was quite peculiar and interesting. I supposed it has to be in order to adapt to the harsh climate.
By the time we were ready to camp on our first night, the sky was overcast and we thought it might rain; but it didn’t. It did make for a pretty dramatic sunset, though. Finding a good spot for camping wasn’t hard. We chose to set our tend on the shore of one of the lakes. The ground was soft, spongy and humid; which made for a nice mattress for our tired bodies.
A couple of times, we lost the trail while hiking and had to backtrack to find our way again; but it was not a big deal, we just got a bit tired. In the end, choosing to camp out at Cajas during the busy Christmas holidays, proved to be an excellent idea to avoid the crowds. During our trek we didn’t come across anyone else on the trail. It felt like we had the park all to ourselves.
Have you been to Cajas National Park? How did you like it? Which other spots do you recommend for hiking in Ecuador? Leave me a comment, I’d love to know!