Full Day EL Cajas National park
Ranging between 3,000-4,500m/10,000-15,000ft, El Cajas National Park is an alluring outdoor paradise, close to Cuenca. On a clear day you can marvel breathtaking views of jagged rocky peaks, outstretched paramo moorlands with about 250 scenic lakes, papertree (polylepis) fairytale bushes, waterfalls and crystal clear streams full of trout!
This rich ecosystem (UNESCO Biosphere Reserve like Galapagos) counts with 150 species of bird, including carunculated caracaras, giant hummingbirds and the emblematic Andean condor, besides 19 unique species of flower, the endemic Cajas water mouse, and elusive deer, foxes, porcupines, mountain tapirs, pumas, ocelots and spectacled bears.
Cajas National Park is situated in the western Andean range, only about 30km/20mi west of Cuenca. A scenic mountain road winds up to its highest pass: Loma de Tres Cruces (4,147m/13,600ft; continental watershed), where you can enjoy a panoramic view over the moorlands and the steep western slopes. You can also find the bright gentianella hirculos, a jolly tulip-like gentian, endemic to Cajas.
The central starting point for activities in the national park is the visitors centre Toreadora (3982m/13,064ft) 4km/2.5mi below Tres Cruces Pass at the principle lake. There are a cafetaria, bathrooms, a small mountain refuge, the ranger's station and a permanent exposition about the geology and ecology of this reserve.
Hiking is best way to visit Cajas because natural treasures are often tiny and hidden as a result of the chilly paramo climate. Your naturalist guide will help to find, determine and tell more about the ecological backgrounds. The followed route depends on National Park regulations, weather circumstances and your physical condition.
This less strenuous off the beaten variant of official Route 1 offers great panoramas and varied scenery while passing a small polylepis bush and five postglacial lakes. It returns uphill to the interpretation centre along an ancient trade trail.
Between Toreadora and Totora Lakes you will cross the paramo moorlands to a polylepis bush. With their red barks and twisted trunks "˜Paper trees' survive far above the treeline and give shelter to a rich diversity of bird and wildlife. Descending into the valley of the reed bordered lake you will reach the Garcia Moreno trail. Among many other items the first organ, the first car, imported marble for the churches and smuggled liquor arrived along this ancient trade route from the port of Guayaquil to Cuenca, while woven straw hats ("˜Panama hats') were sent back.
This wide loop around the principle Toreadora Lake first ascends towards Tres Cruces before diverting to the dominant backdrop of Cerro San Luis (4264m/13,990ft), while crossing open paramo moorlands. To avoid the exhausting climb and slippery descend of that steep rock, you will leave the official trail and follow the outlet of Chica Toreadora Lake.
Strolling clockwise around Toreadora Lake you can stumble upon rabbits, various species of song bird and enjoy its views and rich waterfront vegetation. The north bank counts with some challenging passages (30Ëš steep rock and a ravine). Before returning at the Interpretation Centre you will make a short detour into a fairytale bush. "˜Paper trees' (polylepis) with their red peeling barks and twisted trunks can survive far above the treeline!
Included : lunch, English speaking guide, private transportation