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Cajas National Park

LiveTheLifeinEcuador  | January 23, 2015

A short drive away from Cuenca will bring you to one of Ecuador’s national treasures. Nestled in the Ecuadorian Andes, Parque Nacional Cajas (Cajas National Park) is far removed from the buzz of the city and its wild and rugged landscape is characteristic of a tundra biome. It’s a spectacular sight and a reminder of how varying the Ecuadorian topography is.

Spanning over 28,000 hectares, Cajas National Park looks like an endless sea of golden brown grasslands. Every once in a while, you will encounter groves of Polylepis trees, easily distinguishable due to their bark, which is of a reddish hue. Jagged peaks of hills and valleys outline the skyline, while more than 250 great lakes are scattered throughout the national park.


Inca Road Ruins. Throughout the reserve, you’ll find the ruins of Inca roads that used to connect way stations of the royal highway, a thoroughfare that ran all the way to the coast. You’ll find the highest concentration of ruins at Molleturo Hill.

Hiking trails. Cajas National Park is frequented by avid hikers and campers and for good reason. The reserve is home to an extensive network of hiking trails that range in class and difficulty. Day hikes are achievable on easier and shorter trails such as the one around Laguna Toreadora. Overnight hikes are also doable, some of which include a trek to Lago Osohuayco’s Inca ruins. The cold climate, along with the elevation, makes the trek challenging; an ultimate test of endurance and fitness.

Flora and fauna. The reserve is home to approximately 125 species of birds, such as the Andean condor, Andean gull, speckled teal, the viridian metal-tail, and the yellow-billed pintail. Evergreen herbs and dwarf forests make up the Páramo or the high Andean grassland vegetation. Pumas, spectacled bears, and oncillas have been sighted in the reserve, but remain elusive.