Cajas is a really accessible, not often visited expanse of mountain, moorland and lakes. Unusually for Ecuador, it was formed by glaciers and doesn’t have any volcanoes.
Cajas either comes from the Spanish word cajas for boxes – referring to the shape of the mountains. Or maybe it comes from the local Quechua word cassa meaning gateway to the snowy mountain. Cajas is crossed with trails used by travelers, and smugglers, going from the coast to Cuenca and beyond – so take your pick!
There are around 270 lakes of all shapes and sizes. It has one of the highest density of lakes anywhere – so, lots of water then.
It’s incredibly easy to get out there. There are two entry roads to Cajas. In the north, the main road to Guayaquil goes through the park. The far less travelled southern entrance is near the village of Soldados. The fist, and lowest, entrance to the park is only 20-30 mins from Cuenca center.
Park authorities maintain a network of trails. Most visitors take the short trails of 30-60mins around lakes with easy access to the road. Other trails last a few hours to a few days. Once you get away from the main access points, you are very unlikely to see anyone.

The park does not have people living or farming within its boundaries, though some people have cattle or horses on the outskirts. This means: clean water and no dogs – yeah!
If you are looking for the more human aspect and have the time, try the southern route – unmarked trails, community tourism, local museums, hot springs. Local guide Stefan likes fishing – go on, tickle a trout!
A worthwhile day trip, and good for children, is to visit two of the highlighted lakes: one higher up and other lower down – this will give you a good overall look at the park and some different, but beautiful, scenery.
Cajas is owned by the local water authority and supplies 60% of the water for Cuenca – so, yes, it rains. Try August to January for a better bet at clearer skies. This might be why Cuenca has the cleanest water in South America.
Even a bird ignoramus can get into spotting the huge variety of birds in Cajas. On entry you are given a handy color leaflet, so have a go! There are 157 bird species here, it is an Area of World Importance for Bird Conservation. There are too many types of hummingbird to name but the metal tail is endemic to the park. There is the Andean ruddy duck, Condor, parrots and falcons. You get the idea… there’s a lot of birds.
There’s also a lot of frogs – that’s the clicking noise you can hear, many endemic such as the black, green and Azuay harlequin frogs.
There is rock climbing near Laguna Tordeadora and trout fishing everywhere -(though the word on the trails is that the fish are bigger in the southern section).
Interestingly named creatures living in Cajas:
scaly naped parakeet,sparkling violetear (a hummingbird), tawny rumped tyrannulet( very small dictator with a brown bum??), spectacled lizard

Article written by Karen Ward

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