High-altitude lakes

Cajas National Park Travel Blog

 › entry 8 of 166 › view all entries
On our second day in Cuenca we did a day tour of Cajas National Park. I had been reading up on the park a lot before I left for South America and so I was pretty excited to go. Cajas is a high-altitude park that has hundreds of lakes but few trees, various unique wildlife, and amazing mountains from volcanic activity that ceased hundreds of millions of years ago. At first I wanted to do maybe a two or three day hike through the park but time was not on our side and it would have been tough going.

In our group we had us minus Ruth who had left us for the bus to Peru, a mother and daughter from Belgium, and an Australian girl from Perth. We drove out to the park in the van and first went in a side entrance that took us down to a very scenic lake where in the distance you could see an old disused brewery set up by some Germans that closed over fifty years ago but is now set to be restored to raise money for the park. We then did a walk through some forest area before coming to another great view of a lake set among tall mountains. There is a very still feeling to the whole place, it is kind of eery. I have heard a couple of times that it is a lot like the Scotland countryside but I couldn't say.

We then headed back up the road to the tallest point of the road in the park, which I think was around 4400m above sea level. It was very cold and windy up there, and you could feel the thin air as you breathed in, but it was worth it because the view was superb. The park has a path through it that was once the only way to get between the major cities of Guayaquil and Cuenca, and there were some crosses set up at this point to remember those who had died making the trek through the cold and the altitude. The guide told us stories about how when the path was the only way to Cuenca they had to carry everything for the town along it - including whole cars and pianos for the rich!

Next we drove down to the main starting point for heading out in the park where there is an information centre. The view there was also suitably impressive. We headed off on our main walk for the day from there. There was a little bit of climbing but mostly the walk was either flat or downhill, and the guide kept a slow pace so it wasn't exerting. We were shown a number of different plants that have medicinal uses, including one for altitude sickness that apparantly was extremely bitter. Ryan tried some and agreed by screwing up his face and quickly spitting it out. After a while we got to one of the few forest areas in the park which are made entirely of paper trees (officially called Popylepis). They are the only trees that can grow at such high altitude, and they grow incredibly slowly. Many of the trees in the forest were two or three thousand years old, despite not being much taller than maybe ten metres. They are called paper trees because their bark is like a fragile paper that peels off very easily. Walking through the forest of them was fascinating because it looks so unique and it really was. We came out the other side to more amazing views of big lakes and ancient mountains and headed off down.

For the rest of it we walked around a few big lakes being told about the purity of the water and the wildlife and so on. After we were done we were picked up by the van and went to a nearby restaurant for a decent lunch. All up it was a great day for $40.

Around that point my hangover kicked into full gear and when we got back I went straight to sleep while the others went to the Cuenca v Quito soccer game which Cuenca won 3-1. Ryan and Sam came back with Cuenca guernseys they had bought for $5 each and told some funny stories about the locals harassing the Quito fans for losing.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Cajas National Park
photo by: Biedjee