Cajas National Park is the best kept secret place in Ecuador. It is formed by great elevations that keep inside lacustrine systems as huge interconnected boxes, the park is distributed by lakes of Ecuador that houses impressive glacial valleys, moors, forests and a network of pristine mountain lakes and for lovers of excursion there is a place like Cajas national park is an outdoor playground, the perfect place to escape and enjoy nature in its purest form.
Read on for a complete guide to visit the Cajas National Park in Ecuador.
The Cajas National Park constitutes a unique scenario in the world due to its diversity of lacustrine bodies. Indeed, despite the fact that there are places with certain similarities on the planet, there is none that combines so much lagoon variety associated with great biodiversity. Its name comes from the Quechua word “caxas” which means cold. Another version tells us that its name comes from the appearance produced by its type of geological formation, which forms “boxes” in which the lagoons are found.
90.6% of the area corresponds to the herbaceous moor ecosystem, except for small areas, located to the southeast (Mazán) and west (Canoas), characterized by absolute heights below 3,600 meters above sea level and varied geographical spaces.
The Cajas National Park is a State Natural Heritage Site, it is part of the set of wild areas that stand out for their protective, scientific, scenic, educational, landscape and recreational value, for their flora and fauna, and because ecosystems that contribute to to maintain the balance of the environment, it was created by ministerial agreement No. 203 of June 6, 1977 as a National Recreation Area
The park is a high-altitude area west of Cuenca, in Ecuador. It is known for the trails that cross evergreen cloud forests and its hundreds of Tomebamba, Mazán, Yanuncay and Migüir rivers. The most important lagoons are Lagartococha, Osohuaycu, Mamamag or Taitachungo, Quinoascocha, La Toreadora, Sunincocha, Cascarillas, Ventanas and Tinguishcocha. The Park is a paradise for lovers of sport fishing, who can find large numbers of trout in the lagoons, the most important fish species in the Park. In addition, a large number of bird species live in this wonderful natural setting, some of them in danger of extinction.
The representative flora of Cajas is grouped in forests that include trees and shrubs of regular size (10 m); chaparros, which are plant species up to five meters high; meadows, copses including woody plants; and grasslands with the predominant species being straw. We found residual trees of sarar, pichul, yellow, red quinoa, ferns, moss, orchids of different genres.
Cajas National Park has a variety of species such as the puma, houri, fox, chucurillo, añaz, fox, guatusa, augur, deer, yamala, tapir, spectacled bear and bat. The identified birds are the falcon, bluebird, condor, pituyo pajonal, curiquinga, chaupau, chirote, sparrowhawk, seagull, swallow, owl, blackbird, woodpecker and zhiro, white, yellow and blue-winged ducks, mountain turkey, partridge, moorhen, preacher, quilico, torcaza, turtledove, tuga and quinde of the chuquiragua. Among the vertebrates that are amphibians and reptiles; in the lagoons there are trout of different species; there are also crustaceans, diplopods, chilopods, arachnids and insects that are part of the 1st family of invertebrates.
Additionally, the lacustrine system of the Cajas National Park acts as a water regulating sponge, generating habitat for more than 20 species of amphibians, fish and reptiles, highlighting the only two surviving species of Jambatos.
Cajas National Park is a true paradise for bird watchers. In addition to finding here a fascinating species of hummingbird endemic to the area, the Metalura Gorjivioleta (Metalura baroni), in some areas such as the Llaviucu forest you can easily find (at the right times) species of birds that in other places are very difficult to spot. , such as the giant conebill (Conirostrum bingami), the silver grebe (Podiceps occipitalis), the Andean grey-breasted toucan (Andigena hypoglauca), the high Andean bluebird or xenodacnis (Xenodacnis parina), the Inca rainbow hummingbird (Coeligena Iris), among others.
With the advice of a certified tour operator, it is possible to carry out activities such as sport fishing, rock climbing, camping, bird watching, environmental education and interpretation, tourism and hiking.
The main attractions are:
Laguna de Lagartococha: On its shores it is possible to camp and the place is very popular for sport fishing. Next to Lagartococha is the “Cave of the Dead”, so called because travelers from more than a century ago would have perished on the site of malaria victims.
Toreadora and Llaviucu Lagoons: Along the Cuenca – Molleturo road, the first lagoons to appear are Llaviucu and La Toreadora. There you can enjoy the paramo and quinoa forests, which form dreamlike landscapes. From La Toreadora you can walk to the Illincocha lagoon.
Qhapaq Ñan Route: This route crosses the Cajas National Park before serving as a connection between the Sierra and the Coast. The remaining section began in Tomebamba (the current Cuenca) and ends in the walls of Molleturo, already outside the protected area. Los Paredones are a set of pre-Hispanic buildings that indicate that there was an important Cañari and later Inca town or resting place there.
Avilahuayco: It acts as a natural viewpoint or watchtower; the panorama that it offers from its summit is very attractive since from there you can see “the boxes” that dominate the whole area.
Loma de Tres Cruces: It is one of the highest parts of the Park where the watershed is found between those that go towards the Amazon and those that advance towards the Pacific.
Laguna Taitachungo (Mamamag): Starting from La Toreadora there are some trails that lead to it. From here you can follow a stretch of the Inca Trail to the Luspa cave. Other remains of pre-Inca constructions have been found in Mamamag, represented by stone steps and foundations of some type of building, presumably rooms for overnight stays; More than houses, these constructions seem to have served as dairy farms, travel shelters, given that the site is key to the passage to the coast.