Parque Nacional Cajas, Ecuador – 23 July 2011

At the end of an amazing hike!

Suhail showing off his sweet footwear in front of the abandonded prohibition-era brewery

We’d heard about the beautiful natural area outside Cuenca, Cajas National Park, so after arriving in Cuenca, we booked a trip there. The hiking was said to be beautiful, but challenging, so best done with a trained guide. Our trip with Terra Diversa was excellent. The cost of the trip was worth the huge yellow wellies they provided alone, because it was a messy trail at times and neither of us is traveling with any waterproof footwear!

The trip included two hikes, followed by lunch. Our first stop was a one-hour hike around a small lake, which was secluded and very pretty. Our only company were some grazing alpacas and a few fishermen. Although pleasant, this hike was really just the warm up for the three hour mountainous route to come.

Pretty ugly up close!

Beautiful and serene

So, once we’d enjoyed the walk around the lake, we loaded back into the van and drove further on. When we arrived at our second location, we were at higher altitude and it was correspondingly chillier. The changes in climate and landscape gave the impression we’d landed on another planet (or at least in another country).

The landscape was misty and felt almost like a Lord of the Rings set. As we started to hike, our guide told us we’d need to move rather quickly, because once the inevitable rain set in (usually mid-afternoon), the hiking would be miserable and dangerous.

This type of landscape is known as páramo (Spanish for “desolate territory”). Wikipedia defines páramo as “a Neotropical ecosystem…located in high elevations, between the upper forest line (about 3000 m altitude) and the permanent snow line (about 5000 m).” In Cajas, we were at about 4000 m, so the altitude is another challenge for hikers.

The contrast between the different textures and colors of the vegetation was so beautiful

I really enjoyed the tiny vegetation of the páramo…and perhaps it was easier to notice since we were head down most of the day, due to the rain! The plants that can thrive in this harsh environment must be pretty hearty. I was so intrigued by the number of little flowers, as well as the spongy greenery that covers most of the land there.

These little yellow guys were my favorites

These spongy greens covered much of the area where we walked. You really had to watch your step! (again, glad we had the yellow wellies!)

Native lupines and other vegetation

One of the incredible tiny flowers in this desolate place

Suhail feeling awesome at Cajas

The rain did eventually hit, but was not too bad. Unfortunately, some of our photos are somewhat marred by raindrops on the lens. Hopefully, you can still see how beautiful this amazing place was. We felt great after our challenging hike…it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip!

You can see more photos here and Suhail’s video highlights are below…