Cajas National Park

Hi! My name is Megan Nading and I'm a junior nursing major at Luther with a minor in Spanish! I'm writing about the day we had at the Cajas National Park just outside of Cuenca!

We started off our Saturday at 8 am visiting the beautiful and well known Cajas National Park which is located about 30 minutes west of Cuenca. It is also about 4,450 meters above sea level. The elevation was high and made our bodies work extra hard on our hike today. It was cold (although not as cold as the Midwest) and rainy. The rain was not so pleasant because when it would start to rain the wind would pick up and smack us in the face with the droplets of water. The ground was also covered with spongy.

We stopped at one of the very first points in the entry of the park and walked around one of the 232 lakes for about an hour and a half. We learned that in this lake, and many lakes in the park, there are trout or “trucha” in Spanish, especially the rainbow and brown species. Many local people come to the national park to go fishing. We saw an abundance of people doing so today even though it was windy and raining. The temperature usually doesn’t get above 60 or 65 degrees Fahrenheit and can get as cold as 30 degrees Fahrenheit, usually during the night time.

After this we stopped at a place named “Tres Cruces” or Three Crosses, where we overlooked the park and the beautiful mountains. My host father told me that the Incan people would take this route to get from the coast to Cuenca, and Three Crosses is one of the higher points, and it is very cold, so that when people would pass through there they would often die on the top of this hill due to the cold and the wind. We also saw a mini-forest in the park which had an abundance of beautiful orange-brown trees called “Bolylepis”. They protect the forest floor from harmful elements and provide beautiful scenery. There is also a plant that we frequently see on our hiking adventures and that there was an abundance of in the national park that is in the Bromeliad family and it is called “achupalla. Its leaves look like cactus leaves and they fan out from the center of the plant.

We saw and learned about many different types of plants that are indigenous to the region of Cuenca, such as the plant named after a common mammal that lives in the ocean “delfín” or dolphin in English. It is purple and beautiful and is named so because it looks like a dolphin. At the very end of our journey, we were trekking up the last hill of the day when we saw 4 or 5 llamas on the hillside. They slowly climbed up the side of the hill and we watched them while our tour guide explained the difference between an alpaca and llamas. There are two main differences which is the size (a llama is about twice the height (and relative size) of an alpaca) and the ears of an alpaca look more like those of a dog than do the ears of a llama. A few of us slept on the way home after a long day of hiking!

Group picture at Cajas!
Hike through Cajas National Park
A few of the llamas we saw during our hike.
The sponge-like ground that covered Cajas.
Los Tres Cruces