We were excited to get back to hiking again after spending so much time in the water in Galapagos. Las Cajas National Park was the perfect little nature getaway from the city of Cuenca being only 1 hour away. Getting to Las Cajas was easy, we took a taxi from our hostel to the Terminal Terrestre for only $2. When we arrived, we asked people where to go for Las Cajas. We got sent all the way to the end of the terminal, it was a bit hard to find, and purchased our tickets for $2 each. We had a bit of a wait as I think we had just missed the previous bus so we bought some snacks and organised onward travel tickets.
The drive was short and sweet and the scenery towards the end was beautiful. When we arrived we had to register in the office and asked which trail we wished to do. (Entrance was free by the way.) There was a map with about 8 options ranging in length and difficulty. Routes 1 and 3 seemed to be the most popular. We did 1 as it was shorter and we were already feeling the altitude, we were trying to ease back in ok! There are markers along the trail in accordance with the colour marked on the map in the office, route 1 was pink and was easy to spot along the way. You start in one spot and end at another therefore it is not a loop, nor do you come back the way you came.
I’m not afraid to admit, I found the hike hard. You go from about 2500m in Cuenca to almost 4000m when you arrive at Las Cajas and it is very noticeable. The trail is relatively easy and not long with a lot of flat sections and some small inclines and declines but those small inclines were really difficult for me and I was actually stopping quite a lot to catch my breath and to give my quads some time chill time. It was a bit of a shock after doing the Quilotoa Loop where we were feeling really good towards the end after our bodies had adjusted to the altitude but I guess spending all that time at sea level in Galapagos had stolen away any fitness we had accumulated previously. Damn you beautiful islands!!
The hike involved walking over rolling hills with scattered lakes and wild flowers we had never seen before. There was also a forest with leaning trees that were interesting and some river crossings which were fun. Unfortunately we didn’t get much sun that day so everything looked a bit drab but it still felt good to get out and see a different sort of landscape. See our Suunto Moves Count below for more detailed information regarding the trail distance and route etc… Please note we walked left instead of right when we left the refugio which is where the map tells you to start so our hike was a bit longer.
Getting back we had to walk past a pine forest and eventually up onto the road. We walked for about another 10 mins to the bus stop. Remember this will be different to where you get dropped off because you start and finish in different locations. We had heard the buses back to Cuenca were infrequent and unpredictable and to be prepared to wait anywhere between 15 mins and 2 hours. The security guards at the boom gate didn’t even seem to know when we asked when the next bus was coming because they had said one would arrive around 3.30pm but in fact one came at about 2.45pm so we only ended up waiting about 45mins. The ride back cost another $2 and we ended up getting off early, before the terminal and walked to our hostel so didn’t have to pay the other $2 for another taxi home.
All up this day was not one of our favourite hiking days but it was still enjoyable. We just wished we’d had some more sun! And more oxygen would have been nice too. It was a cheap excursion only costing us $10 ($12.50 AUD) and we think Las Cajas is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. If we had more time in Cuenca, we would have come back another day when it was sunny to do another trail.