In celebration of our 1st wedding anniversary, we decided to visit El Cajas National Park in Cuenca Ecuador. El Cajas National Park is an amazing national park to experience and one that we have been looking forward to visiting for a while. Since we’ve been living in Cuenca Ecuador, we thought it would be a perfect time to explore the grand national park.
Apart from our love for nature and trekking, we wanted to visit the national park for the amazing view of the Andes Mountains. It’s view of the Andes Mountains which is different from the other countries we’ve visited before that makes the whole experience even more beautiful. We’ve been fortunate enough to see the Andes mountains in various countries across South America. The mountains appear more green brown here in Ecuador, while in Chile it was white snow in winter and dirt brown all other times of the year. The greenest we’ve seen the Andes range was in Peru, where it was a beautiful vibrant green.
How to go to El Cajas National Park
Getting to El Cajas National Park can be a little tricky to get to, particularly if you are not fluent in speaking Spanish. Prior to our day at the national park, we did some research online and to be honest, even those instructions were confusing and outdated. We spent a good 1 hour or so getting lost along the way, even though we had prepared for the trip with maps and directions. The directions we received online we’re completely wrong and led us to roads that were no where near where the bus stops.
Luckily, Albie has been practicing his Spanish, so asking locals for help was in our opinion the best way to find the bus that will take us to El Cajas National Park. We ended up selecting the bus company called Occidental. It is a green bus that looks like the picture below.
The bus stop for the Occidental bus is in front of their office in Cuenca, about 10 minutes walk from the Feria Libre Market. When you reach the Feria Libre Market, keep walking straight until you see on your right hand side a huge bus terminal. The Occidental office is located in the next street, turning right to a small narow street next to the main bus terminal. If you get lost, be sure to ask for the Occidental bus office to get the right directions.
The buses have set operating times and go to various locations across Cuenca. Be sure to look for the bus that states ‘CAJAS’ at the front of the bus and not just hop on any Occidental bus. The bus in the morning leaves at 7.45am and a few other times during the day, however we found from our experience that the bus may be run late. It’s best to be on time regardless. Cost is $1.50USD one way, paid upon arrival at Cajas or paid when the bus assistant comes by. If it is your first time catching the bus, you can ask the bus driver to pull over at El Cajas National Park entrance. The bus ride takes about 1.5 hours to 2 hours depending on the traffic.
We also didn’t realize that the bus stops at our bus stop near our home, making it more easier to go and come back. If you live near or are closer to Camino Del Tejar, the bus will stop and pick you up. Just look for the green bus with a sign saying ‘CAJAS’.
What to wear at El Cajas National Park considering Cuenca Ecuador weather
For those who have not been to El Cajas National Park, there are a few things you might want to consider wearing to make the trekking experience more enjoyable. The Cuenca Ecuador weather first off is unpredictable, with sunny rays, cloud patches, rain and often strong winds. From our experience of living towards El Cajas National Park, the best time to go is in the morning. You will encounter rain in the afternoon and it is much cooler to walk the trail as the sun is not beaming down on you.
We recommend wearing sturdy boots or hiking shoes if you have them. Your feet must be fully covered and the shoes should be waterproof. There are small puddles of water, mud and wet rocky steps to consider and it would be more difficult if you select a longer or overnight trail to complete instead of the red trail which we completed.
To ensure that you don’t get wet and cold, make sure to bring a waterproof jacket, preferably windproof too. I found wearing leggings wasn’t the best option as there are many spiky plants and it can be uncomfortable walking pass them. Jeans or some other form of pants that have a thicker layer to protect you would be best. Long socks, hat and sunnies are also great to pair with your outfit.
Our experience of the Red Trail
Upon arriving at El Cajas National Park, we entered the information center and signed in. This was important to make sure that we were safe and had returned safely home. Though they never asked us to sign out when we completed out trail, which kind of defeats the purpose!
Looking at the map hung in their office, we could see just how grand the national park was. We decided to complete the red trail as this seemed the shortest an easiest of them all. Our main goal was to celebrate our wedding anniversary and to check out some of the natural beauty of the park. We weren’t planning to camp and stay overnight.
It’s important to also note that dogs are unfortunately not allowed in the national park. A week before our trip to El Cajas National Park, we tried to look up online whether it would be possible for Buckwheat to join us, but since we were unsure, we decided not to just in case we would have to come back another day without him.
The path at the beginning was simple to follow with clearly marked routes and paths. However, 10 minutes into the walk we did not see any sign of red at all. In fact, we were completely lost. We had heard from other travelers online that you can easily get lost and made sure we remembered the way we came.
Instead, we wondered around, making our own path. It was fun to just explore the vast land. When we did our trail, there was no one else there. We felt completely in the wilderness, alone, with only each other to keep each other company.
Towards the 2 hour mark, we stumbled upon what looked like a path. We were excited to finally find something that remotely looked like a walking path. We then in fact find a red marked sign. Here’s a picture of it in case you are going to the National Park and want to know what it looks like.
Red markers were also found on small stumps and rocks that were difficult to spot while on the trail. It was only towards the end that you’ll be able to spot them. If you plan to do the red trail, remember that the route is pretty short and therefore it’s hard to get lost.
The trail itself wasn’t very difficult. If you are remotely fit, this trail will do just fine. You’ll see a lot of the mountains, rivers and landscapes, while taking in the fresh air of the national park. We would recommend doing this trail if you are only planning to stay half a day to a full day.
Where to eat
Towards the entrance where the toilets are located, there is a cafeteria that serves lunch and snacks. You’ll find freshly made sandwiches and basic meal options like soup, chips and drinks. For us, we opted to bring our own snacks and lunch. I made empanadas as well as packed plenty of water, chips and biscuits. This was ideal particularly because I’m vegetarian and there wasn’t any information online as to whether there would be any decent vegetarian options at the cafeteria.
For those who are vegetarian, there are not really any good options at the cafeteria, unless you are happy with a muffin or snacks as your lunch. We found that food was important particularly as we trekked for several hour and were famished by the time we finished at 1pm.
Catching the bus home
The bus stop lies just in front of the entrance of El Cajas National park. It is very easy to spot with a little bit of shelter and seating available. Be mindful that you will most likely have to wait for about an 1 or more. Though the bus does come by, there is no time table as such. It will be the same bus that will stop and pick you up. You have the option to be dropped off anywhere along the bus route, so if you manage to find a better spot to stop instead of the Occidental office, all you need to do is signal the bus driver and get off. The cost is the same going back at $1.50.
Overall our experience of El Cajas National Park was amazing to say the least. It was a relaxing experience particularly because there wasn’t a single person there when we started the trek, making the experience very private and romantic. It was the perfect way to celebrate our wedding anniversary.