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Cajas National Park
Cajas National Park

Cajas National Park is in Azuay province, declared by UNESCO as one of the core zones of the Macizo El Cajas Biosphere Reserve.

Touring the Cajas National Park.

Cajas National Park is in southern Ecuador. Azuay Province. From Cuenca it takes 35 minutes in a westerly direction to reach the park. From Guayaquil it takes 3 hours in a south-easterly direction.

Where does the name Cajas National Park come from?

There are two theories about Cajas name’s origin. The first theory. Cajas is an original word from the Quichua language: Caxas and its meaning is: cold. The second theory considered comes from the appearance, geological formation and height of its mountains that visually form boxes that surround the lagoons in its interior. The Cajas National Park is impressive for its beauty and its vast extension of 28,544 hectares. At times the national park seems to find no limits in nature. Mountain after mountain, peak after peak caresses the sky with its different morphologies, as the altitude range in the national park goes from 3,152 (10341 feet) metres above sea level to 4,445 (14583 feet) above sea level.

However, it is striking that there are no volcanoes at this high altitude. The Pichincha volcano (active) has an altitude of 4,784 m (15696 ft) asl. The Atacazo-Ninahuilca volcano (active) has an altitude of 4,455 m (14617 ft) a.s.l. Sincholagua volcano (extinct or dormant) has an altitude of 4,873 m (15988 ft) a.s.l. The nearest volcano from here is Sangay (constant eruptive activity since 1628) 5,300 m (17389 ft) a.s.l. The last volcano located in southern Ecuador in the Cordillera Real in Morona Santiago province.

So why did nature strive to create and cluster the country’s volcanic activity in the north-central region, but not in the south? The answer was that this section of the Andes is older. It is characterised by less volcanic activity and without the common denominator of high peaks.

El Cajas 10,000 years ago.

A geologist and professor at a polytechnic university in Ecuador, who was also Minister of Environment some years ago. During an interview he told us that: approximately 10,000 years ago the mountains of the Cajas National Park were covered by glaciers. The mountains in the national park were eroded at the top, as a result of erosion caused by the ice that had been there and then melted to form a large lake system. The total number of water bodies is 786. 165 lakes are larger than 1 hectare and the remaining 621 are smaller than 1 hectare.

Lakes in the Cajas National Park.

The Cajas National Park has 152 species of birds, 43 mammals, 15 amphibians and 4 reptiles. UNESCO declared it in 2014 as one of the core areas of the Macizo El Cajas Biosphere Reserve. But in 2002 the whole area had already been declared a Ramsar site or Wetland of International Importance.

Walking is the main activity in the national park. One wants to go as far as possible in life and the Cajas National Park through its wonders of nature envelops its visitors with its enchanting and breathtaking landscapes.

Recommendations for visiting the National Park.

The national park is a place where you can walk on your own, and there are also walks for those who prefer to be accompanied by a professional guide from the Protected Area. Walking in isolated natural areas brings many benefits and rewards: a dose of fresh air, contact with wildlife, a moment of solitude, and most importantly, discovery.

It is always recommended to register at the national park checkpoints. One of the checkpoints is at the Refugio. Registration is very simple and takes very little time. It is important to do so because it contributes to the conservation of the Cajas National Park and also to the safety of the visitors. Cajas National Park is large. The park rangers carry out daily patrols, but with 28,544 hectares of irregular surface it is difficult to be in every place.

The weather in the national park is not regular. Frequent frosts, drizzle, fog and days of intense sunshine will be the meteorological variable that will accompany you along the trail. The weather records report that there have been some snowfalls and that the lakes have reached freezing point due to the low temperatures.

Temperature ranges.

Temperatures in the national park range from -2 °C / 28.4 °F to 18 °C / 64.4 °F. Bring warm and waterproof clothing, sun protection, water, high-calorie food or chocolate, and comfortable (waterproof) shoes.

The refuge is located next to the Toreadora lake. Here you will find: parking, toilets, park ranger service, restaurant and an interpretation centre. The lake has piers and is one of the most photographed places in the national park. This place is the starting point for the hiking trails. Campfires are not allowed in the national park.

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