El Cajas national park is an absolutely magnificent place! And it was a real pleasure to walk on marked trails, without the risk of getting lost or meeting aggressive dogs... I got off the bus from Cuenca in the middle of the morning, next to the park's main entrance, near the Interpretation Centre where you have to register before going on any hikes.
I went on the "Lakes Path", a 4 hour long circular walk, during which I didn't meet many people...It's superb: the lakes (originally glacial) just kept coming. I walked through forests of really strange trees and ate lunch beside some streams.
In the end it took me less time than expected to finish the walk so I extended it a little by adventuring down other paths, but as I was beginning to get a bit lost I wisely went back to the original path...I didn't want to wait for the bus and met a couple of Ecuadoreans who took me back down to Cuenca by car for a well earned rest...and a vicious headache because of the speedy change in altitude!
My visit to Cuenca remains my best memory of Ecuador and the excursion to the superb El Cajas National Park is certainly part of the reason for this.
After a full week spent discovering the city and the surrounding villages, I took a backpack full of dehydrated food, warm clothing (NB: the altitude is often above 4000 metres, so it gets cold at night) and other rain equipment. The idea: to camp in the park that is close to the most charming city of Ecuador and to walk among its 200 lakes. I have to admit that I didn't see them all!
Apart from the unusual landscapes, an excursion to Cajas is a pleasure because the park is so well organised. Many trails are available for hikes lasting from 2 to 6 hours. And the big advantage is that you won’t be rubbing elbows with other tourists - I came across a total of two groups!
Note: contrary to what people may tell you and what you might read, park entry is free (which was not the case a few years ago). On the agenda: numerous lakes, sparse vegetation ranging from yellow to green, seemingly enchanted forests, lamas, alpacas and company... in short, don't miss it during your visit to Ecuador!