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Hiking in the Andes: Ecuador’s Cajas National Park (Video)

Posted in: Cuenca Ecuador, Ecuador Travel

We recently went to a beautiful lake in the Cajas National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas). It is located in the highlands of Ecuador, about a 20 minute drive from Cuenca.

On this trip, we went to Llaviucu (Zorrocucho) Lake.

A Nice Place To Go With Family And Friends

Some local friends told us about the lake and wanted to show it to us while Bryan’s parents were visiting. I was excited because I love nature and we used to spend time around lakes every summer in Canada.

Watch on YouTube

We packed a picnic for lunch, and headed out around 10 in the morning. It was sunny here in Cuenca but we dressed in layers because we had heard that the Cajas can get cold and damp.

The layers turned out to be a good idea because it was raining and cool at the lake. Despite the weather the lake was beautiful and we had a wonderful time.

Drew by the lake

Drew by the lake

We brought our dog along but found out when we got there that pets are not allowed. I was happy that it was raining and cool because if the sun was shining we would have had to bring the dog home and go back. Our dog is used to spending time in her bed so with the windows cracked she was happy cuddled up in the truck. The walk was only about 1 & 1/2 to 2 hours longs, so I was not worried about her.

When we arrived at the entrance to the lake there was a little booth where we had to stop and write down information like our name and where we were from, but admission was free. They gave us some flyers with park information and pictures of the different birds that we might see.

Bird Watching And Beautiful Scenery 

The Cajas National Park is known for bird watching so we were excited to see the birds. We didn’t get to see very many but the ones we saw were beautiful. It was hard to get good pictures of them and because of the weather the colors didn’t stand out that much.

One of the birds (I think it was a Collared Trogon) was really colorful, I had never seen one before. We also saw what I think was a big Toucan, but he was gone in a flash so I can’t say for sure.

He was a little camera shy but I got him

He was a little camera shy but I got him

There was a trail all around the lake which took us through the woods. It was very muddy in spots but they have boards down so the walking was easy going.

There were lookout areas with nice views of the lake, excellent for taking photos.

One of my favorite pics of the day

One of my favorite pics of the day

We really enjoyed seeing the forest, it was very different from what we were used to in Nova Scotia Canada. There were hanging vines, air plants, orchids, and lots of plants that I had never seen before.

It felt so good to be walking in the woods! When I was a little girl I used to walk in the woods around our house and it always made me feel relaxed and happy.

Be Careful Of The Ortega Plant!

There is a plant that you need to watch out for, it’s called Ortega (also spelled Ortiga). The Ortega plant is likened to Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.

Both Bryan and one of our friends touched it (different times, different locations) and they said it felt like their skin was on fire. It was more than a little uncomfortable and Bryan got blisters from it. So be careful about touching the plants.

Watch out for this one, he's nasty!

Watch out for this one, he’s nasty!

A Favorite Spot

This is definitively a new favorite spot of mine and I look forward to going back. There are some restaurants on the main road, but we really enjoyed eating our lunch by the lake.

We haven’t done any more exploring in the Cajas yet, but we want to. I hear it’s fun to go fishing there, so maybe that will be next.

Hungry for more? Learn about all 35 National Parks, Reserves and Refuges in Ecuador.


Have you explored the Cajas yet? What did you think of it? Please share your thoughts by commenting on this post.

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Travel.

18 comments… add one
  • Michelle C Feb 22, 2016, 10:59 am

    Thanks for all the great info on your site. You’re part of the reason we came to Cuenca for 6 weeks! We went to Cajas earlier in our trip and really enjoyed it.

  • Bob Weisenberg Jan 1, 2015, 10:40 am

    Thanks for the article and video, Dena. We like to go hiking a couple of times a week. Do you happen to know any other good resources for hiking within an hour or two of Cuenca? Is it possible to get to any of the trails without a car? Or do we need to rent a car, go with friends, or hire a guide?



    • Bryan Haines Jan 20, 2015, 12:08 pm

      We haven’t seen any resources for hiking trails – aside from the ones in the Cajas. The first time we went, we just hired a taxi and they dropped us off at the foot of a hill. It is probably safest to go with a guide – at least the first time. I know that more than a few times, hikers have been lost (and a number have died) in the mountains above Cuenca. It can get very cold at night.

  • ANGEL G BRITO Jun 3, 2014, 1:31 pm

    Couple months ago, I wrote a comment about the problems I had with the wire transfers. I asked if any one of your lectors had any problems lately with this matter. I would appreciate very much any infromation about it.

    • Stewart Jun 6, 2014, 4:48 pm

      Hello Marco,

      An Ecuadorian friend of mine lives in Mexico City, Mexico who used to get wire transfers.
      These have become more complicated. Better to use Western Union or even better have
      the money transfered from their bank to your bank directly.

      Best regards.

  • Marco Apr 15, 2014, 7:41 am

    Thanks for sharing. I grew up fishing and hiking in El Cajas so your article brought back good memories. Glad to know others enjoy it as well.

  • Sue Pearson Apr 13, 2014, 2:39 am

    We certainly have stinging nettles in Oregon, west coast USA. These look a bit more thorny as ours didn’t have thorns, more like little hairs. But soon as I saw it I thought, oh a stinging nettle! Thanks so much for your posts, have been enjoying them and all the information you give!

  • Natascia Russo Mar 11, 2014, 5:10 am

    Hiking was never my thing but it seems fun. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures.

  • Bear Mills Dec 5, 2013, 3:51 pm

    The photos are beautiful. I found the light in the Cajas made it pretty tough to shoot high quality pics, but you did it. Thanks for identifying the trogon. I got an almost identical picture of one, but had no idea what it was. Your work is very entertaining and much appreciated.

  • Nancee Daignault Jul 5, 2013, 8:06 am

    Stinging nettle above ground parts are used along with large amounts of fluids in so-called “irrigation therapy” for urinary tract infections (UTI), urinary tract inflammation, and kidney stones (nephrolithiasis). The above-ground parts are also used for allergies, hayfever, and osteoarthritis…’,..

  • Jim Weed Apr 10, 2013, 5:18 pm

    This is the first time I remember someone talking about a “lake” in Ecuador. Have not seen any pictures of a house on a lake for sale, fishing in a lake etc. Thank you very much for sharing. Jim

  • Philip Thomas Apr 2, 2013, 6:22 pm

    The Ortega plant in your article is know in Britain as a “stinging nettle”. It is very common, particularly around disturbed land. While it is nasty (particularly for unsuspecting and uninitiated female Americans squatting in the woods) it is harmless. Having experienced the sting hundreds of times as a child I learned to a) avoid them and b) if stung to resist the urge to scratch. Those who continue to scratch are doomed to prolong the discomfort. If you can resist the temptation the irritation and blisters quickly go away. Typically about 5 minutes. The 5 minutes will seem like 30 though. So while its no fun at all to be stung, there are certainly no lengthy symptoms or the contagiousness that are associated with poison ivy or poison oak.

  • Stewart Apr 2, 2013, 6:09 pm

    Great video Dena! Love the music and the scenery reminds me a little of Papallacta here about an hour and 1/2 from Quito. The biggest difference is there are hot springs and a resort called “Termas de Papallacta” which is very enjoyable.

    If we visit Cuenca this summer maybe we will swing by Cajas.

    Best to you and yours,

  • Carole Apr 2, 2013, 3:36 pm

    Hi, just wanted you to know that I always enjoy your posts and info. Although we are embarking on a 6 to 12 mo trial period of living in Belize, we have extensively explored (through reading and videos, newsletters, people we have met) Thailand, Ecuador and Panama as well–who knows, depending on how the exploratory trip goes, we may be off to another country in a year. Thank you so much for all the great pics and videos, as well as truly useful info on moving and adjusting. Cheers! Carole

  • donald Apr 2, 2013, 8:29 am

    Very pleasant video and just another reason to come to Cuenca

  • Howard Perry Apr 2, 2013, 12:43 am

    The Ortega plant looks like a stinging nettle, which I believe is native to Europe. I don’t recall seeing in N America, nor Australia. You certainly get white blisters and it’s irritating. The sting is cured with a dock leaf, which is a big elliptical leaf plant, usually growing nearby. You rub the leaf over the nettle sting and the juice dulls the discomfort. Tea made from stinging nettles has medicinal properties and you can cook and eat the leaves like spinach.

    • Terry Doyle May 5, 2013, 7:03 pm

      We indeed have stinging nettles in North America and these plants look like shrunken models of the ones we had by the riverside where I grew up. Learned to avoid them, I did.

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