Cajas National Park located high in the Andes above Cuenca, Ecuador is an excellent, well organized park worthy of several day treks or even a week long backpacking journey. The trails are well marked and you receive a free (fairly navigable) map. The park is well above tree line (~3900m/12,800 ft) so with a compass getting lost should not be an issue. Entrance to the park is free.
My intent was to do some hiking and birding though I was not sure what the species composition would be this time of year. Straight out of the ranger station there were male somethings singing away. It took me a few minutes to find them but when I did see them they were just drab bluish averaged size song birds. Soon they were everywhere and I would look them up when I got back.
A surprise to me, the beautiful landscape offered more flowers than birds. From a distance none of the flowers were obvious and I did not expect so many flowering plants. I am not so hot with my plant identification but several of these had striking resemblances to our ericaceous species of the north (which includes blueberries). If you see something you recognize please feel free to i.d. them. Here are a few examples.
And at the top (4297m/14,100 ft)
And back on the road down…
Cajas NP offers 8 hikes of varying length and difficulty. The highest point in the park is 4450m/14,600 ft. The views are spectacular and made more so by a constant shift in clouds in the area. Go to the park and see for yourself, it’s well worth the trip and is only 30 minutes by cab from Cuenca or 45-60 minutes by public transport. Good luck hitching, locals are not likely to pick you up.
Preparing for a day trip to Cajas National Park is simple as well. You can bring some food and water but there is also a food kiosk at the Toreador visitors center that sells sandwiches, fresh, fruit, and beer.
As for the birding on this particular day, it was quite windy so songs were muffled I did manage to identify an Emerald Toucanet, Bicolored Antpitta, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, Russet-crowned Warbler, Scrub Tanager, Masked Saltator, and the token Andean Condor. My camera was out of range for everything listed but my Zeiss 10X40 B’s were not. I identified 7 of the possible 159 species of birds that have been observed in Cajas National Park and saw a handful more that I did not identify but I still consider it a success. A gorgeous day in the highlands. Muy vale la pena!
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