The Cajas National Park is located in the province of Azuay, in southern Ecuador, where the Andes mountain range is older, with less volcanic activity and without the elevated peaks that are so common further north. In this area, the mountain range forms extensive highlands of great beauty where water accumulates in large quantities.
The Cajas is full of bodies of water: there have been about 165 lagoons with more than 1 hectare of surface and 621 with less than 1 hectare; There are a total of 786 bodies of water. Surely the condors that visit it can appreciate its true form from the air: a green and golden rug, very wrinkled and where each valley keeps lagoons connected by small streams.
Due to the large number of lagoons, the presence of migratory birds and their importance for the collection, storage and provision of water for nearby populations, it was recognized as a Ramsar or Wetland site of International Importance.
How to get to Cajas National Park?
Laguna the Toreadora. It is reached by the route Cuenca - Molleturo - Puerto Inca, approximately 40 kilometers from Cuenca. On this site you will find the Technical Office of the Park, an interpretation center and access to the different trails.
Llaviucu. It is reached by the Cuenca - Molleturo - Puerto Inca road. At 7.5 kilometers from the "Y" of Sayausí on the left bank, is the entrance road. From this point, 2.9 kilometers are crossed by paving until you reach the entrance to the park.
Flora and Fauna of the Cajas National Park
Most of El Cajas is a wasteland mixed with paper tree groves (called quinoas locally) and lagoons. In the low parts, bordering the 3,200 meters of altitude, there is also Andean forest. 600 species of vascular plants, 43 of mammals, 157 of birds (24 of them hummingbirds), 17 of amphibians and 4 of reptiles have been recorded.
In the moorland there are extensive pajonales, with pads in the most flooded areas.
There are also shrubs such as senecios, chuquiraguas and drunkards. In some lagoons there are cattails, some reeds that can measure up to a meter and a half, and horsetails. There are several endemic species such as sarashima, the papyrus of the Toreadora lagoon, which is a type of reed, and two species of Valerian.
The forests of paper trees are magical environments where the reddish logs are shelling and mixed with the greenery of the vegetation. In the areas of Jerez and Yacutuviana, east of the park, and in Mazán and Llaviucu, west, there is a good Andean forest.
The Mazán forest is very well preserved and extends to the edge of the park. There are shrubs of pacarcar, shuspilla, bermera or tulapa, mortiño and cinnamon trees. Several endemic species of Ecuador can be found near the Toreadora and Llaviucu lagoons, such as moor mice, the Ecuadorian cotton rat, and the porcupine quichua. One of the mice is endemic to the Cajas, that is, it has not been found anywhere outside the park: the fishing mouse of El Cajas.
Other mammals in the park are rabbits, moor wolves, deer, chucules and pumas.
Among the birds you can see condors, parrots, Andean toucans, Andean turkeys, tangaras and hummingbirds. In the lagoons there are water birds such as the Andean duck, the diver and the paramo seagull. The high Andean azulito and the bird of the quinuales live only in the forests of paper trees of El Cajas and its surroundings. Most amphibians are in the moor.
There are cutin frogs, marsupial frogs, rocket frogs, Mazán's green harlequin frog, and the three cross harlequin frog, among others. Among the reptiles we have lizards and guagsas and a species of snake known as Yanuncay runner snake.
Main attractions Cajas National Park
Toreadora and Llaviucu in the Cajas National Park
By the Cuenca - Molleturo route, the first lagoons to appear are Llaviucu and the Toreadora. There you can enjoy the moorland and quinoa forests, which form dreamlike landscapes. From the Toreadora you can walk to the lagoon of Illincocha.
Other lagoons in Cajas National Park
From La Toreadora part a path inside the park towards other lagoons. The first ones that appear are the lagoons of the Burines Valley, on a large plain ideal for camping. When you continue south, you will reach Lagartococha and the Cave of the Dead, where it is believed that travelers and smugglers of spirits were dying of cold. To the southeast of Burines is Taitachungo or Mamamag.
Qhapaq Ñan in the Cajas National Park
This route that crosses the Cajas National Park used to serve as a connection between the Sierra and the Coast. The remaining section began in Tomebamba (the current Basin) and culminated in the walls of Molleturo, already outside the protected area. The Paredones are a set of pre-Hispanic buildings that indicate that there was an important town or resting place Cañari and then Inca.
Cultural aspects Cajas National Park
The Cajas, a natural passage between the Sierra and the Coast, was already used by the Canaris, who inhabited the area before the Inca and Spanish invasions. The Incas built a road, from which today you can travel a small section, which connected Cuenca with the Coast. In the republican era this road was reactivated and it was known as "Camino de García Moreno". Several towns of Cañari and Mestizo descent are currently located around the park. A modern road now crosses the park and allows you to quickly get from Cuenca to Guayaquil. There are several versions about his name. One says that it comes from the Kichwa Kahas, which means hill or mountain range. Others relate it to valleys full of small lagoons and ponds "encased" in the mountains.
In any case, the massif and the National Park are part of the tradition and culture, which is manifested, for example, through numerous legends inspired by the mysterious landscape of the area.
Originally the area was declared in 1977 as a National Recreation Area, but in 1996 its Management Category was changed to a National Park. In 2013, UNESCO established the Massif Biosphere Reserve of El Cajas, which includes Cajas as one of its core areas.
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