Guide to Hiking Cajas National Park in Ecuador

Guide to Hiking Cajas National Park in Ecuador

Cajas National Park is a national park located in the Andes of Ecuador. Located only 30 km west of the famous UNESCO city of Cuenca, hiking Cajas National is one of the many popular day trips from Cuenca.

The Cajas National Park offers a tundra vegetation 3900m above sea level, something that is unique from other national parks in South America. 

Travelers looking to do some hiking around Cuenca should not miss Cajas National Park! 

Without further ado, here is the guide to hiking Cajas National Park in Ecuador.

How to get to Cajas National Park from Cuenca and Back

The easiest way to get to Cajas National Park is with a tour agency. However, I highly advise against doing so because getting to Cajas National Park is extremely easy on your own and it is extremely safe. To get Cajas National Park, you will want to base yourself in Cuenca.

Cuenca is only a short 45-minute ride to Cajas National Park and there are buses that run regularly from Terminal Terrestre. Terminal Terrestre is a quick 20-minute walk from the historic center or a 5-minute taxi ride.

Once you arrive at the Terminal Terrestre, there are 2 booths that sell tickets to Cajas National Park, booth number 39 and 40. When we arrived, booth 39 wasn’t open so we bought our ticket to Cajas National park at booth 40 for $2. They have departure times as early as 7 AM but the park doesn’t open until 8 AM. The buses are also quite frequent so if you miss one you can just take the next one.

Buy your ticket and you are on your way to hiking Cajas National Park.

To get back to Cuenca, you can take any bus on the road that is going towards Cuenca. You don’t need to be at a bus station or anything. Just be on the same side of the road as the bus and wave it down when you see it coming. Technically, there are buses that run in that direction all-day but I would recommend being back before night time. 

Things to Know Before Hiking Cajas National Park

1. Bring your passport or ID – At the visitor center, you will need to register yourself with the ranger. You will have to advise him which route you plan on taking and how long you are to stay in the park. However, you do not need to sign out. 

2. Cajas National Park is located 3900m above sea level. Many people experience symptoms of altitude sickness at around 3000m. That means chances are you will also experience symptoms of altitude sickness if you are hiking Cajas National Park. Here’s a guide on how to prevent altitude sickness.

3. Download maps.me and Parque Nacional Cajas App on your phone. Maps.me is a map app similar to Google maps but much better. Their offline maps are one of the best out there. Paruqe Nacional Cajas App is the official app for Cajas National Park. On there you will have all the information you need including trails, opening hours, camping information, and much more. 

4. Start hiking early in the day to avoid clouds and rain coming in. Check the weather too before you go!

What to Bring With You When Hiking Cajas National Park

Hiking Cajas National Park can be a little bit tricky due to the biosphere and altitude. Below are things you should bring on your hike.

1. Sunscreen is a necessity. The sun at high altitudes is much stronger than the sun at sea level. In addition, you are on the equator, and the sun is even stronger there.

2. Rain poncho or raincoat. Weather can change so quickly at such high altitudes. Pack one for safety.

3. Filtration Water Bottle. It will help you in dire circumstances. Plus there are many water sources in Cajas National Park.

4. Gloves and hat. For the cold that you will encounter at such high altitudes.

5. Mud shoes. Or shoes that you are willing to sacrifice to the mud and water.

6. Food/Snack/Water. Pack accordingly to how long you plan on staying at Cajas National Park. There is a restaurant on-site next to the visitor center but they only have something simple.

Hiking Cajas National Park

The bus dropped us off at the visitor center. Immediately, we started to notice that the weather was not quite the same as it was in Cuenca. We walked towards the visitor center and encountered a sign that said altitude 3,850m.

That is the highest altitude I have ever hiked in at that point in my life. At the visitor center, we signed in our names and the ranger explained to us the trails that were available. Some trails were unavailable due to the rain from yesterday.

He said if this is your first time here, you will want to do the pink trail, or Ruta 1 on your Parque Nacional Cajas App. Ruta 1 ends on the road where you can conveniently get the bus back to Cuenca!

The other popular option is the green trail (Ruta 2 in the App), which has you summiting one of the mountains in the park for a panoramic view of the park. Feeling already short-breathed from the altitude, we picked the pink trail, or ruta 1.

Cajas-National-Park-6

In this altitude and biosphere, it tends to rain quite often. Even though we were prepared for the cold weather, rain, and the sudden change of weather, we were not prepared for the mud that resulted from yesterday’s rain.

Yesterday’s rain had caused a major part of the trail to be flooded, muddy, and extremely slippery. We continued for about 2 hours on the pink trail (Ruta 1) and then the rain started to come in. We looked at our maps and realized that we were at least 3 hours away from the end of the trail. The heavy rain from the day before had also caused the trail to be very undetectable, and we were losing confidence as to if we were actually on the right path. So we decided to head back the same way we started.

On the path, you will see landscapes you have never seen before. The tundra vegetation created some of the most exotic plants I have never seen. All the colors, the scenery, and the climate, Cajas National Park is truly a wonder on its own.

Where to Stay in Cuenca

Best Hostel in Cuenca – Pepes House Bed and Breakfast

Pepes House Bed and Breakfast is one of the best hostels in Cuenca. The property itself is gorgeous. Once you enter, you feel like you just escaped from the bustling center of Cuenca to your own relaxing paradise. All their dormitory beds are single beds (no bunk beds). I highly recommend this hostel.

Click here for more details!

Best Hotel in Cuenca – Hotel Casa San Rafael

Hotel Casa San Rafael is a beautiful hotel located inside a colonial-style house. Their breakfast is amazing and their rooms are spacious! One of the best luxury hotels in Cuenca. 

Click here for more details!

Like this post? Don’t forget to save it on Pinterest! 🙂

Cajas-national-park-Ecuador-Pinterest

That’s the end to the guide for hiking Cajas National Park. Have you hiked Cajas National Park? Let us what you think in the comments!

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links. That means if you book or make a purchase through the links, we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! The money will help run this site! Thank you 🙂

Cajas-national-park-Ecuador-Pinterest
6 Best Day Trips From Cuenca Ecuador

6 Best Day Trips From Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca is one of the most important cities in Ecuador for many reasons. For starter, the city center of Cuenca is considered a UNESCO Heritage Site due to the 52 churches it has, one for every Sunday.

But after visiting so many churches in the city, I think it is time for you to get some fresh air out of the city.

Cuenca is located 2,560m above sea level and the surrounding area of Cuenca is very interesting. 

With jungles, mountains, ruins, national parks, and other wonders around Cuenca, taking a day trip is one of the best things to do in Cuenca.

Best Cuenca Day Trips You Can’t Miss

Cajas National Park

Cajas National Park, one of the most unique national parks in Ecuador, is located only 30 km west of Cuenca. Located 3900m above sea level (yes, super high), Cajas National Park offers a tundra environment. You can find plants and landscapes you won’t normally encounter in any other parts of Ecuador.

Cajas National Park can be easily done as a day trip because it is beautiful and easily accessible. But before you go make sure you are well-prepared. You don’t want to be stranded out there at this altitude. The climate can change from sunny to pouring rain in a few minutes.

Find out what you need from this full guide to hiking Cajas National Park!!

How to Get to Cajas National Park From Cuenca

Cajas National Park can be easily reached from Cuenca. All you have to do is get to Terminal Terrestre in Cuenca, which shouldn’t be more than a 20-minute walk from the city center.

When you arrive at Terminal Terrestre, go to booth 40 to buy tickets for Cajas National Park. The ride should cost you $2 USD. Get on the bus and you should arrive at Cajas National Park 45 minutes later.

If you don’t want to go alone, you can check out one of the guided tours here

Ingapirca Incan Ruins

Ingapira Incan ruins, or otherwise known as “Machu Picchu of Ecuador”, are ruins about 2 and a half hours from the city of Cuenca. It is a very popular day trip from Cuenca because of how accessible it is and how much significance the Ingapirca ruins have.

Back in the days before the Incans came to power, Ingapirca was the home to a group of native people called the Cañaris. When Incans conquered the Cañaris, they forced everyone to move to Cusco. 

Archaeologists believe that Ingapirca was used for religious purposes, as there are indications of human sacrifices. Many female skeletons were found underneath the earth at Ingapirca ruins.

I don’t want to spoil any more of this story, so why don’t you go find out what happened there yourself? 

How to Get to Ingapirca Incan Ruins From Cuenca

To get to Ingapirca ruins, there are two options.

1. You can take a bus directly from the Terminal Terrestre in Cuenca. They are supposed to leave at 9 AM and 1 PM daily. The buses returning to Cuenca from Ingapirca depart at 1 PM and 4 PM. I say supposedly because I have gotten mixed information from different people.

2. You can take a bus to El Tambo, and at El Tambo there are buses running to Ingapirca every 30 minutes or so. This is the method we took because we departed at around 10 AM. We went to the station and asked for El Tambo and told the driver to drop us off where we can take the buses to Ingapirca. Buses to El Tambo run every 30 minutes or so as well.

To return, either take the direct bus or catch a bus back to El Tambo or Cañar Terminal. If you catch a bus to El Tambo, then you can either get a bus back to Cuenca from there or a bus to Cañar and then another bus for Cuenca. If you catch a bus to Cañar, you will be dropped off at the terminal where you can take the bus to Cuenca. 

The Ingaprica ruins are opened from 8 AM to 6 PM. There is an entrance fee of $6 USD to get in that includes an English or Spanish tour guide and access to the museum. 

Here are some tours we recommend:

El Chorro Waterfall at Giron

El Chorro waterfall, or otherwise just known as the Giron waterfall, is definitely a hidden gem in Ecuador. There were no guides online about El Chorro or Giron waterfall when I went. The only reason I knew about it was through the owner of the hostel I was staying at.

El Chorro waterfall at Giron is probably the most exciting day trip from Cuenca for adventure lovers.

And if you don’t know yet, I am a sucker for waterfalls, especially those that make you feel like you are deep in nature, such as the Nungnung waterfall in Bali.

And the El Chorro, or Giron waterfall is definitely one of those. It made me feel like I was in Jurassic Park. A short hike into the jungle left me in the face of one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. And I was only barely able to see due to the amount of water mist that was in the air caused by this gigantic beast.

There are three levels to this waterfall. The lowest level is easily accessible and only a short hike (The photo is from the lowest level). The middle level is about 1.5 hours worth of hiking. And to reach the top of the waterfall is about a 5-hour hike. Of course, this all depends on the weather. Sometimes the hike would be closed due to inclement weather. 

How to Get to El Chorro Waterfall at Giron From Cuenca

El Chorro waterfall or Giron waterfall can be easily reached from Cuenca through a bus from Terminal Terrestre.

At Terminal Terrestre, you can take a bus to Giron for $1. The bus ride is about an hour.

When you get off at Giron, you will see white pick-up trucks that will take you to El Chorro (Giron) waterfall for 10 dollars ($2.5 each if you have 4 people) one way.

I suggest you take down the driver’s number and give him a call to pick you up when you are ready to go back to Giron. The walk back to Giron from the waterfall is more than 2 hours.

The entrance is $2 USD and the El Chorro (Giron) waterfall is opened from 8:30 AM to 5 PM.  

SigSig/ Gualaceo/ Chordeleg

Sigsig, Gualaceo, and Chordelag are three colonial towns close to the city of Cuenca. Each towns have its only specialty.

Sigsig is known for its Panama hats woven by hand. Often times around town, you will see natives in that area weaving hats. The prices here are much cheaper than the Panama hats you can buy in Cuenca.

Gualaceo was once known as the town for dying clothes and weaving, but all of those activities have moved out of town. Now Gualaceo is known as a small colonial town great for relaxing. You can stroll along the river and be one with nature!

Chordeleg is known for its jewelry stores, especially silver. If you are in the mood for some shopping and purchasing some nice silver products, Chordeleg is a must-go-to place. 

How to Get to SigSig/ Gualaceo/ Chordeleg from Cuenca?

Sigsig, Gualaceo, and Chordeleg are easily reachable by bus from the Terminal Terrestre in Cuenca.

Just show up at the terminal and ask at the information center. The person that works there will be able to tell you which bus to take. 

It is possible to do all three towns in one day, you will have to ask where to take the bus to your next destination at the main plaza in each town!

Where to Stay in Cuenca Ecuador

Best Hostel in Cuenca – Pepe’s House Bed And Breakfast

Pepe’s House Bed And Breakfast is one of the best hostels in Cuenca. Featuring huge single beds (no bunk beds) in shared rooms, any guest can enjoy maximum comfort here. I particularly liked the common area. It is the most relaxing place to relax after taking a day trip from Cuenca.

Click here for more details!

Best Hotel in Cuenca – Hotel Casa San Rafael

If you are looking for a beautiful hotel, look no further. Hotel Casa San Rafael is a luxury hotel in a colonial-style house. Everything from the breakfast to the interior design is perfect. 

Click here for more details!

Like this post? Don’t forget to save it on Pinterest! 🙂

Cuenca-Day-trip-Ecuador-Travel-Pinterest

If you are heading to Peru through Mancora after, make sure you read this guide!

Which one was your favorite day trip from Cuenca? Mine was definitely Cajas National Park! Let us know what you think in the comments!

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links. That means if you book or make a purchase through the links, we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! The money will help run this site! Thank you 🙂

Cuenca-Day-trip-Ecuador-Travel-Pinterest
How to See 7 Waterfalls In 1 Day in Mindo Ecuador

How to See 7 Waterfalls In 1 Day in Mindo Ecuador

Located 2 hours away from the capital city Quito, there is a hidden gem for all nature lovers called Mindo. Mindo is a small town located in something called the Mindo-Nambilo Cloud forest. The weather is very different than that of Quito and It’s a very popular spot for bird-watching and other adventurous activities. In fact, many of the birds in the Mindo cloud forest are on the verge of extinction.

It is a place that you must include on any Ecuador itinerary.

Other than bird-watching, the other popular activity is visiting the waterfalls. There are hundreds of waterfalls in that area but there are 7 that are easily accessible and very rewarding.

If you want to know how to see the waterfalls in Mindo Ecuador, keep reading!

How to Get to Mindo From Quito

To get to Mindo you will have to take a bus from Terminal Norte in Quito, also known as Terminal de La Ofelia.

To get to the Terminal Norte (Terminal Ofelia), you can either take a taxi/Uber or take public Metro buses. The fare for the local metro buses is $.25 USD.

If you are on a budget, I highly suggest taking the metro buses. They are relatively safe and fast. Just make sure you keep an eye on your belongings.

An Uber/taxi to Terminal La Ofelia will cost a little less than 10 USD depending on where you are coming from.

At Terminal Norte(Ofelia), the company with the buses to Mindo is called Flor de Valle/Cayambe. If you cannot find it just ask at the counters.  

The trip to Mindo from Quito Ecuador is a little less than 2 hours. 

Should You Do Mindo As a Day Trip From Quito?

Many people do Mindo as a day trip from Quito. However, if you plan on doing more than one activity in Mindo, I would advise against it. 

But if you just intend on just doing seeing the 7 waterfalls, it is extremely doable as a day trip. You just have to get up early and return late in the evening. 

My personal recommendation is to stay in Mindo for one night. It is a small and peaceful town with many other activities such as zip-lining, rafting, cycling, bird-watching, butterfly garden, and much more.

What to Bring With You to Mindo Ecuador

Mindo Ecuador is located in the cloud forest. If you have been to a cloud forest before, you know how wet and rainy it can get. And the Mindo cloud forest is exactly the same.

We hiked for two hours in the rain when we visited the waterfalls. Sometimes the rain can last for hours in a cloud forest.

1. Rain poncho or raincoat – This is the first and most important thing you should bring with you. Keep yourself dry!

2. Insect Repellent – This one has Picaridin and is proven to be more effective than DEET.

3. Filtration Water Bottle – It will help you in dire circumstances. You are hiking to waterfalls so there are many places to fill up your bottle. 

4. Mud shoes – Or shoes that you are willing to sacrifice to the mud and water.

5. Food/Snack/Water – Pack accordingly to how much you need. You should carry around 1-2 L of water with you for your hike to the waterfalls.

How to See The Waterfalls in Mindo Ecuador

So you have finally arrived in Mindo after 2-hours of windy roads, how do you get to the waterfalls? 

The waterfalls are a little far out of town. You will need to take the cable car (tarabita) to get there. 

How to Get to the Tarabita in Mindo

There are two ways to get to the Tarabita (cable car) in Mindo. Assuming you are in the center of the town, you can either walk or take a cab.

Walking will take about 1.5 hours and the journey is almost entirely uphill. I don’t recommend this because you will be hiking more after you take the tarabita.

The cost for a cab will differ depending on how many people are with you. A ride to the tarabita cost me $2 when the cab was full in April 2019. The cab ride will take you about 20 minutes.

The tarabita (cable car) itself will cost you $5 USD for a round-trip. 

Which Route to Take to The Waterfalls

So you have taken the tarabita (cable car) to the other side of the forest. The guide should have given you a map that looks similar to the one above.

Now you have to decide if you want to see the 6 waterfalls first to the west and northwest, or the bigger one up in the east called waterfall Reina.

Waterfall Reina is definitely a must-go-to. It is absolutely amazing but it is also a 50-minute walk away. If there is one waterfall you see today, make it waterfall Reina. Waterfall Reina should be on everyone’s itinerary when backpacking Ecuador. It reminded me of the Giron waterfall near Cuenca.

But if you have time to see all of them, go to the smaller ones first, and then go to waterfall Reina. If you see waterfall Reina first, none of the rest will compare to it. 

Our Recommendation:

See waterfall Reina if you are short on time. Otherwise, see the other ones before you see Reina.

A little tip on the waterfalls. If you go to waterfall Nambilo (Cascada Nambilo), this is a waterfall you can jump off of. But to jump off waterfall Nambilo, you have to take another entrance that is not accessible through the tarabita (cable car).

Also, the last waterfall of the 6, Cascada de Los Maderos, requires you to cross a river. The water in the river can go up to your shins so it is recommended that you take your shoes off. However, the water level definitely depends on the rainfall Mindo has been getting recently. It wouldn’t surprise me if the river is crossable in the dry season.

If you see all the waterfalls, it will be around 3 hours of hiking

Where to Stay in Mindo Ecuador

Best Hostel in Mindo – Guesthouse Mindo

A cheap hostel that has all the basics amenities included. Guests can enjoy its beautiful sun terrace with a view of the city and a clean kitchen. The owner is extremely friendly and will help answer all your questions about Mindo. Private rooms are also available for an affordable price.

Click here for more details!

Best Cheap Hotel in Mindo – Mindo Green House

Mindo Green House is a beautiful hotel located just far enough from the center of town to give you that jungle vibe. The setting is beautiful and the rooms are amazing and at a reasonable price. 

Click here for more details!

Best Luxury Hotel in Mindo – Coffee Lodge & Spa

Coffee Lodge & Spa is one of the best luxury hotels in Mindo. Featuring a delicious buffet breakfast and amazing views of the lush scenery in Mindo, guests can enjoy the tranquility Mindo is known for. The garden is beautiful and well-planned that it attracts many different butterflies and birds there. The downside is that the hotel is a little far away from the center of town.

Click here for more details!

Like this post? Don’t forget to save it on Pinterest! 🙂

Mindo-Ecuador-Travel-Pinterest

How did you like the waterfalls in Mindo Ecuador? Waterfall Reina completely blew my mine. Which waterfall is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links. That means if you book or make a purchase through the links, we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! The money will help run this site! Thank you 🙂

Mindo-Ecuador-Travel-Pinterest
Cuenca Ecuador to Mancora Peru: Crossing the Border with Night Bus

Cuenca Ecuador to Mancora Peru: Crossing the Border with Night Bus

Border crossings are always extremely confusing, especially if you are backpacking or traveling in South America.

If you are ever traveling from Ecuador to Peru, you probably thought about going from Cuenca Ecuador to Mancora. It is one of the most convenient ways to cross the border between these two countries because there are night buses that run between the two cities.

In this guide, you will learn about the border crossing from Cuenca to Mancora by night bus, what time the buses depart, the whole immigration process, and what do you do once you arrive in Mancora!

Buying Your Bus Ticket and Selecting the Right Bus Company

The most difficult part of crossing the border from Cuenca to Mancora is making sure you have the proper night bus. That means buying your bus ticket from the right company at the correct time.

Luckily for you, this procedure is quite simple. 

As of 2019, the Terminal Terrestre of Cuenca (or the main bus terminal) has 2 companies offering night buses from Cuenca to Mancora. They both depart at 9:30 PM, “Ecuadorian time”, meaning give or take half an hour. Always arrive half an hour early to be safe. My 9:30 PM bus actually left 30 minutes early that night!

I took the cheaper bus that cost $20 USD while the other one cost $22 USD. The cheaper bus that I took was one of the most comfortable buses I have ever taken and they also provided a small meal on board, as most buses do in Peru.

In Terminal Terrestra, there is an information center with a reception that speaks English! I recommend you to go a day before or the morning of to ask him about the bus situation from Cuenca to Mancora. Purchase your ticket ahead of time!  

The Night Bus Journey From Cuenca to Mancora

In comparison to the buses in Ecuador, the night bus from Cuenca to Mancora will be much better in quality and comfort, but not security. Be aware of your belongings, keep your valuables with you and don’t put your bag underneath your seat or near the top. If you have a big bag with you, you can store that underneath the bus but make sure you have a padlock on it. For that reason, I always travel with 2 combination locks

The buses departed Cuenca at around 9:30 PM and arrived at the Ecuador border at around 1:00 AM. 

Immigration Process at the Border

The immigration process at the border was one of the smoothest I have ever had. The bus drops you off at a small little building that contains both the immigration officers from Ecuador and Peru. Everything was smooth, no specific questions were asked, no vaccines were needed. 

The Peruvian officer will ask you how many days you plan on staying in Peru. You can get up to 90 days for free but if you tell them you are here for 2 weeks only, the officer will only give you 2 weeks! Always say a little more than intended just in case, especially if you are backpacking Peru!

After getting through the immigration process, you will walk about 200m to the parking lot on the Peruvian side. Don’t be shocked on your walk because you will see many Venezuelans sleeping on the sides on your way.

Arriving in Mancora

You will arrive in Mancora at around 5:00 AM. It is still dark and the moment you arrive, you will be bombarded by tuk-tuk drivers trying to make a quick buck off of uninformed tourists. 

The tuk tuk drivers will tell you that Mancora is dangerous and you should not walk in the dark. Mancora is definitely not the safest city but usually, nothing happens. If you are traveling with someone else, it will be much safer to walk to your accommodation. Besides, the sun will rise and it will be a magical first impression of Peru! 

If you decide to take the tuk-tuk, please bargain. The ride to your accommodation from where you are dropped off should cost around 5 Peruvian soles or 1.5 USD. 

There is also an ATM close to where you are dropped off for anyone that wants to take out some Peruvian soles. 

Where To Stay in Mancora

Best Hostel in Mancora – Psygon Surf Camp

Psygon Surf Camp is a chill and social hostel in Mancora with a little bit of a party scene at night, though not as much as Loki. Featuring amazing amenities for its price such as an on-site gym, a bar, and free breakfast. The beach is just 100m away!

Click here for more details!

Best Cheap Hotel in Mancora – The Point

The Point is my favorite accommodation in Mancora. Why? Because of its perfect located right on the beach. It has an amazing atmosphere and simple decor as well as the perfect balance between partying and a good night’s rest. I highly recommend The Point.

Click here for more details! 

Best Luxury Hotel in Mancora – Suite Del Mar

Suites Del Mar is probably the most beautiful hotel in all of Mancora. Everything from the private outdoor swimming pools to the rooms is perfect. This is the place for a perfect relaxing beach vacation (or honeymoon)!

Click here for more details!

Like this post? Don’t forget to save it on Pinterest! 🙂

Cuenca-Ecuador-to-Mancora-Peru-Pinterest

I hope this guide about the border crossing from Cuenca to Mancora with the night bus answers all the questions you have! If you have any more questions, feel free to leave a comment below!

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links. That means if you book or make a purchase through the links, we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! The money will help run this site! Thank you 🙂

Cuenca-Ecuador-to-Mancora-Peru-Pinterest