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Hiking in Ecuador: Cajas National Park, Galapagos (Photos / Videos)

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Ecuador has hundreds of beautiful hikes. Hiking in Ecuador draws thousands of adventurers every year. In this post, you’ll learn about hiking in the Andes of Ecuador – including the Cajas National Park, and a mountain with a spectacular view of Cuenca. And hiking in the Galapagos Islands.

Hiking Cajas National Park, Cuenca Ecuador

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.

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.

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.
Here is a hike we did on another day. This is the mountain you can see behind Baños (above Cuenca). 

Taking a Hike in the Andes of Ecuador (Above Cuenca)

I love the mountains surrounding Cuenca. They are so beautiful, partly because they are covered in patchy green fields and shapely forested areas, and partly because they always look different.

Mountain Hike Ecuador
The light plays off them in so many different ways.  Depending on the time of day, location and color of clouds, or lack of clouds, mist, haze, rain, lightning, sunbeams, sun patches… 

There are so many variations of these, and other weather patterns that you get a different show every day.

Hiking Ecuador’s Andes Mountains

Mountains near Cuenca
Andes Mountain Hike
Ecuador Mountain Hike
Ecuador hiking
There is one mountain in particular that we call “our mountain” because we see it every day.  Often one of us will say “quick, come look at our mountain” because it looks so beautiful we just have to share it with the family. 

We all rush to the window and remark at its beauty, a minute later that moment is passed and it looks different again.

When I see the mountains I get a feeling of freedom, wide open spaces and adventure.  Needless to say we had to get a closer look at “our mountain”, so one day we asked some friends to hike it with us. We really enjoyed the day, and we plan to hike it again soon.

Hiking Down the Andes (Cuenca in the Background)

hiking the Andes Mountains
descending the Andes
Mountain Hike Ecuador
Mountain Hike
The scenery was so beautiful that it would be extremely hard to put into words, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking. I hope you enjoy our mountain near Cuenca, Ecuador.

One of my favorite things about Ecuador is the natural beauty of the Andes mountains. Shortly after we moved to Cuenca we got together with some friends and went for a hike in the mountains.

Hiking the Ecuador AndesThe higher up we went the more breathtaking the scenery was. We could see the city of Cuenca spread out before us, it was amazing! Looking up at the mountains is always enjoyable, but getting up there and looking down is an entirely different kind of beautiful.

Hiking in Cuenca Ecuador

I hope you’ll enjoy the scenery in this slideshow. It starts off with a look at part of the mountain we were about to climb and of the path beside a yellow house where we started out. Then it shows views from the mountain and some landscape shots of the mountain itself.


Hiking the Andes in Ecuador

Cuenca Andes Hike

Gringos: Please Don’t Hike Alone

If you decide to go for a hike like we did please make sure you have some local Ecuadorian friends along who know the area and the language. The friends we went with grew up in the area and played there as children.

As we hiked we crossed land owned by various people and our friends were able to explain that we were just on a hike and were not going to cause any damage. They were also able to ask for directions so that we didn’t get off course and waste energy. It could be dangerous to go hiking in the mountains without this kind of help.

Have you hiked in the Andes mountains? 

We Hiked an Active Volcano: Sierra Negra, Galapagos Islands

Ever thought about hiking an active volcano? Sound crazy? If someone had told me a few years ago that I would be hiking active volcanoes in Ecuador, I would have laughed and said “nope, not me!”

But that’s exactly what I did – and it was spectacular.

hike active volcano galapagos

I Hiked an Active Galapagos Volcano

While traveling the Galapagos we hiked Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico in the same day! It was a beautiful, clear day. Note: while Volcan Chico seems like it’s own volcano (as its name suggests) it’s actually considered just a fissure of some parasitic cones.

It isn’t considered a volcano – just an offshoot of the much larger Sierra Negra.

The hike itself was not challenging (no steep climbing) and the group traveled at a nice speed. But it was long, so some people opted to wait while the rest of the group hiked on to Volcan Chico.

hiking volcanoes galapagos
We saw lots of interesting plants, flowers and trees. We also saw some other explorers, on horseback.

At times the trail hugged the cliff sides. There was a barrier of trees and bushes – but if you take young kids along (as we did) you’ll need to keep a close eye on them.

Spectacular Views at Sierra Negra

We hiked a path through fields and woods until we came to Sierra Negra. It has the second largest caldera in the world! It measures 7.2 km x 9.3 km.

caldera sierra negra
gopro sierra negra galapagos
The view was breathtaking. It was one of those things you just have to see. Pictures can not do it justice.

The wide-angle GoPro camera captures it better than a normal DSLR, but still, it’s so much more spectacular than the pictures can capture.

It was amazing to see how huge the caldera is! And it was beautiful; the blue sky, the green treeline, and the black volcanic rock. It looked like something out of a movie or nature documentary, not something I thought I would ever see with my own eyes.

Unique Landscape of Volcan Chico

After reaching Sierra Negra, we hiked a little farther along and had lunch in the shade under a big tree, then we pressed on to Volcan Chico.

lunch spot volcan chico galapagos
Volcan Chico was like nothing I had seen before. It really looked like we were walking on the moon.

Unlike Sierra Negra, you can hike across Volcan Chico, so you can actually walk on the volcanic rock! It made a tinkling sound as we walked on it, so cool!

volcan chico galapagos ecuador
at volcan chico galapagos
We saw lava tubes snaking their way across the top of the landscape, and deep holes where the lava had burst through the earth.

We also held our hand at the mouth of a hot air vent! So strange to feel hot air escaping from far beneath the ground.

lava tube volcan chico galapagos
The colors of the landscape were also unique. So many shades of black, brown, gray, and burnt-orange.

The sides of some of the lava vents had a rainbow pattern.

rainbow pattern volcan chico galapagos
volcanic landscape volcan chico
black volcanic rock volcan chico
texture volcan chico galapagos
Beyond the barren landscape of the volcano, we could see the ocean: the contrast was beautiful!

After a busy day of volcano hiking, we relaxed on the beach in front of the Isabela Lodge and watched this sunset.

Hiking Galapagos Volcanoes, An Amazing Travel Experience!

Seeing and hiking across those volcanoes made me think about the power and energy locked up beneath our feet.

Before that experience, I never thought I would want to be anywhere near a volcano – let alone hike across one. But I’m so glad that I didn’t let what was an unreasonable fear, stop me!

sierra negra ecuador galapagos

Learn more about all 105 volcanoes in Galapagos and Ecuador.

If those volcanoes ever erupt again, I’ll be like “Wow, I walked across that, woot, woot!” and feel a whole lot more adventurous :). (Our guide told us that he led the last tour up the volcano before it erupted in 2005.)

(If you liked this post, please share it with your friends.)

Have you ever hiked a volcano? Do you think you ever will? Please share your thoughts by commenting on this post.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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…’,..

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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,

  11. 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

  12. 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.

    1. 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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