Laguna Llaviucu is situated in the lower part of Cajas National Park, at an altitude of 3160m. It is the control point nearest to Cuenca, only around 17km away from the city.
On the day tour to Cajas National Park that I went on the first stop we made was at Laguna Llaviucu. If it is not too wet you usually follow the trail around the whole lake, but as it had been raining for two weeks prior to our visit we could not walk all way around but only walked half around the lake and then back the same way we came. We turned around at a boardwalk and from there we had a beautiful view of the lake and mountains surrounding it. The big building we could see on the other side of the lake is an old brewery. The landscape is different in this part than higher up in the national park, and the trail passes through a humid cloud forest where many bird species can be seen. On our way back we saw several birds, a hummingbird, a big hawk, a toucan (it was high up in the tree top and difficult to see) and both the male and female of a bird which I thought was called Picocona Gigante. That is at least what I wrote in my notebook, but searching on Internet I can’t find any bird with that name. There are two photos of it one of my travelogues. It is the bird with a red breast. So, if anyone know what it is called please let me know.
The walk at Laguna Llaviucu took less than an hour.
Our second stop on the tour to Cajas National Park was at Tres Cruses. Tres Cruses is situated at an altitud of 4167m, and this is where the road crosses the continental divide, on one side of the pass the water drain into the Pacific Ocean and on the other side the water drain into the Atlantic. We just stayed for 10 minutes, taking some photos of the beautiful view from here.
In old times many people died crossing this area because of cold climate. The legend says that every wanderer should pray Our Father over the souls of the dead, and place a stone by the crosses. In that way they would be protected.
After visiting Tres Cruces we went back to the minibus and drove back down the road, but only for a few minutes. We were dropped by a path where we started the hike towards Toreadora. It was muddy at some places so it was good to have the rubber boots. It was a beautiful landscape with the mountains, lakes and páramo vegetation . We passed Chica Toreadora and continued to Laguna Toreadora. From Laguna Toreadora we walked uphill and further away from the lake, to Bosque Quinoa. In Bosque Quinoa it looked totally different with the twisted Quinua trees (Polylepis). They are also called “paper trees” because of their paper like bark. The forests of Quinua trees can be found above 3300m and the trees of the Polylepis species are among the most high altitude-growing trees in the world. After a short visit in Bosque Quinoa we walked the same way back to Laguna Toreadora and then up to the visitor centre which is situated there. The hike had taken around 2h and we had really been lucky with sunny weather all the day.
The visitor centre at Toreadora is situated at an altitude of 3979m and it is open every day between 8.00 - 16.30. It is just next to the Cuenca - Guayaquil road, so it is easy to come here with any bus passing by.
After visiting Cajas National Park we drove down to the valley where we had a late lunch at Hosteria Dos Chorreras. Lunch was included in the price of the tour and we all got a soup, Locro de Papas, as a starter and then trout with yucca and some vegetables. We could choose if we wanted to have fried or steamed trout. I chose the steamed trout and it tasted very good. While waiting for the food we were served a canelazo (a hot alcoholic drink with added sugar, cinnamon and lemon), but no other drink was included. The fresh fruit juices were $2.50 and I ordered a jugo de naranjilla (passion fruit).
Hosteria Dos Chorreras is a lodge situated below Cajas National Park, only 20 minutes from Cuenca. It looks like a lovely place to stay in, but too expensive for me. They offer activities like rainbow trout fishing, kayaking, horseback riding and hiking.
I decided to go on an organised daytrip to Cajas National Park from Cuenca. It is possible to take a public bus to some visitor sites in the park (the Cuenca - Guayaquil road passes through the area), but as I didn’t have a good map and I knew that it is often wet and foggy in the national park, with low visibility , I thought it was better to go with a guide and a group if I wanted to do some hiking.
I had read good recommendations about Expediciones Apullacta before coming to Cuenca, and as they were situated in the building opposite the hotel where I stayed I went there to book the tour, one day ahead. The daytrip was $40 (July 2011).
I was picked up at the hotel at 8 in the morning and then we went to pick up some other tourists. We were 10 tourists in the group in total. Before leaving Cuenca we went to pick up rubber-boots for everyone as it was very wet along the paths in the national park. Our guide, Martin, told us we were very lucky with the weather as every day during the last two weeks had been rainy and foggy, but this day was sunny with blue sky. Yes, we were lucky, it was a very nice day!
Our first stop was at Laguna Llaviucu where we did a walk along the shores of the lake for about 40 minutes. Then we drove higher up in the park to the viewpoint at Tres Cruces. From there we drove back down for a few minutes and were then dropped at the beginning of a path . We hiked along the path to Laguna Toreadora and Bosque Quinoa, a hike taking around 2h. From Toreadora we drove down to a restaurant in the valley where we got trout for lunch, a late lunch. We were back in Cuenca around 5 o’clock.