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You are here:5.1.1 Cajas National Park

5.1.1 Cajas National Park

The 28,544 hectare state run Cajas National Park comprehends vast expanses of Páramo Grasslands and some Temperate Forest that can be visited from Cuenca in an easy single day visit. The most accessible areas from Cuenca are along the Cuenca-Molleturo-Naranjal Highway which bisects the park and permits access to the sectors of the Lagoons Llaviucu, Toreadora and Illincocha. The park ranger services has identified some 235 lakes in the park, many of them providing a great amount of drinking water for Cuenca city. The elevation range along the birding areas are between 3150 to 4020 meters. This national park is the best place to look for the Ecuadorian endemic Violet-throated Metaltail.

 

Habitat.

Andean Montane Scrub, Grassland Páramo and Temperate Forest.

Logistics.

Cajas National Park

The Cajas NP is located only to a 45 minutes drive away from Cuenca and the site can be accessed yearround with any kind of vehicle. If you are planning to visit the Llaviucu Lake inside the park a high clearance vehicle is recommended.

There is plenty bus transportation connecting the cities of Cuenca and Naranjal and many other cities in the western lowlands including Guayaquil and Machala. The bus terminal of Cuenca City is located on the intersection of Avenues España and Héroes de Verd close to Cuenca’s airport. Should you take the bus to Cajas you will be able to visit all the areas described in this section but the Llaviucu Lake and its surrounding forest unless you are willing to walk the 3.2 km round trip from the highway to the lake. Cajas is so close to Cuenca that hiring a taxi or a pickup truck would not be expensive.

The entrance fee is US $ 10 per person for foreigners, US $ 2 for Ecuadorian residents and US $ 1 for Ecuadorian children under 12 years old.

If your trip is organized throughout a tourism/birding company or if your group size is bigger than 7 persons you will have to hire a certified guide for the Cajas National Park from any of the certified Cuenca’s tour companies.

 

Birding.

Cajas National Park

The Cuenca-Molletura-Naranjal starts in Cuenca at the roundabout where Avenues Ordoñes Lazo and Gran Colombia intersects the four-lens De las Américas Highway in the Southwest side of the city. This is our point of reference 0.0 km.

(Click here to download Map. Cajas National Park)

Take the Avenue Ordoñes Lazo heading west and leaving the city. Drive for 6.3 km and at this point you will arrive to the Cuenca-Molleturo-Naranjal Highway. Take the highway toward west and drive for further 6.4 km or 12.7 km from Cuenca. At this point there is an obscure dirt road exiting the highway on your left. This gravel road is signed to Llaviucu Lake. Take the Llaviuvu Lake road and reset your odometer to 0.0 km for future references. The parking place inside the park close to the lake is 1.6 km from the highway. You can pay your entrance fee if you have not visited the higher elevation areas before.

At a short distance after leaving the highway you will cross a bridge where you should look for White-capped Dipper. The pasture fields along the way might also produce Chiguanco Thrush. From the parking lot take the narrow road heading to the lake. As you walk down and at a short distance from the parking place there is trail entering the forest. The forest trail goes through tall second-growth and after crossing a bridge the trail continues through a beautiful, mature and tall forest. Once the trail leaves the forest and gets close to the edge, it continues along the lake shore though second-growth and open grassland looping around the lake. I suggest taking this trail until the place where big boulders forced the rangers to build a thatched board walk. This boardwalk allows great views of the lake shore down bellow. This is a good place to look for Ecuadorian Rail which might walk across gaps in the reeds. The lake itself is a good place for Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Ruddy-Duck, Andean Coot and Grass Wren along the reeds. The Black-crowned Night-Heron can be seen here at one of the highest elevation records in Ecuador.

The inside forest walk might produce Undulated and Rufous Antpittas, Blackish Tapaculo, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, Mountain Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren and Stripe-headed Brush-Finch.

Anywhere in the forest and especially along the forest edges look for bird flocks and specialties like Andean Guan, Andean Pygmy-Owl, Shining Sunbeam, Mountain Velvetbreast, Great Sapphirewing, Rainbow Starfrontlet, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Purple-throated Sunangel, Purple-backed Thornbill, Viridian Metaltail, Masked Trogon, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, White-browed Spinetail, Line-checked Spinetail, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, White-throated Tyrannulet, White-banded Tyrannulet, Red-crested Cotinga, Turquoise Jay, Spectacled Whitestart, Blue-and-black Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, Golden-crowned Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Black-headed Hemispingus and Northern Rufous-naped Brush-Finch.

Return back to the Cuenca-Molleturo-Naranjal Highway and from the entrance to Llaviucu Lake road continue for further 8.6 km or 21.3 km from Cuenca. At this point there is road cut on the right side. You can park here and walk for a short distance looking for Azara's Spinetail, Mouse-colored Thistletail, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant and Hooded Siskin.  Continue up the hill for another 3.5 km, or 24.8 km from Cuenca. Here you will find the national park entrance and a toll booth. This area is known as “Las Quinuas”.  Pay your entrance fee and walk the surrounding habitat here, which might produce Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant and Páramo Pipit.

Drive up the park for 1.3 km more, or 26.1 km from Cuenca, and along the scrubby habitat along the section of the road with a couple of sharp switch backs, look for the endemic Violet-throated Metaltail and Andean Tit-Spinetail.  From here, along the road, look up for the Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, as the bird might be perched on the power lines.

Continue up for 4.8 km, or 30.9 km from Cuenca.  At this point you can see the drive way heading to the park ranger station and interpretive center on your right.

Behind the ranger station, there is the beginning of a trail that heads toward La Toreadora Lake.  This trail and passes by bushes and a stand of Polylepis trees.  La Toreadora Lake might produce the same waterfowl species as Llaviucu Lake.  The Andean Gull is fairly common at both lakes.  The bushes along the trail might produce: Andean Tit-Spinetail, Many-striped Canastero, Tawny Antpitta, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Grass Wren and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch.

The Polylepis stand may also produce Violet-throated Metaltail and Giant Conebill.

The short grassy vegetation near the lake is a good place to look for: Bar-winged Cinclodes, Stout-billed Cinclodes and Páramo Ground-Tyrant.

Return to the highway and drive another 0.9 km, or 31.8 km from Cuenca. At this point you will see an obscure dirt road heading to the left.  Be careful when parking, as it can be dangerous due to speeding vehicles on this road.  Enter this side road and park.   This dirt road continues for a short distance until ending right between the Illincocha Lake and a big house with Polylepis trees in the back.

The forest patch behind the house and the surrounding bushes is the best place to look for Tit-like Dacnis.  The orange flowers of Chuquiraga jussieui, or Chuquiragua bushes, on the hillside to the right of the house are a good place to look for the Ecuadorian Hillstar.  At times Violet-throated Metaltail, Blue-mantled and Rainbow-bearded Thornbills can also be seen here.

Returning back to the highway and driving up for 2.8 km, or 34.6 km from Cuenca, you will be crossing over the ´Tres Cruces” pass.   Continue driving down the road for 4.7 km, or 39.3 km from Cuenca.  Here you will arrive at the national park check point.  This area is known as “Huagrahuma”.   Make sure to show your tickets, and let the guard know you will be returning in a short while.  Drive another 0.8 km, or 41.1 km from Cuenca.  Here you will find a fairly large tract of Polylepis Forest on both sides of the road.  This forest stretches out for 0.6 km, or 41.7 km from Cuenca. This forest patch might be the best opportunity to see the rare and local Giant Conebill. While in the grassland Páramo do not forget to search the sky to look for Andean Condor.

The Cuenca-Molleturo-Naranjal is probably the best way to access the coastal lowlands from Cuenca.  If you continue driving for around 74 km or 115 km from Cuenca you will arrive at Naranjal.  From this point you can continue north to Guayaquil or South to Machala.

 

Birds to look for

Cajas National Park

Grasslands (G), Second-growth (2G), Stunted  Forest (SF), Forest (F), Rivers (R), Lakes (L).

Common: Yellow-billed Pintail (L), Andean Teal   (L), Andean Ruddy-Duck (L), Andean Coot (L), Shining Sunbeam (SF,F), Tyrian Metaltail (2G), Blackish Tapaculo (F,SF,2G), Pearled Treerunner (2G,F),   White-banded Tyrannulet (2G,G),   White-throated Tyrannulet (2G,F),   Grass Wren (2G,G), Black-crested   Warbler (2G), Spectacled   Whitestart (2G,F), Glossy   Flowerpiercer (2G,F,SF),   Blue-backed Conebill (2G,F), Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager (2G,F),   Northern Rufous-naped Brush-Finch (2G), Plain-colored Seedeater (2G,G), Plumbeous Sierra-Finch (G).

Uncommon: Black-crowned  Night-Heron (L), Andean Condor, Carunculated   Caracara (G), Andean Lapwing (G), Ecuadorian Rail   (L), Andean Gull    (G,L), Andean Guan (F), Rainbow Starfrontlet(2G,F),   Purple-throated Sunangel(2G,F), Great Sapphirewing (2G,F), Ecuadorian   Hillstar (G),  Blue-mantled Thornbill (G), Sword-billed Hummingbird (2G,F), Purple-backed   Thornbill (2G,F), Mountain Velvetbreast (F),   Violet-throated   Metaltail (SF),   Masked Trogon (F), Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan(F), Crimson-mantled Woodpecker(F), Bar-bellied   Woodpecker (F), Mouse-colored Thistletail (2G,SF),   Many-striped Canastero(G),White-browed   Spinetail (F), Line-checked Spinetail (2G,F),   Andean Tit-Spinetail (2G,SF), Streaked Tuftedcheek(F),   Rufous Antpitta (F), Tawny   Antpitta (2G,G), Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet (2G,F),   Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant (2G,F),   Crowned Chat-Tyrant (F), Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant(G,L),Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant(G), Páramo Groud-Tyrant (G), Red-crested Cotinga (2G,F),   Turquoise Jay (F),   Mountain Wren (2G,F),    White-capped Dipper (R),   Citrine Warbler (2G,F),   Superciliaried Hemispingus (F),   Black-capped Hemispingus (2G,F),   Blue-backed Conebill (2G,F),   Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager (2G,F),   Golden-crowned Tanager (SF,2G),   Blue-and-black Tanager (2G,F),    Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager (2G, F), Tit-like   Dacnis(F),   Plushcap (2G,F),   Southern Yellow-Grosbeak (2G), Stripe-headed   Brush-Finch (2G,F).   

Rare: Andean   Pygmy-Owl (F), Rainbow-bearded Thornbill (G,SF), Undulated Antpitta (F), Black-headed Hemispingus   (F), Giant Conebill (F), Paramo Seedeater (2G,F).

Copyright © 2010 by Lelis Navarrete

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Meet the Author

Lelis Navarrete – Birding tour leader. Lelis has 19 years of experience as a birding guide and naturalist in the field. He has led groups of birders throughout most of Latin America, guiding frequently in countries like his native country of Ecuador and in the Galapagos Islands, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Panama. A Biology B.Sc. graduate from Universidad Católica in Quito, Lelis has supported Jocotoco Foundation since its founding in 1998 and was an active Board Member until 2010 supporting Ecuadorian bird and wildlife conservation. Lelis divides his time between his two great passions in life: birding and spending time with his wife Solange and son Fabian with whom he lives in Quito.

 

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