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Ecuador / South America

Underrated Cajas National Park Trails | Beautiful Laguna Llaviucu Loop

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Cajas National Park is a fabulous sprawling park and recreation area that is close to Cuenca Ecuador. This national park and unique landscape stretches over 70,000 protected acres, boasts 786 bodies of waters, is home to peculiar Polylepis forests, caves, and offers a plethora of Cajas National Park trails to hike. While most visitors head further up the mountain to explore the popular Laguna Toreador Visitor Center, the first entrance of El Cajas National Park is found at Laguna Llaviucu. This is the closest entry point from Cuenca.

The alpine lake of Llaviucu is the lowest lagoon in the entire park (close to 10,365 ft, 3,160 m), yet visiting this place as a day trip is just as worthwhile. While it doesn’t offer the same paramo landscape that the higher altitude of the park does, it offers a tranquil day hike on a fun trail. Pass by a large herd of alpacas, an abandoned brewery, and gaze upon the beautiful scenery and keep your eyes peeled for birds. Locals can be seen here taking wedding photos, fishing in the river, appreciating the quiet of nature, or simply enjoying a picnic on those rare, but perfect sunny days.

The Llaviucu Lagoon Loop trail is a relaxing and enjoyable day trip from Cuenca. If unsure about the Cajas National Park altitude, which can reach higher than 14,000 ft, you may feel more comfortable visiting and hiking at this lower altitude section of the park.

A Cajas National Park day trip is a nice way to spend the day connecting with nature outside the colonial city of Cuenca Ecuador.

Here is all you need to know on how to reach and enjoy one of the more underrated Cajas National Park trails, the lovely Llaviucu Lagoon loop.

Table of Contents

Disclosure: This is part of my Hikes & Adventures series, which means these treks can be strenuous and challenging. I have personally done each of these hikes, but it does not make me an expert by any means. Please have all the proper equipment, verify the weather conditions, and take into consideration your own physical abilities and/or limitations. Please see my full disclosure for more information here.

Cuenca to Cajas National Park | How to Get to Llaviucu Lagoon

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The trailhead to Laguna Llaviucu is almost 1.75 miles from the main road

There are multiple ways to get to Cajas National Park. The most popular is via joining an El Cajas National Park tour. There are multiple companies offering day trips to different sections of the park. Another way to reach the park is by taxi. If going by taxi, they can drop you right at the trailhead and wait while you hike around the lake.

While an organized tour is convenient, it’s quite easy to reach the Cajas via public bus. There are two options for public transportation buses.

Terminal Terrestre Cuenca Ecuador

The best way to visit Cajas National Park from Cuenca Ecuador is to take one of the frequent buses en-route to Guayaquil. There are two roads to reach Guayaquil, so just verify that the bus will pass by Parque Nacional El Cajas. The two primary companies that depart from Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre are Atrain Alianza and Super Semeria. Simply tell the driver where you wish to exit. Laguna Llaviucu, Laguna Toreadora, or Tres Cruces are the three main exit options.

Always check in the terminal before planning a visit as this section of road can oftentimes be shut down due to rockslides and road closures.

 🚌 Cuenca to Cajas National Park by Atrain Alianza Buses Find them near terminal 1 in the Terminal Terrestre Cuenca, main entrance way | Buses run: frequently all day from 1:30 – 23:59 | One way bus ticket cost: $3 | Duration: 1 hour 10 minutes | Facebook Page

Terminal Interparroquial El Arenal

There is another option to reach the Cajas National Park if the road is closed due to heavy rains and rockslides.

There are buses that depart from Cuenca to Cajas National Park next to the El Arenal Bus Terminal and the busy Feria Libre Market. This bus terminal is simply behind the El Arenal Main Bus Terminal and is officially called Terminal Interparroquial El Arenal.

There are small local buses that will at least pass by Laguna Llaviucu. Oftentimes these buses will head further into the National Park. Always ask before boarding. Also, tell the driver you wish to exit at Llaviucu Lake and confirm what time the buses pass by to head back to Cuenca.

 🚌 Cuenca to Cajas National Park by Local Green Buses Find them near el Arenal here | Buses currently depart at: 6:10, 10:20, 13:05 | One way bus ticket cost: $2.50 | Duration to Laguna Llaviucu: 40 minutes | Verify what time the bus will pass by your destination for pick up

How to Reach the Llaviucu Lake Trailhead

Whichever bus you take, they will drop you at the main road. To reach the Laguna Llaviucu loop trail, follow the main road to the Visitor Center. This is a 1.75 mile road made from stones that passes by the river via wooden bridges and has multiple viewpoints. It’s scenic and takes around 30 – 40 minutes to reach the Visitor Center.

There is no Cajas National Park entrance fee, but you will have to register. All you need is your name and age. It’s more of a booth than an actual Visitor Center facility.

Cajas National Park Ecuador | Visitor’s Center at Laguna Llaviucu: register here | While you have to sign-in, it’s not necessary to sign-out | Park Hours: Daily, 8:00 – 16:30

Remember there is another Visitor’s Center up the road at Laguna Toreadora.

What to Pack for This Cajas National Park Day Trip

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The Laguna Llaviucu Visitor Center is simply a small covered building to register your information
  • Good hiking shoes, expect extra muddy trails during rainy season, January – May.
  • The weather can change in an instant at this altitude, so always bring layered quick dry clothing.
  • Pack a rain jacket, gloves and a hat. An extra pair of socks always comes in handy, long sleeves and pants for sun protection.
  • Plenty of water & snacks, or a picnic
  • Hiking poles if you love them
  • Bird watchers may wish to have a small pair of binoculars
  • Hat, sunscreen, bug spray
  • I always carry a first-aid kit, an extra device battery charger, and a water filter

Hey… don’t forget your Travel Insurance! I love SafetyWing

Cajas National Park Day Trip | Llaviucu Lake Loop

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Worthwhile Cajas National Park trails: Sendero Llaviucu

The Laguna Llaviucu trail is a fabulous Cajas National Park day trip. Once you register, head on the trail that loops around the lake. There will be a shelter house, I suggest following the trail straight and heading to the abandoned building first, so as to save the best part of the trail for last!

This trail is mostly flat and well marked. There are wooden bridges and walkways that allow easy passage along the hiking trail.

🥾 Hiking Guide Sendero Llaviucu Trail | Alternative Name: Sendero Uku | Distance: 2.25 miles | Duration: +/ – 2 hours | Personal Note: I walked to and from the trailhead from the main road, 5.5 miles in total, 4 hours

Since this is one of the more relaxing Cajas National Park trails, expect to spend 3- 4 hour here, especially on a sunny day!

Antigua Cervecería

Head in the direction oof the Antigua Cerveceria, or the Old Brewery. Supposedly, this was a bottling plant build by the Germans that was later abandoned around WWII. It’s not possible to walk through the ruins, but there are great photos opportunities from the exterior.

If you walk away from the loop trail, there is another path that allows some great photos of the free range herd of alpacas. This path connects to more Cajas National Park trails that lie deeper into the park and leads to ideal camping spots along some of the bigger Cajas alpine lakes.

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Follow the trail next to the brewery to see the shaggy alpaca chilling in the fields

I am told there is a mirador trail near the abandoned brewery, but I was all about relaxing and enjoying the sunshine, so I didn’t attempt to seek it.

Get back on the main loop trail and head to the nearby wooden bridge.

Bridge Near Stream

The wooden bridge is the perfect place to relax and rest. The grass is maintained and find a peaceful stream that feeds into Lagoon Llaviucu. Here, find locals fishing for trucha, or trout. This water actually supplies the drinking water for Cuenca.

This a great place to enjoy a picnic, savor the views, read a book, or talk with fellow hikers.

When ready, continue on the path.

Magical Forest Trail

This is the magical and one of the best sections of the loop trail. Follow along the wooden planks and enter deeper into the lush forest. There are signboard that introduce the path. The first one explains that much of this area is in restoration, and the plain like fields you passed by are actually due to deforestation and clearing the forst for livestock.

Follow along the covered wooden plank board. The views of the Cajas lowest lake, Llaviucu are incredible.

At the end, you’ll loop back to the cabin where you can continue to enjoy the park or prepare to exit near the visitor gate.

How to Return to Cuenca Ecuador

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Follow out the same road you took in to catch the bus to Cuenca Ecuador

Leave the Laguna Llaviucu Visitor Center, and prepare for the walk back to the main road. You won’t be asked to sign out.

At the main road, flag down one of the buses heading back to Cuenca. If they are not running due to landslides or blockages, wait for the small green local buses that pass by only a few times a day.

 🚌 Laguna Llaviucu to Cuenca Ecuador by Local Green Buses | Buses currently depart from the road to Cuenca at: 16:00, 17:00 | Arrive early and be prepared to wait, and always verify the bus time with the driver once you exit | One way bus ticket cost: $2.50 | Duration: 40 minutes

If you feel comfortable, it is possible to hitchhike back into Cuenca. Always trust your gut and instincts. Personally, I have hitched a ride from the Cajas to Cuenca.

Sometimes by chance there are random taxi’s passing by, but don’t count or rely on this option.

More Worthwhile Cajas National Park Trails

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There are more Cajas National Park trails to explore near Laguna Toreadora

While the Laguna Llaviucu loop is a tranquil day hike, there are more Cajas National Park trails to explore. A little over 10 miles up the road is the popular Laguna Toreadora Visitor Center. There are a few different routes you can hike here, like the easy loop around the lake. Finally, deeper into the park, find the highest altitude of Cajas National Park, Cerro Paraguillas at 4,400 meters!

Parque Nacional Cajas is massive and it is impossible to cover and enjoy all sections of the park in one day, even with a car. Choose an area that most interests you and spend the entire day there. If you have more than one day to visit the Cajas, perfect… you should!

If looking for a place to stay in the Cajas, try the popular Hosteria Dos Chorreras, which conveniently sits between Laguna Llaviucu and Laguna Toreadora.

Cajas National Park Trails | Ruta 1

One of my favorite Cajas National Park trails is Route 1. This popular and moderate trail starts from at Laguna Toreadora where it veers to the right. This hiking trail is diverse and I highly recommend it to get a taste of hiking Cajas National Park. The trail passes by stunning alpine lakes, twists through an out of this world Polylepis tree forest, which are unique to the high altitude Andes, includes a stop at a cave, and boasts the unique landscape of the high altitude paramo.

🥾 Detailed Ecuador Hiking Guide | Visit the Otherworldly Cajas National Park

💬 Real Talk | Plan for this trail to take +/- 3 hours, extra time for those who are not use to hiking in high altitude

Cajas National Park Trails | Tres Cruces

Another popular point of interest in Parque Nacional el Cajas Tres Cruces, or the three crosses viewpoint. The main road actually crosses the Ecuador Continental Divide. The Continental Divide at Tres Cruces is where the water to the west of the Andes flows to the Pacific Ocean, while the water to the east of the Andes drains into the Atlantic Ocean. It can be seen here, at an altitude of just under 14,000 ft!

If you want to experience one of the highest Cajas National Park trails, take the hike up to Cerro Paragüillas. This path is around 1.5 miles and takes about 1 hour to reach the peak at nearly 14,435 feet!

Additional Day Trips from Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca Ecuador is an incredible UNESCO World Heritage City and boasts bustling markets, charming cobblestone streets, a unique and fun food scene, and let’s not forget all the incredible day trips from Cuenca that are easy to discover without a tour!

After visiting Cajas National Park, relax in the curative waters of Baños de Cuenca. There are a wide range of hot springs ranging from local baths to higher end luxury spas only a few miles from the historical center of Cuenca.

Fancy another hike? Visit the small village of Giron Ecuador to appreciate El Chorro Waterfall. For an intrepid adventure, take the scenic trail up to the second tier of the towering Giron Waterfall in a cloud forest.

Visit the largest Inca ruins at Ingapirca Archaeological Complex. This fascinating site was originally home to the Cañari civilization and then incorporated by the Incas into their Empire. Another small ruin site can be found in the small village of Cojitambo, which has a nice hiking path and killer views of the fertile valley.

For a truly authentic experience, head to the artisan villages just outside of Cuenca. The three most popular include: Gualaceo, Chordeleg, SigSig. Each village boasts natural wonders, bustling markets, and handmade goods from specialty items such as macanas, which is like a scarf to intricate jewelry.

➯ Detailed Ecuador Travel Guide | 10+ Stellar Day Trips to Discover from Cuenca Ecuador

Cajas National Park Day Trip | Laguna Llaviucu

In short, visit Laguna Llaviucu to experience a fantastic Cajas National Park day trip. This tranquil loop hiking path is one of the more underrated Cajas National Park trails and still one of the best!

It’s easy to visit this lake as day trip from Cuenca Ecuador without a tour. While there are many Cajas National Park trails, this is a spectacular place to walk in nature, appreciate the views, pack a picnic and enjoy the healing and calming nature of the Andes Mountains.

Have you been to Laguna Llaviucu in El Cajas National Park? What did you think? Did you hike any of the listed Cajas National Park trails? Did you have a favorite or few Cajas National Park trails? Let me know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: There’s a chance this post contains affiliate links, and I receive a small (but grateful) portion of the sale. There’s no extra cost to you, and I only promote things that I use and love.

About Author

Hey, my name is Megs! I'm an adventure-seeking, wanna be storyteller, with a wandering soul. I love immersing myself in diverse cultures and customs. I'm kind of obsessed with hiking in the mountains, soaking in hot springs, and seeking-out the most authentic travel experiences as possible! Find me savoring a good cup of coffee, eating at traditional markets, or catching a sunset with a glass of wine in hand. Experiences and memories are my most prized possessions.

2 Comments

  • Eric
    August 5, 2022 at 12:26 am

    Thank you for this detailed, enthusiastic description! Back in 2011 I made a day trip to Cajas NP and visited Laguna Toreador in the high country. It was terrific, but I didn’t even know about Llaviucu at the time. I’m planning a trip back to Ecuador this coming October, and am now very intrigued by the idea of visiting this area.

    Reply
    • Megs
      August 10, 2022 at 8:29 am

      Oh awesome! Yes, the Cajas are so unique and Llaviucu is completely different than the area surrounding Laguna Toreador. Both places are neat and I like them for different reasons. Enjoy your time in Ecuador!

      Reply

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