Hike the San Luis Trail in Cajas National Park

2.5 miles 1000 ft gain  - Loop Trail

Added by Barry Holloway

A beautiful circuit hike high in the grasslands of the Andes Mountains to the summit of Cerro San Luis in Cajas National Park, only 20 miles west of Cuenca, Ecuador.

From the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city and a Unesco World Heritage Site, it’s an easy bus or taxi ride to Parque Nacional Cajas (Cajas National Park). There are many hiking options, but for a short day hike, the San Luis trail provides a moderately strenuous circuit hike through lake dotted grasslands to the summit of Cerro San Luis at 4,240 meters (13,910 feet). Be well acclimated before hiking in this area.

Travel highway 582 to the ranger station at Laguna Toreadora to register for and begin the hike. The elevation here is 3,960 meters (12,990 feet); even though it is only a few hundred miles south of the equator, temperatures can drop below freezing. Be prepared for cold, rain, and wind even if it is sunny and warm upon arrival. Follow the trail down to the left of Laguna Toreadora or walk back to the highway and turn right to reach the trailhead a little over half a mile away on the right. We walked on the highway to avoid the descent to the lake and climb up to the trail.

The first portion of the trail is relatively easy around and over small hills, past lakes, and through a few boggy areas. Soon after, the trail becomes steeper and you’ll begin to quickly rise above the valley floor. In some sections, you’ll use your hands to pull yourself up. Once on the ridge line, there are outstanding views to either side.

After resting at the summit and enjoying the 360 degree view, you’ll continue along the trail to drop down the other side. Be careful in some steep sections. You’ll soon reach the base where the trail leads past more lakes and Polylepis trees which grow at elevations higher than most other trees anywhere in the world. Continue up the last hill to the ranger station and a small restaurant where you can relax and enjoy a warm and filling Ecuadorian meal.

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Overall rating: 

Lovely hike, be prepared!

This is a beautiful hike that’s easy to get to by bus if you’re hanging out in Cuenca. Remember to come prepared - the weather is way different here than it is just outside the park. It was almost freezing and cold the day I was there - the coldest I remember being during my entire June trip in Ecuador, which was largely temperate and mild. There’s tons to take in here, from history to terrain. Pack enough water and enjoy this very rugged and different piece of the country.

What a beautiful hike!

The views from the top are worth it, but man, my lungs were seriously working to get up there!

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