Photo essay: Backpacking in Ecuador’s Cajas National Park
LAST MONTH, I spent a weekend hiking in what locals call Parque de Mil Lagos, or “Park of a Thousand Lakes,” because though Cajas National Park actually harbors around 270 glacial-melt lakes and ponds, when you’re hiking in this backcountry their count seems infinite. The vast wilderness of El Cajas encompasses a unique mix of biodiversity — from high-alpine páramo to cloud forest and humid wetland — which is one of the reasons UNESCO has designated it a Natural Heritage Site candidate.
Both the Inca Trail and the Continental Divide cut through Cajas. The name of the park comes either from the Kichwa word cassa, meaning “gateway to the snowy mountains,” or simply caxa: “cold.” The Spanish word cajas translates to “boxes,” which probably refers to the compartmentalized bodies of water sprinkled over the land like shards of glass reflecting the sky, and which flow to both the Pacific Ocean and Amazon River.