Today, we will visit El Cajas, a 70,000 ha. National Park that contains everything from cloud forest to rocky lunar landscapes. However, it is the lakes (more than 200 of them) scattered among jagged peaks for which the reserve is best known. Most of El Cajas lies above 3,000 meters, and the preeminent terrain is grassland, but a little higher up and we reach the frosty microclimate mountaintops.
Above 4,000 meters (12,000 feet) the ice and frost are a deterrent to most vegetation, but the tiny, and hardy, Quina tree clings to life here, making it the tree that can survive at the highest altitude in the world. Keep a lookout for these 200-year-old specimens tucked up against hillsides in pockets of primary forest, clothed in a green palette of mosses and ferns and fighting each other for sunlight.
En El Cajas there is a good chance of seeing the wild llamas that were reintroduced to the park in the late 1990s. The park’s other animal inhabitants, such as the spectacled bear, puma, and tigrillo, are more elusive, but not impossible to spot if you are lucky. The long list of birds that can be seen here includes hummingbirds, toucans, and magnificent Andean condors that circle ominously above.
Meals (B, L)