Postcards from Ecuador: Exploring Cuenca and a national park on the continental divide before heading to the Galápagos

After a joyous two days in the city of Cuenca full of exploring and a guided city tour – Cuenca is informally known as the cultural hub of Ecuador – the Honors College Ecuador Program once again boarded the Night Bus for another trip across the Andes.

But before leaving the Andes altogether, the group stopped for a guided hike at El Cajas National Park, one of the jewels of Ecuador’s park system.

El Cajas sits astride the continental divide, where water on one downhill side goes to the Atlantic and on the other side goes to the Pacific. El Cajas also is the point where the divide is closest to the ocean at only 90 km away as the crow flies.

Beginning the incredible descent at 13,000 feet, the Night Bus reached the coastal plain a few hours later for a quick overnight in Ecuador’s major port city of Guayaquil before heading to the airport early Sunday morning to launch the last phase of the adventure: the Galápagos Islands.

Sadly, at the airport that morning, the program had to bid a fond adieu to the Night Bus and to Alejandro, the implacable driver who had seen the group through thick and thin over the previous two weeks.

“We pulled him into our group and he gave so much back to us,” said Environmental Science student Kate Lincoln.

The group also said a temporary goodbye to its “rock,” Caro, the guide on the mainland, as the expedition would join up with two new guides on the islands.

The Galápagos are an archipelago of volcanic islands more than 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador. It was on the Galápagos that scientist Charles Darwin, on his second voyage on HMS Beagle, made the observations and collections that helped frame his groundbreaking theory of evolution by natural selection. With a huge number of endemic species, including the famous “Darwin's finches,” it was a perfect place for him to work on his hypothesis.

“Darwin’s finches are in every Bio textbook I have ever had,” said Biology major Delphine Maurer. “But being here in his footsteps is just incredible.”

Less than two hours after leaving Guayaquil, the plane touched down on one of the most diverse and fascinating places on the planet - what would the next three days bring?


Students walk along the sidewalk as they explore the city of Cuenca on a sunny day.
Students explore El Cajas National Park, walking toward a peak seen rising into the clouds.