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We’ve all seen it featured on numerous “Do this before you die” lists on Buzzfeed and if you haven’t then hello, where’ve you been?! But how many of us actually know how to get to the Swing at the End of the World?
The Swing at the End of the World, or Casa del Arbol as it’s known in Spanish, is situated in the small but oh-so-exciting town of Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador, more commonly known as Baños. Despite being seemingly in the middle of nowhere, just on the cusp of the Amazon basin, it’s surprisingly easy and cheap to get to.
Although not featured in the Ecuador section of Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring (I can’t comment on the Lonely Planet’s Ecuador guidebook because I’m a cheapskate and didn’t buy it), the Casa del Arbol – literally, the Treehouse – should be on anyone’s list of must-dos in Ecuador. With it’s close proximity to Quito and the fact that ‘admission’ costs less than an empanada and a bottle of water, there’s no reason not to, and the story behind the swing itself is fascinating (read here).
Incorrectly known to some as the “Swing of Death” or “Death Swing”, most people want to tick the Swing at the End of the World off their bucket list because it’s one of those near-death experiences that would certainly be banned here in the UK. At first sight, it seems dangerously exciting: nothing but a couple of ropes attached to a rickety old treehouse perched right at the edge of a mountain. Exhilarating. What could be more fun, right?
Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not actually that dangerous. There’s no ‘sheer drop’ over the edge of the mountain, as reported in some books and magazines. You don’t get to dangle your feet over an abyss. And, as far as I know, it’s not notorious for deaths (so to all the people who’ve found themselves here by searching “swing at the end of the world death”, sorry friends).
Still, it’s an experience worth having!
How to get to the swing at the end of the world
At Quito’s south bus terminal (otherwise known as Quitumbe) you can purchase your ticket from any of the bus companies advertising buses from Quito to Baños. It doesn’t matter which one you choose as they kind of “passenger share” anyway. If there’s a bus leaving sooner than the one you want to purchase, they’ll send you to them.
It costs $4.50 for a one-way ticket and that includes your little receipt thing to get through the barriers at Quitumbe terminal. Altogether the Baños to Quito bus takes about 2.5-3 hours, but that’s dependent on how often your driver stops to let empanada salespeople onboard, in true South American fashion!
There are several options to reach the Swing at the End of the World from Baños main town.
By far the cheapest option (aka FREE!), it’s apparently a relatively easy and pleasant hike from the town to the swing, and a great way to see some amazing views of the valley along the way. It’s about 3 hours up and 2.5 hours back down, and most hostels and hotels in the area will be able to give you a map or advice on the best (and safest!) route to take. However, it should be noted that the lovely man in the hotel I stayed at emphasised that it’s best to start early in the day, or if you start a little later make sure there are at least 4 of you.
There’s a regular bus that leaves from the corner of Rocafuerte and Pastaza at 5:45am, 11:00am, 14:00pm and 16:00pm every day (even Sundays!) and costs a mere $1 per person. This takes about 20-30 minutes from top to bottom along the winding mountain roads, but be prepared to stop every 100 metres to let locals on and off!
Coming down from the Swing, the bus leaves at 08:00am, 13:00pm, 16:00pm and 18:00pm.
If you’re short on time or have the cash to splash, you may want to consider getting a taxi. It generally costs around $15 to go up, and for a few dollars extra most drivers will be more than happy to wait around for an hour or so and take you back down too! This may be the best option for you if you’re keen on getting a people-free photo, but more on that a little later…
Another way you could do the trip is on bikes. Although the journey up would be particularly arduous, there are plenty of camioneta drivers around Baños who would be willing to drive you and your bike up, and leave you there to cycle down. They would generally charge between $15-25 for the privilege, but for any keen cyclers out there the thrill would be worth it.
There are also guided tours available in the main town, but the whole trip is so easy that it’d be a pointless expense, really.
How much does it cost?
Unbelievably, the entry fee for the Swing at the End of the World is just $2. Possibly the cheapest bucket list check you could get.
When is the best time to go?
Obviously, the best time to go would be when it’s not raining. Although in Baños, the weather is more unpredictable than any I’ve ever experienced before so it’s easier said than done. If you can’t avoid the rain and clouds, it’s no major problem as the weather sort of adds to the atmosphere anyway. What you should definitely try to avoid is the mist. Case in point? Look below.
If possible, avoid going on the weekend at all costs! It’s not just a tourist attraction, but very popular with locals too, and with a zip-line, balancing log and assortment of different height swings, it’s used as a playground by young families on the weekends. If you want a photobomb-free picture, go during the week.
Better still, if you can stomach rising before the birds, try to get the first bus up in the morning. That way, not only will you have the chance to catch the sunrise if you’re lucky, but you’re almost guaranteed to be one of the only ones up there, meaning you’ll have the Swing at the End of the World all to yourself!
If early mornings aren’t your thing but you want to beat the crowds, the best thing to do is get a taxi in between the bus times. With the bus heading back down to Baños at 8am and not coming back up until 11am, between 8:30-10:30 is by far the best time to avoid the crowds. I went at around 10am and was the only one wanting to use the swing, meaning there was no hurrying around or feeling bad for keeping others waiting. At $15 it’s not cheap to do it this way, but if there’s a few of you willing to chip in it’s not so bad. And better still, your taxi driver may even be an absolute hero and double up as swing pusher/photographer, as mine did.
How long does it take?
The answer to this is obviously subjective. It all depends on how long you want it to take. If you’re there just for the photo and are lucky enough to be there at a quiet time, you wouldn’t need more than 10 minutes max. However, if you want to enjoy the view, perhaps spend some time in the treehouse or taking your turn on one of the other three swings or zip-line, you could easily spend an hour or more. There’s even an overpriced little café on site for you to sit back, have a coffee and drink in your surroundings.
What’s it really like?
Okay, so as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I’ve seen a bunch of articles and blog posts describing the swing as hanging over a “death-defying drop” or “fear-inducing cliff”.
Well, that’s a lie.
It should be called Swing Over the Edge of a Hill, not Swing at the End of the World. It actually swings out over a nice little grassy embankment, no more than a few metres in height Should you happen to slip out of the swing, you won’t die. You might break your ankle from landing on it awkwardly, but that’s about it. Unless you fall and spectacularly roll all the way down the embankment, across the path, under the fence and finally over the edge of the cliff – then you’ll die, but let’s be real, what are the odds of that happening?
Although the Swing at the End of the World is a bit of a let-down if you head up on a misty day when the weather’s decent it’s more than worth it!
Looking for more things to do in Baños? Check out my Mini Guide to Baños on a Budget