The Swing at the End of the World (or Casa del Arbol if we’re going to get pernickety) is one of those places that’s made its way onto so many people’s bucket lists, but not everybody knows where it actually is.
Well, it’s in Ecuador. Baños, to be precise. And it’s surprisingly super easy and super 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 it costs less than an empanada and a bottle of water, there’s no reason not to.
How to get there
At Quito’s south bus terminal (otherwise known as Quitumbe) you can purchase your ticket from any of the bus companies advertising buses 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 journey takes about 2.5-3 hours, but that’s dependent on how often your driver stops to let empanada salespeople on-board!
There are three main options on how to get from the Baños town to the Swing.
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.
How much does it cost?
Unbelievably, the entry fee is just $1. 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, that’s no problem. They kind of add to the atmosphere anyway. What you should definitely try to avoid is the mist.
If possible, avoid going on the weekend by 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 kind of 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.
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.
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 a little café on site for you to sit back, have a coffee and drink in your surroundings.
What’s it really like?
Okay, so 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 actually swings out over a nice little grassy embankment, no more than a few metres below. 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 the odds of that happening are about as likely as me winning the lottery.
Although it’s a bit of a let down if you head up on a misty day, if you catch it when the weather’s decent, it’s definitely worth it!