There’s a reason I say ‘swings’, plural. A few years ago a lone swing hung from a tree house at the seismic monitoring station overlooking the Tungurahua Volcano. Dubbed the ‘swing at the end of the world’ it has become so popular that locals have capitalised on the crowds lining up for a turn by creating MORE swings.
A death defying swing?
There are now two swings hanging on either side of the Casa del Arbol. The original swing is on the right. While there’s a new identical swing on the left. While older information I’d read described it as a rather precarious experience, both swings appeared to be held quite securely by thick metal rails. The tree house itself is reinforced by a concrete pole (made to look like a tree trunk, not convincing), and a front strap has been added to make sure you don’t accidentally leap out of the swing to your demise below. Rather than a sheer precipice, the ground below slopes gradually before eventually dropping off to the valley below, so even massive chickens like me will not find it particularly scary. I’m not sure how it got labelled “death defying”, I think in the days before it was ‘discovered’ it was tied to a tree branch and like many a handmade swing, there was risk of breakage from weathering. Perhaps I just chose not to think such thoughts, deeming something this popular must be well-maintained. Let’s not forget this is South America – OH&S hasn’t quite caught on.
How to get to there
To reach Casa del Arbol you can drive, take a taxi, take a tour or hike. We had originally planned on hiking but with the morning threatening rain and the tour costing only $5 each we decided to go with a tour, and spent a total of 2 hours including the trip to/from Banos (which is around 15 minutes). Tours leave all the time, with different operators offering different time-slots. I can’t advise the best time to go as the weather changes quickly. We left at 10:30am, and it was cloudy most of the day, starting raining at 12pm. By 5pm the sun was out again.
Things to do
Located at 2660 metres, Casa Del Arbol is the treehouse/viewing platform to monitor the activity of Tungurahua Volcano, nearby is the Seismic monitoring station. It is $1 to enter and there’s a small restaurant and two more swings built closer to the entrance (4 swings in total). There’s also a child-sized zipline. It’s a great place for families and there’s a number of activities around the area, including viewpoints, ziplines and if you want a seriously adrenaline pumping-swinging experience, there’s ‘El Vuelo del Condor’ a viewpoint-come-giant swing. This one will set you back $10 for a swing, a bit steep in my mind, but worth it if you want to scream your lungs out. It includes full safety harness and helmet.
Near the parking area for Casa Del Arbol (it’s about a 50m walk up the path to the entrance), there’s a lovely restaurant looking out over the valley. It serves up a strong local cocktail “Volcan Canelazo” and traditional Ecuadorian food like Choclo con Queso. one of each cost a total of $4.50, so cheap when compared with the mediocre restaurants in Banos (where a cocktail alone is over $5), there’s an inviting fireplace and those views!
Baños de Agua Santa
While there are a few accommodations and camping grounds near the swing, Baños is the base for most visiting Casa Del Arbol and the endless other activities in the area. I was not the biggest fan of Baños, a lacklustre over-touristy town that didn’t have a lot to offer in its own right. Except for its setting in a beautiful valley and the church which is pretty, especially it’s unique internal artwork. The restaurants are severely overpriced and not good for what they are. We arrived on a Monday when many places were closed (note: many things are closed on Sunday and Monday in Ecuador). Banos is full of hostels, souvenir shops and tourist agencies. It was low-season and lacking in atmosphere. Tourists make the majority of the population in busier times. If you love adrenaline, there’s plenty of activities – rafting, canyoning, biking, rocking climbing, puenting (bridge-jumping) and
multi-day trips into the jungles near Puyo and Coca. There are hot springs and waterfalls to visit as well.
How to get to Baños
We arrived from Cuenca in the south, and had to first take a bus to Ambato ($9 and 7 hours, buses leave at 9am and 10am and there may be a night bus as well). From Ambato we simply crossed the road and there was a a bus going to Baños ($1.50; 30 minutes). Distances are technically short in Ecuador but the mountains mean some of roads are extremely winding and can take longer than expected. The mountain drive from Cuenca to Baños is quite spectacular.