It is estimated that 90% of the world’s population live in the northern hemisphere. Prior to our big trip, the closest I came to the equator was Baros Island in the Maldives and had never actually visited a country south of the divide. Six months in the Pacific changed that, particularly our last-minute cruise on which we crossed the equator back into the northern half of the world. Two months after that, we found ourselves in Ecuador right by its eponymous equator.
La Mitad del Mundo (“the middle of the world”) is 22km north of Quito and was designated the official equator line by 18th Century geographer and mathematician Charles-Marie de La Condamine. Unfortunately, modern GPS suggests the real equator lies about 300m to the north but this hasn’t lessened the site’s appeal. Tourists and locals alike flock to the monument and nearby museum on a fun day trip from Quito. Here’s what to bear in mind on your trip to Middle Earth.
1. Get very clear directions from your hostel
Find a city map and ask your hostel staff to mark the exact point from which to get the bus to La Mitad del Mundo. We searched for the mythical direct bus up and down Avenida Amazonas but never found it. Instead, we walked to Ofelia station from where we caught another bus to the monument itself. If you have trouble finding the direct bus, it may be easier to catch one to Ofelia ($0.25 USD) and then change for the bus to La Mitad del Mundo ($0.15 USD). The ride is over an hour and can get crowded but does stop right outside the site. If you have the budget, you may wish to catch a taxi instead ($15 USD each way).
2. Be patient and wait for your photo opp
Yes, it’s cheesy but who doesn’t want a picture of them straddling the (sort of) equator? You’ll surely encounter a perky couple or two hellbent on taking 1,742 supposedly spontaneous selfies but be patient and wait for your photo opp. It’s worth it, even if just for bragging rights.
3. Do miss the Planetarium
If dodgy graphics and hammy Spanish are your preferred ways to learn about the universe then by all means, knock yourself out. Otherwise, you may wish to skip the Planetarium. Instead, visit the various pavilions dotted around the complex to learn about the nations that helped Charles-Marie de La Condamine in his quest to map the equator.
Also worth a visit is the viewing platform and the ethnographic museum at the top of the monument ($3 USD), offering an interesting look at at the indigenous groups of Ecuador.
4. Don’t miss Museo Intiñan
After leaving the monument, continue a few hundred metres north – left out of the exit – to Museo Intiñan ($4 USD). Here you can take a 30-minute guided tour around the “true equator” and learn about Ecuador’s native culture and customs (shrunken heads, anyone?).
Visitors are invited to participate in a variety of activities designed to demonstrate a range of interesting physical phenomena unique to the equatorial region. Unfortunately, these are likely staged entertainment rather than scientific experiment given that the coriolis effect exerts little power on the direction of water in our sinks! Nonetheless, the demos are great fun so do get involved.
5. Take your passport
If you like to collect cool stamps around the world, you may want to take your passport along to La Mitad del Mundo. Visitors to Museo Intiñan can have their passports stamped to prove that they have indeed visited the middle of the world.
What: La Mitad del Mundo, the official (but inaccurate) equator line in Ecuador, followed by a visit to the nearby Museo Intiñan.
Where: San Antonio de Pichincha, 22km north of Quito. We travelled up from the capital where we stayed at Quito Backpackers Guesthouse, a comfy if sparse hostel near the historical centre. If looking for somewhere a bit livelier, book Secret Garden Quito, a busy hostel offering fantastic views from its rooftop breakfast bar.
When: Peak season across Ecuador runs from mid-June to early September (the dry season) and from late December to early January. Weather in Quito and the surrounding area is pleasant year round so you may want to visit outside peak season (we went in March and it was lovely).
How: Catch a bus to Ofelia ($0.25 USD) and connect onto the bus for La Mitad del Mundo ($0.15 USD) or take a taxi ($15 USD each way). As mentioned above, we had trouble finding the mythical direct bus so if you do manage to catch it, please tell us!
For more information on visiting La Mitad del Mundo, get the Lonely Planet Guide to Ecuador.