The country is named after it, so it would be a shame to visit Ecuador and not straddle the Equator, the line dividing the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. But since the line crosses the entire country, where is the best place to accomplish this bucket-list item and what is there to see while doing it? Unfortunately, the answer is a bit complicated.
The Mitad del Mundo, or Middle of the World, monument is located about an hour outside of Quito, the Ecuadorian capital. Built in 1979, this 30 meter tall monolith straddles the Equator and offers a classic view looking down the line… or does it?
The Mitad del Mundo monument with busts of scientists alongside.
With the arrival of GPS, it was found that the monument, while amazing, actually sits about 100 meters away from the actual Equator. So while you should definitely visit the monument and surrounding attractions – more on those in a bit – for the truly accurate straddling of the Equator, go a few blocks down the road to the Intinan Solar Museum.
This museum is awesome. It combines all of the fun Equator activities (you can balance an egg on the head of a nail because on the Equator the yolk settles straight down) with really fantastic exhibits on native cultures found in the region. Explore native dwellings, marvel at totem poles and other artifacts – some are original and others aren’t – watch native dances, and even gaze upon an actual shrunken head. The highlight, though, is the Equator running down the middle of the museum grounds. Your guide will demonstrate that water doesn’t spiral down a drain but just drains straight down, and all of the other wonderful things that can only be done on the Equator. And definitely, try the egg thing. Afterwards, they will even stamp your passport to mark your visit to the middle of the world.
The Intinan Solar Museum is really worth a trip! Totem poles, dancers, a shrunken head, and Equator experiments are part of the experience.
Back at the Mitad del Mundo, take a trip up to the top of the monument. While we now know it isn’t the actual Equator, it’s still a fun view. The monument is surrounded by smaller tributes to the scientists who led research into identifying the middle of the sphere we call Earth. The French Geodesic Missions, as they are known, were three missions aimed at accurately measuring the planet. The First French Geodesic Mission of 1736 sent teams to Ecuador and to the North Pole. The Third French Geodesic Mission brought together Ecuadorian and French scientists in 2016 to mark the cooperation between the countries, and prove that the summit of Chimborazo in Ecuador is the farthest point from the center of the planet. (Yes, due to the bulge of the Earth at the Equator, this is farther away from the center than Everest, and it’s not even the tallest mountain in the Andes!)
The Mitad del Mundo view with the “fake” Equator.
As this is a prominent tourist attraction, the Mitad del Mundo also includes a village of shops and restaurants. Make sure to see the Ecuadorian Chocolate Museum. You can learn about the cacao bean, and even try it in its raw form, before going into the cafe for some amazing treats. $.70 for a passionfruit truffle? I’ll take three!
While in the area, you can also visit the Pululahua volcano. It is extinct, which is fortunate for the villagers living inside of the volcano crater!
It’s brave to live inside a volcano, even a supposedly extinct one.
So what is the best way to get to these sights? You can do group tours through any number of agencies in Quito. However, for only $120, I chartered a private guide and car for the day. This way I was able to see things at my own speed, and my guide was able to tailor parts of the day for my tastes, like the visit to a hill overlooking Quito on the way back to town for an awesome view and meal. There are also public buses traversing highway 28 from Quito to the Equator for those who prefer cheaper local transportation.
No matter how you get there, no visit to Ecuador is complete without a stop at the Equator. Just make sure you see the real one!
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