It’s a rare thing to be able to stand with one foot in each hemisphere on a line that straddles the north and south of the globe. Yet, that’s exactly what you can do at Mitad del Mundo. Located near Quito in Ecuador, Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World in Spanish) is a wildly popular tourist attraction celebrating the discovery of the equatorial line. There’s a monument, museums, food and handicraft stalls to enrich your visit.
In this guide I’ll share how to visit Mitad del Mundo, what to see, how to get there from Quito and some fun equator facts and myths. Does water really spiral down the drain differently in the northern versus southern hemisphere?
But first, how about a little history of the equatorial line to inspire your journey to the middle of the earth?
Finding the Equator Line in Quito
The equator line is an imaginary line that runs around the centre of the earth. It is the point that’s exactly half way between the north pole and the south pole, marking the separation of the northern and southern hemispheres. The equator has latitude 00° 00° 00° on GPS.
The middle of the world has been a significant point since ancient times. However, it was put on the map (literally) in 1736 when French geographer and mathematician, Charles Marie de La Condamine, calculated where the equator officially stood. He arrived in Quito as part of the French Geodesic Mission, a team sent to South America to investigate a hypothisis of Sir Isaac Newton. Newton believed that the earth wasn’t a perfect sphere; that it bulged at the centre and flattened at the poles. Newton was right.
Cartography (maps) and navigation took a huge leap forward after these findings.
What is Mitad del Mundo?
Since the equator line is invisible, a monument was placed there to mark where Charles Marie de La Condamine ‘found’ the line. The first monument was constructed in 1936 in time for the 200th anniversary. The original monument was 10 ft tall. Between 1979 and 1982 the monument was upgraded to the monument you can visit today. The modern Mitad del Mundo monument stands 30 metres (98 feet) tall.
Is it the real equator line?
While we have to be impressed by how accurate the measurements of the Geodesic Mission were, given they were working with 18th century technology, the calculations were later found to be inaccurate. Modern GPS places the equator 240 metres (787 feet) north of Mitad del Mundo.
Want to get really picky? “The precise location of the equator is not truly fixed; the true equatorial plane is perpendicular to the Earth’s rotation axis, which drifts about 9 metres (30 ft) during a year.” (Source: Wikipedia).
So, there isn’t any true equator line either at Mitad del Mundo or 240 metres north. But don’t let that stop you visiting. It’s the closest you’re going to get to the true point, especially since most of the middle of the world is located across ocean.
Things to do at Ciudad Mitad del Mundo
Mitad del Mundo is more than just the monument, there is an village together with a park (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo and Mitad del Mundo Parque). There complex, which was built in the Spanish Colonial style, includes museums and stalls. There is even music and dancing at weekends, which can give the site a theme-park feel. Some people find this too touristy but I love a carnival atmosphere. And since it’s the most visited attraction in Ecuador, you have to expect a fanfare.
Here are the main things to do at Mitad del Mundo .
The boulevard to the main monument is lined with statues and is probably the first thing you’ll see. The busts are of the French scientists. See if you can spot our friend Charles Marie de La Condamine. I think he’s worth a selfie.
Most people then head straight for the the big yellow line that runs from the monument and marks where La Condamine calculated the equator line. There’s no way you’re going to be able to resist that oh-so-touristy picture with one foot on each side of the line. I couldn’t!
The equatorial monument is hard to miss, standing 30 metres (nearly 100ft) tall with a giant globe on top. At the top of the monument you’ll find a great viewpoint. Yes, you have to climb the stairs to get there but there is a lift if you have difficulty with steps.
Inside the monument, there is an ethnographic museum, charting the indigenous people and cultures of the region. I shouldn’t ‘out’ myself as uncultured but pots and old clothes don’t hold much interest for me, but it’s worth a look.
Other highlights include a llama farm, craft beer museum and a cocoa and chocolate museum. And if that’s not enough, there’s a French Pavilion (French Geodesic history), Guayasamin Pavilion (art), Ecuador Pavilian (pre-Colombian art), ancestral housing replicas, a cultural square (holds events at the weekends) as well as a few other art and history buildings.
My tip: don’t linger at these smaller sights just to make a day of it, head north to the Museo de Sitio Intiñan.
Visitor Info: Mitad del Mundo is open every day, 365 days a year. The opening hours are: Monday to Friday from 9am – 5pm. Saturdays and Sundays from 9am – 6pm. Tickets cost: $5 for adults, $2.50 for children (6-11) and seniors.
Museo de Sitio Intiñan at the real equator
Conveniently ignoring the wandering nature of the equator line, Museo de Sitio Intiñan opened up at the site of the ‘true’ equator, those 240 metres north of Mitad del Mundo. It’s a blend of science and indigenous culture and definitely worth a visit. Although, you will have to take most of the science experiments with a pinch of salt (see the facts section below), who doesn’t want to try and balance an egg on a nail or see which way the water spirals down a drain in the northern versus southern hemisphere? And do you actually weigh less at the equator (or was it a case of some bad ceviche the night before?)
There is a totem pole at the centre of the museum with the outdoor experiments dotted around the perimeter. And, in case you’re getting withdrawal symptoms, there is another cocoa museum.
Getting your passport stamped: there are various places in South America where you can add a cute memorabilia stamp to your passport, including at Intiñan Solar Museum. I did it and half way through my 3 months in South America, came to regret it. If you’re on a longer trip, you’ll quickly realise those large official entry and exit stamps (one in, one out) take up space. Before long, you’ll be worried about running out of pages and how to renew your passport overseas. Tip: take a notebook and get your stamp there.
Visitor info: The entrance fee is $4 for adults. The museum is open 7 days a week from 9am to 5pm. You might also see this museum referred to as Museo Solar Inti Ñan or the Intiñan Solar Museum. Same, same.
How to get to Mitad del Mundo
Mitad del Mundo is located in San Antonio de Pichincha, around 22 km (14 miles) north of Quito. There are several options for visiting.
- Take a Tour: This is your best option because tours are usually combined with other local sights like a guided tour of Quito or the Pululahua volcanic crater. You’ll also save time because the bus is slow.
- Uber or Taxi: Uber costs around $15 one-way, taxi is a little more. Both rides depend on traffic but take around 45 minutes.
- By public bus: head to Ofelia Station in the north of Quito and hop on the “Mitad del Mundo” bus. It’s direct but takes around 2hrs including getting to the bus station from the centre. Lots of websites suggest you can visit the equator line as a half day activity. This is not realistic if you take the bus. That said, it’s under $1 one-way.
The two most popular tours to check out are: Historic City of Quito and Middle of the World Tour ($40) and Full-Day Ciudad Mitad del Mundo Tour with Pululahua crater ($35).
Fun Facts about Mitad del Mundo
- The equator’s circumference is 40,075 km (24,901 miles). Imagine it as a belt around the waist of the world.
- Equatorial bulge is the fact that the earth’s diameter is a bit wider at the equator, meaning the earth is not a perfect sphere. Picture a bulge hanging over that imaginary belt.
- The bulge is 43 km (27 miles). That’s some muffin top, sorry earth.
- Balancing an egg – it’s believed to be easier to balance an egg at the equator than elsewhere because the earth’s gravitational pull is a little weaker here. This is a myth, but fun to try.
- Launching space craft – the lower gravitational pull does however make it easier to launch space craft, which is why the USA does most launches from Florida (the most southern point).
- You weigh less at the equator – while the balancing egg trick is a myth, you do weigh less at the equator. This is because you’re stood on the bulge, further from the earth’s gravitational pull. Yes, you may eat two empanadas. Science says.
- Longer days and more sun – situated in the most direct path of the sun, you can expect longer days at the equator. Warning: the sun is more fierce here. I got sunburnt on a cloudy day.
- Water doesn’t flow in different directions in the north vs south hemispheres – the Coriolis effect is the foundation of this myth. The Coriolis effect is caused by the rotation of the earth. It basically pulls air clockwise in the south and counterclockwise in the north. However, you need something the size of a hurricane to see it. A tap of flowing water is too small to see the Coriolis effect in action.