Ecuador is a traveler’s paradise. In this relatively small country (it has about the same area as the state of Nevada in the US), travelers can take Amazon jungle tours, scuba dive in the Galapagos Islands, learn to surf on the Pacific coast, watch a volcano erupt, go ziplining in a cloud forest, visit Incan ruins, and swing off a cliff at the ‘end of the world’ in Baños. Given all that, what would you guess is the #1 most visited tourist attraction in Ecuador?
It’s the equator!
Called Mitad del Mundo, which is ‘middle of the world’ in Spanish, this monument to Latitude 0°0’0″ is located just north of the capital city of Quito.
I’ve been excited to visit this site since I first arrived in Ecuador back in February, but I patiently waited two entire months! While I was busy visiting other things, I talked to several other people who had visited the Mitad del Mundo monument. I didn’t hear any gushing reviews, and as one fellow traveler put it, “It’s just a line.” So when I went, I wasn’t really expecting much. As it turned out, though, I really enjoyed my visit! There is a lot to do near the site and it can easily be a full-day excursion.
Since I’ve been backpacking in South America for over 3 months, I haven’t “played tourist” all that much. I’ve spent my time balancing work and volunteering, and just wandering around getting to know the cities I’ve visited. For that reason, I didn’t mind spending a day in what could definitely be called a tourist trap, Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (‘Middle of the World City’).
It’s really easy to get there via bus, and I’d advise against taking organized tours from your hostel or hotel. My friend’s hostel was advertising day tours for $45/person – but the bus costs a mere 40 cents!
From Quito, you’ll need to catch the C2 bus heading north towards Ofelia–this costs 25 cents. Ride it to the end of the line, which is Ofelia Terminal. There, you can easily find the blue buses labeled ‘Mitad del Mundo,’ and hop a ride on that for another 15 cents. About 40 minutes from the terminal, the bus will let you off right near the monument! So easy.
There are two entry pass options: the full pass ($7.50), or the monument only ($3.50). Since I had nothing else to do for the day, I opted for the full pass. This includes entry to the small museums around the monument, as well as the tourist train and the planetarium.
The first thing I did, of course, was to visit the monument! I arrived shortly after 9 a.m. when it opened, which was good because it wasn’t busy and I was able to get that perfect shot above. More and more people arrived throughout the day, and it was quite crowded by the afternoon when I left, so if you don’t want a bunch of other tourists in your equator picture, go early!
Inside the monument is an elevator that takes you to the top, where you can see a panoramic view of the valley and the north part of Quito. Then you walk down the 9 floors of museum exhibits to return to the bottom. The museum is pretty basic, but explains how the equator was discovered, and some of the weird quirks that happen at the widest point of the earth. For example, did you know you weigh less at the equator because you’re farther from the pull of gravity?
This site was originally decided to be the equatorial line in 1736 by an expedition called the French Geodesic Mission. Although the French scientists discovered ruins nearby from the Quitu-Cara culture that seemed to mark the equator, they decided from their measurements that the equator was about 240 meters away. The monument was built on the 200th anniversary of the discovery, in 1936.
Today, with precision measurements from GPS, we know that the Quitu-Cara were actually right, and the monument is built in the wrong spot! So, while straddling the line makes a cool photo, you’re actually not ON the equator.
They will, however, stamp your passport!
There are a number of restaurants in the little ‘city,’ and a plethora of artesanal shops. I had just visited the artesanal market in Quito the day prior, and was expecting the shops at Mitad del Mundo to be more expensive, but they weren’t. It’s easy to shop around since many shops offer the same products, and they’re always willing to haggle! I found a simple phrase like “Es muy lindo, pero demasiado caro para mí,” (It’s very cute, but too expensive for me’) would magically knock quite a lot off the price! I quite enjoyed shopping for a few hours, and managed to select only a few small things that would fit easily in my carry-on backpack.
If you have kids with you when you visit, there are some family-friendly options, like a playground and a tourist train. There’s also a llama enclosure, but I prefer to skip animal-related entertainment (on ethical grounds), so I didn’t see what that looked like.
I watched the Planetarium show, which I enjoyed because I love everything related to space, but it was in Spanish, so if you don’t speak Spanish that probably wouldn’t be as entertaining. All the museums have placards in both English and Spanish, though.
There is a cocoa museum, and a couple others museums more information about the French expedition and the culture of Ecuador. The museums are pretty basic, so unless your budget isn’t an issue and you have a whole day to kill, I’d probably opt for just the $3.50 monument pass rather than paying for the full pass.
Finally, in the center of the ‘city’ is a large pavilion, and there were a variety of dance and music performances going on throughout the day. My favorite dancers were these girls in elaborate, colorful traditional dresses!
Have you ever been to the equator? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
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