The monument that bears the name Mitad del Mundo is a 30 metre tall stone pyramid topped with a globe 4.5 metres in diameter, so it’s hard to miss! It can hardly be considered beautiful but it is certainly impressive. It would be all the more so perhaps if the painted line on which it stands, and which crosses the plaza beneath to feature in so many tourist photos, really did mark the equator, but sadly this is not the case.
The French Geodesic Mission arrived in what is today Ecuador in 1736. It was undertaken by a multi-national team – Spanish, French and Ecuadorean. The purpose was to scientifically verify the roundness of the Earth, and to establish whether its circumference were greater around its equator or around the poles. The team measured arcs of the Earth’s curvature from the plains near Quito to the southern city of Cuenca. These measurements enabled them to establish accurately for the first time the true size of the Earth, which eventual led to the development of the international metric system of measurement. As part of their work it was of course necessary to ascertain where the equator fell, and they made a pretty good job of it considering that they were working in an age before computers, GPS and so on. But we now know that they were off by a few degrees, and that all those who pose so enthusiastically on this line are not quite where they maybe think they are!
But there is a lot more to do here than pose for that photo, although we were short of time after a busy day (the morning had been spent at Otavalo market and we had already been to the nearby museum, Intiñan. If you wanted though, you could probably spend the best part of a day here. There is a museum inside the monument itself, which exhibits a variety of objects relating to indigenous Ecuadorian culture, such as clothing of the different ethnic groups.
Elsewhere on the plaza that surrounds the monument you can visit a planetarium, see a miniature model of Quito, and walk through a mock-up of a small colonial town complete with handicraft shops and cafés. At the weekends there are apparently musical and dance performances. The website below (in Spanish only) gives more information about all of these, though you need to hunt around a bit! Also, be aware that it manages to give the impression that Quito’s museums devoted to the work of Guayasamin, administered by the foundation that bears his name, are here – they are not, although some items have been loaned for display here.
Inti Nan is a tourist attraction in the vicinity of the Mitad del Mundo monument. Depending on your perspective it is either a tourist trap or a lot of fun. We took it all with a pinch of salt and thoroughly enjoyed our visit, but whether it lives up to the grand claim made on its website of being “an educational centre of culture and promotion of our nation” is debatable!
It actually seems to be a bit unsure of what it is, exactly, and the result is a bit of a hotch-potch of exhibits. You go round with a guide (independent wandering seems not to be allowed) – ours was very good but had a rather unfortunate squeaky voice that added to the oddness of the place. We went first to an area which focuses on the Amazonian region of Ecuador, with exhibits covering the wildlife (snakes and spiders for the most part), the typical lives of its people (there’s a mock-up of a traditional dwelling) and the custom of shrinking heads. This was explained to us in some detail and their prized “real shrunken head” pointed out with pride. Our guide was keen to reassure this that this is thought to be the head of the twelve year old son of a chief who died of natural causes (there are no signs of violence, and heads were traditionally shrunk to preserve an important person for posterity as well as to celebrate a victory over an enemy).
A nearby area is devoted to a collection of totem poles from the various indigenous peoples of the Americas, including Chile, Mexico and of course Ecuador. But the main attraction is an Equator line that the owners of the museum claim is the true line, and although others dispute that it seems to be generally agreed that this is closer than Mitad del Mundo at least. Of course everyone wants to stand on the line and the guides are happy to take your photo while you do so. They will also demonstrate a series of “scientific” experiments demonstrated to “prove” that it is genuinely the equator. Some say the experiments are fake, and some certainly seemed likely to be so to me, such as the demonstration of the difficulty in walking in a straight line with eyes closed, or our apparent lack of strength here. Others were more convincing, such as the water changing direction as it swirls through a plug-hole (attributed to the “Coriolis effect”, a scientific principle to which our guide referred several times). But even so, when I got home and looked more closely at my video of this last one I started to wonder whether that too might not be faked. Wikipedia would seem to back up my suspicions:
” Water rotation in home bathrooms under normal circumstances is not related to the Coriolis effect or to the rotation of the earth, and no consistent difference in rotation direction between toilets in the northern and southern hemispheres can be observed.” See this article for a more detailed explanation, and have a look at my video for yourself to see if you share my doubts.
The tour ends with a demonstration of traditional dancing, which I found more laughable than authentic, but that might just have been the incongruous setting. Generally though it was all good fun – and we even got our passports stamped to show that we had been right at the equator!
La Mitad del Mundo means the middle of the world. This is the place where an European expedition made measurements in 1736 and stated that this is where the equator is. The expedition was lead by the Frenchman Charles-Marie de La Condamine and during his expedition it was also proved that the world bulges near the equator.
At La Mitad del Mundo the equator is painted as a yellow line and you can take photos were you stand with one foot in each hemisphere (you could at least think that). However, modern measurements have proven that the exact location of the equator is not here but a few hundred metres away. At Museo de Sitio Intiñan they say that this is where the equator is (and it also says so in some guidebooks), but I have read that the equator is not here either. So where is it? Maybe at Catequilla, an ancient indigenous site on a nearby hill.
Anyway, the equator is near to La Mitad del Mundo. At the centre of La Mitad del Mundo there is a 30m high stone monument with a brass globe on top. Inside the monument there is an ethnographic museum and a viewing platform from where you will have nice views of the surroundings. Inside the complex there are several museums and exhibition halls, restaurants and souvenir shops. At weekends it can be quite crowded and live music is sometimes performed on Sunday afternoons.
La Mitad del Mundo is open between 9 - 18 on Monday - Friday, and between 9 - 20 on Saturday - Sunday. There is an admission to enter the complex, $2 (August 2011) and for some museums there is an extra admission.
Inside the 30m-high monument at La Mitad del Mundo there is an Ethnographic Museum. There are several floors with exhibitions of Ecuador’s different indigenous cultures. There are clothes, artefacts and photographs. It is well displayed and there are information posters in both Spanish and English.
To visit the museum, and the viewing platform in the monument, cost $3 extra (August 2011), besides the $2 you pay when entering the complex.
Besides the Ethnographic Museum inside the monument at La Mitad del Mundo there are several other museums/exhibition halls within the complex. Those are some of them:
- Museo del Quito en Miniatura, where they have a model of Colonial Quito in scale 1:200. It was closed (maybe for lunch) when I visited. I looked in through an open door but didn’t see anything in the dark. I took a photo with flash to see if there was anything hidden in the dark and it turned out to be a model of what looks like Cuenca.
- Planetarium, where they show an astronomy show which is 35 minutes long.
- The French Pavillion, with an exhibition about Charles Marie de La Cardamine and his expedition
- Ecuador Insectarium, with a small exhibition on Ecuadorian insects
- Spanish building, showing artwork.
There is an extra admission to some of them.
Around 200-300 metres from the La Mitad del Mundo complex is the outdoor museum Museo de Sitio Intiñan. Here you will once again be able to stand with one feet in each hemisphere, but it is said that this is the site of the real equator, measured with modern GPS.
A guided tour, in Spanish or English, around the site is included in the admission of $3 (August 2011). There are exhibitions of some indigenous cultures and Ecuadorian plants and animals. Among other things there is a real shrunken head on display. At the painted line indicating the equator you will be shown some experiments, like seeing the Koriolis centrifuged forces in a sink on each side of the equator and on the equator. You can also try to balance an egg on the head of a nail, which I succeeded doing. Well, some guidebooks say that the experiments done are only fake, but it is quite interesting anyway.
The museum is open daily between 9.30 - 17.
About 4km northwest of La Mitad del Mundo is the crater of the extinct volcano Pululahua. It is 2400 years since it last had an eruption. The crater is 5km across and about 400m deep. The soil in the crater is fertile and from the viewpoint you can see a patchwork of cultivated fields, and some farmhouses scattered about.
When you visit Mitad del Mundo you will probably be approached by someone selling tours to Pululahua. There are longer hiking tours, tours to the viewpoint including a stop at the nearby replica of a Inca Sun Temple, and tours only to the viewpoint. I decided to go to the viewpoint, Mirador de cráter Pululahua with Calimatours. It is a tour that takes around one hour only, and that suited me well as I wanted to visit Museo Solar Inti Ñan as well before going back to Quito. The bus ride to Pululahua didn’t take long and there we visited the viewpoint. There was a guide on the tour who told us about the crater and life there today. Before going back to La Mitad del Mundo the others in the group bought some souvenirs. The tour was $3 per person (August 2011).
Well I must admit it, it is kind of touristy.
I think this picture is made by most of the visitors of La Mitad del Mundo.
Here I am posing in front of the monument, right on the Equator, with one foot on the Northern Hemisphere and the other on the Southern Hemisphere.
On the other side of the entry lane there is a collection of scientific buildings.
There are some international pavilions; there is a planetarium and an Ecuador house with a beautiful scale model of the colonial Quito.
These pavilions are not always open, and for some of them you have to pay an extra (small) entry fee.
Inside the Mitad del Mundo monument there is an Ethnographic museum.
So you have to buy an extra entry ticket (3 US dollars), then with an elevator you go to the top, where you first can observe the park from the viewing platform. And then it is time to use the steps to come downwards, and while you do that you pass the museum.
Inside this museum you learn about the different local tribes, and their customs, way of living, languages.
You can also see the different dresses of the tribes.
It was prohibited to make pictures in the museum. Sorry . . . . .
From the viewing platform on top of the monument Mitad del Mundo you also have a better view on the big globe on top the monument.
You can also follow the yellow Equator line around the globe.
The globe is made of brass and has a diameter of 4.5 metres.
From the viewing platform on top of the monument you have a great view over the park.
You can follow the yellow line which represents the equator. And you can also see the colonial village. This colonial village is in fact a collection of restaurants, gift shops, tourist office and a post office with their own Mitad del Mundo stamp.
So it is possible to visit the monument of La Mitad del Mundo.
You have to pay an extra entry fee. The price for international tourists was 3 US dollars.
Once inside, an elevator brings you to the top.
Like this you reach the viewing platform, from where you have a great view on the park. Like this you also can observe the big globe on top of the monument better.
The way down is via the stairs. And while walking downwards you visit the Ethnographic museum.
You can not miss the big monument with the big globe on top. It is kind of in the centre of the park.
The monument is 30 meters high, and is used as an ethnographic museum. Attention, the entry to the museum is not included in the entry fee to the park.
Behind the entry gate a big lane leads to the Equator monument.
Along this lane you can see lots of statues; these statues represent the members of the Mision Geodesica.
In 1736 a group of French scientists came to Equator in order to search for the exact location of the Equator. This mission was called the Mision Geodesica Ecuador.
They marked the location of the Equator, but they were wrong for 8 km, so the exact location is 8km further to the North.
But anyway to honour the good fame of this group and mission they placed the monument at this spot.
But in fact it is not the spot were the Equator passes.