You can’t come to a country that’s named after the Equator and not stand with a foot in each hemisphere; a visit to “The Middle of the World” complex is the most popular day trip near Quito .
La Mitad del Mundo tourism complex (tel. 2/239-5637, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Sat.–Sun., www.mitaddelmundo.com , $3) lies just beyond the village of Pomasqui, 14 kilometers north of the city.
The centerpiece is a 30-meter-high monument topped by a huge brass globe; a bright red line bisecting it provides the backdrop for the obligatory photo. However, whisper it quietly—the real Equator is actually a few hundred meters away.
It costs an extra $3 to go inside the monument, but it’s well worth it for the excellent ethnographic museum. Ascend to the top in an elevator for impressive views over the surrounding valley, and then descend the stairs through nine floors of colorful exhibitions on a dozen of Ecuador ’s diverse indigenous cultures, filled with clothing and artwork. Tours are available in English and Spanish.
The rest of the complex has an assortment of attractions, some more interesting than others. The France building is the best, with a well-presented exhibition on the expedition led by Charles Marie de La Condamine to plot the Equator in the mid-18th century. Another highlight is the intricate model of colonial Quito in the Fundación Quito Colonial ($1.50). The three-square-meter model took almost seven years to build and has labeled streets. Models of Cuenca , Guayaquil , and various old ships are also part of the display.
There is also a planetarium with 40-minute presentations in Spanish ($1.50), artwork in the Spain building, and a small exhibition on insects in the Ecuador room. The Heroes del Cenepa monument near the entrance is dedicated to the soldiers killed in border clashes with Peru in 1995.
On the weekend, the square hosts colorful music and dance performances, and it’s a very pleasant place to relax over lunch or a snack in the cluster of cafés.
Tourist agencies offer package tours to Pululahua and Rumicucho. Calimatours (tel. 2/239-4796 or 2/239-4797), with an office inside the Mitad del Mundo complex, has tours leaving 10 a.m.–1 p.m. for $8 pp.
To get here, take the Metrobus on Avenida América to the Ofelia terminal and catch the connecting Mitad del Mundo bus.
If you’ve come all this way to stand on the Equator, it’s a bit of a shock to hear that the Mitad del Mundo complex was built in the wrong place by a few hundred meters. Understandably, this is kept rather quiet, and you could easily miss the excellent Museo de Sitio Intiñan (tel. 2/239-5122, www.museointinan.com.ec , 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $3).
Located about 300 meters east of the Mitad del Mundo complex, its name means “Museum of the Path of the Sun” in Kichwa, and the family that owns and operates it has done a great job with the collection, which includes displays on local plants and indigenous cultures.
However, the real reason to come here are the experiments that you are invited to participate in to prove this really is the site of the Equator—flushing water in opposite directions on either side of the line, walking along the line and feeling the strong gravitational pull on either side, and the nearly impossible task of balancing an egg on the Equator (you get a certificate if you can do it).