The Middle of the World City (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo in Spanish) is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Ecuador, right after or at the same level as Galapagos Island. This prefecture-owned land is located in the San Antonio parish of the canton of Quito, 26 km north of the centre of Quito. (Note: it is not actually a city, it is a museum park).
It comprises the Monument to the Equator (Monumento del Ecuador), the Ethnographic Museum Middle of the Earth (Museo Etnográfico Mitad del Mundo), a planetarium, a miniature model of Quito, handcraft stores, cafes and restaurants serving local food (helados de paila, humitas, quimbolitos) and a colonial small town.
Additionally, just 240 metres apart there is a local private museum known as Itiñan Solar Museum, which claims to have a more accurate Equatorial line, as we explain below. Most people enjoy Itiñan more; however, my suggestion is to visit both.
Monument to the Equator
The 30-metre-high monument is the central attraction in the park. It commemorates the first Geodesic Mission of the French Academy of Sciences in 1736, led by… 3 French scientists.
The building is made of iron and concrete and covered with cut and polished andesite stone, and the globe on top is 4.5 meters in diameter and weighs 5 tons. It is pyramidal-shaped and each side faces a cardinal direction. Inside the monument is the small museum with exhibits of elements of indigenous Ecuadorian culture such as clothing, fauna, ethnic groups, and activities.
There is a different entry to go to the monument, so tourists can opt to visit the park but not the monument. I suggest doing both, as the monument’s terrace offers a beautiful view of the park. A full pass costs USD 7.5 for adults and 3.5 for children and includes the entrance to all buildings/museums.
Latitude Discrepancy / Flawed GPS
It turns out that the famous and mega-pictured yellow line (and 0 latitude sign) is located at latitude 00° 00’ 08’’, and therefore the real 0 latitude is 240 metres north.
This error was made because the 3 French guys had no modern GPS systems or GIS products. How they did it is a different and quite interesting story, one of those things you watch on a black-and-white TV documentary.
Itiñan Solar Museum
Due to the latitude discrepancy described above (and a great business opportunity), this museum was opened only 240 metres away from the other and it is known as “the newer and smaller museum with the correct/accurate Equatorial line”. And just to differentiate themselves from the other, their sign clearly states “00° 00’ 00’’ calculated with G.P.S”
Regardless of any geodetic system, GPS or French scientist, the truth is that:
- The entry is cheaper (3 USD) and it includes a guided tour in English.
- Guides are super nice (tips are welcome) and provide lots of historical information (indigenous tribes, rites involving shrunken heads and other traditions) and also the history and different arguments behind the Equatorial line.
- It is good fun. Visitors participate in different experiments to demonstrate the effects of gravity in the area. One of them is to balance an egg on a nail. Another is to show water flowing both counter-clockwise and clockwise down a drain (Coriolis Effect). The last one is the weakening of muscles due to latitude.
Do not let the super-sceptical Wikipedia ruin the fun, as it states that “latitude has no measurable influence on these tricks and they are unrelated to the proximity of the equator”.
How to get to “The Middle of the World City”?
If you have a car, it is only a 35-minute drive, as the park is only 35 km away from central Quito.
If you need to use public transport, the easiest way is:
- Get the MetroBus (South to North direction) towards Ofelia station. This cost only USD 0.25.
- Get off at Ofelia. This is actually a bus station, not only a stop.
- Go to the ticket office and ask for the next bus to “Mitad del Mundo”. These buses normally have a yellow sign, and depending on the traffic it can take up to an hour.
- Get off following the crowds, or ask where to get off for “Mitad del Mundo”. But do not miss the stop as the bus continues.
Below is Quito’s public transport map. Ofelia is the last stop of the “violet line”, so you can find it on the top right.