The crowds, lines, and all the tourist traps, make me want to bolt as soon as we’ve arrived. It took some convincing from several friends to make me agree to visit Machu Picchu. Don’t get me wrong, I found Machu Picchu beautiful and impressive, and, given our method of transportation—a 30km walk along the railroad, plus several conversations with drivers and Peruvian residents, I also saw the backside of the whole operation.
Hunched porters carrying heavy backpacks for insufficient rates, a Chilean-owned tourist train that offers residents a discount—on the 6:30am train. Machu Picchu also offers resident discounts, but only during the low season, when it’s raining.
Learning the true cost of popular tourist destinations always makes me think twice about the social and environmental impacts of my visit.
To read how we visited Machu Picchu with Sora, read my post How to Visit Machu Picchu with a Dog.
When Quito Turismo planned our visit to la Mitad del Mundo (aka the Middle of the World) in San Antonio de Pichincha, I agreed, thinking it would be a fun opportunity to snap a good Instagram shot with Sora on the equator and make the claim that I’ve stood in two hemispheres at once. It is just a simple day trip from Quito itself.
Well, I got my Instagram shot and so much more.
Before I get into our visit, I should explain that there are two equator sites located near Quito (and several others throughout the country). One is called la Cidudad de La Mitad del Mundo, a government-run site where a 30-meter high monument locates the point that splits the world in two, based on the 1736 calculations of a French team of explorers, led by Charles Marie de la Condamine. The other is the Intiñan Solar Museum, an interactive cultural museum located just down the road. It’s equatorial line claims to be the “true” middle of the world, though recent GPS data show yet another location. Either way, both are close and both worth a visit.
Intiñan Solar Museum
We were running close to closing time, after spending a day hiking, bird watching, and eating delicious food at Pachijal Ecolodge Reserve in Mindo. We just had to have one more cup of that smooth coffee before leaving.
For more about this lovely lodge in one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet read my blog post Why Dog-Friendly Pachijal Ecolodge Reserve in Mindo is Worth a Visit.
With 20 minutes to spare before the gates shuttered closed for the evening, we joined a fun, educational whirlwind tour of the Intiñan Museum that brought me back to a kid watching Mr. Wizard.
Our guide took us through a series of scientific tricks that demonstrated the affects of standing on the equator versus in the northern or southern hemispheres. What we’re taught about water flowing down a drain clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the south is true. On the equator itself: straight down!
Other fun facts include:
- On the equator, one can balance an egg on the head of a nail (unless you’re Dave and me, who tried, very patiently, with no success), as demonstrated by our skilled guide.
- You weigh about one kilogram less on the equator (2.2 lbs).
- We are less strong on the equator than in either one of the hemispheres. Our guide had us make an OK sign with one hand and pried our fingers apart. He had a much more difficult time on the hemisphere side than on the equator, as hard as I tried to negate the theory.
- Our balance on the equator is worse than in either hemisphere. Our guide had us walk the line as would a police officer were he to think you were inebriated and I did seem more wobbly on the equator line.
- Sora’s dog treats fly farther when they are thrown across the equator than when tossed in a single hemisphere. Ok, that one is just a joke.
We also had time for a quick pass to learn about the Shuar Head Shrinkers— an indigenous tribe where headhunter warriors would kill enemies and decapitate them, and eventually carry the prize through a process that would eventually shrink the head to 1/3 its original size.
Tip: Bring your passport to collect a stamp indicating your visit to the center of the world.
La Mitad del Mundo
By the time we learned how one might shrink another’s head, the museum was closing and we headed to la Mitad del Mundo, to snap a few photos across another measurement of the equatorial line. On a personal note, the shrunken head display was creepy and haunted me for several days after our visit.
Parts of la Ciudad Mitad del Mundo are a bit touristy, with souvenir shops and restaurants within the gates. The site also features cultural exhibitions including the paintings of famous Ecuadorian painter, Oswaldo Guayasamín pre-Colombian and colonial art, as well as a planetarium, ethnographic museum, and a demonstration of the coriolis effect (which is really mind blowing being on the equator).
As the name indicates, the monument acts as a miniature city highlighting some of the most culturally significant people and artifacts of Ecuador.
The French Geodesic Mission
The story about the placement of the Mitad del Mundo monument stems from a mission consisting of a team of 20 French and Spanish scientists who set sail to Ecuador in 1735 in order to determine the true shape of the Earth by measuring the distance between mountaintops in Ecuador.
The team would settle a debate between René Descartes and Isaac Newtown. Descartes claimed that the Earth was elongated at the poles, where as Newton claimed that gravity would actually cause the Earth to be flattened at the poles.
Using methods of triangulation to measure distance, the team then took star sightings to determine exact latitude at the northernmost and southernmost point. This allowed them to determine the distance of one degree of latitude at the equator, which they then compared to measurements taken in France, thus providing the answer to the shape of the Earth.
So, who was right—Descartes or Newton?
These calculations were surprisingly accurate within 50 yards, over the distance of one degree of latitude, which is about 69 miles (which I have to admit, I don’t entirely understand, but it sounds like they came pretty close).
Fees for the Intiñan Museum are: $4 for adults and $2 for kids. A guides tour in English or Spanish is included in the fee and the museum is open every day of the week until 5PM.
The entrance fee to la Mitad del Mundo costs $ 7.50 adults, $ 3.50 children and includes entrance to the city, the pavilions, the planetarium, and the museum. Open from 9:00AM to 6:00PM Monday – Thursday, Friday – Sunday and holidays, from 9:00AM to 7:00PM.
Thank you to Quito Turismo for showing some of the best dog-friendly places to play and eat in Quito. As always, our opinions are our own and we wouldn’t direct you somewhere if we didn’t think it was awesome.