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The equator runs through quite a few countries, so when you think about it, standing in two different hemispheres probably isn’t even unique to Ecuador, right? I mean, what about Kenya? Indonesia? Somalia? Democratic Republic of the Congo?! Okay, so those last two aren’t exactly the world’s most popular tourist destinations right now so maybe scratch those! I guess the fact that Ecuador is literally named after this invisible line that runs through this earth of ours makes it that wee bit extra special. Not really something you should miss if you’re in the area!
Luckily, with the massive array of tours on offer in Quito and the surrounding area, visiting the middle of the world is actually easier than ever!
In fact you probably don’t even need to leave your accommodation to find one. Unless you’re AirBnb-ing it up in a farm somewhere of course. If you’re in a hostel or hotel they’ll most likely be able to arrange one for you!
Community Hostel offers a half-day tour for just $10.
Technically you’re just paying for transport as it doesn’t include the entry fee to the middle of the world monument ($3.50 for partial access or $7.50 for full access) or the cost of a guided tour around the actual middle of the world ($4). With this in mind, you could probably save a few bob by finding your own way there, but due to time restraints and not wanting the headache of trying to navigate the Ecuadorian public transport system (can anyone say crazy?!), we chose to just go with the tour.
The comfortable minibus leaves from Community Hostel at 2pm. Whereas you don’t necessarily have to book the tour in advance, it’s quite popular so it’s strongly advised that you do! One man trekked for a good forty minutes to our hostel from his own accommodation in the hope that there’d be enough space for him, but it’d actually been fully booked since the night before so he ended up walking away with his tail between his legs.
Don’t be that guy. Book in advance!
The first stop was the geographical middle of the world – the allegedly GPS-accurate equator, which actually turns out to be not so accurate after all!
Check the GPS on your phone when you’re there and you may find that the equator actually runs through the parking lot. Silly geographers what they playin’ at?!
We were sort of herded out of our minibus at this point and pointed in the direction of a slightly terrifying statue and a man with a clipboard, whom we were to pay $4.50 each for a guided tour of the ‘museum’.
It was actually a very interesting tour.
The museum itself is open-air, and they have reconstructions of indigenous housing, traditional clothing and customs, including shrunken heads, all of which are explained to you by a tour guide in the language of your choice (English or Spanish mainly, but I’m sure they could accommodate other languages if required).
I’m still not entirely sure what shrunken heads, guinea pigs and hats made out of mud have to do with the equator, but it was still interesting to learn about them, if only to use my new found knowledge to shock and surprise at a pub quiz one day.
Halfway through the tour you arrive at the actual equator. There’s a line painted on the floor so you know exactly where the northern hemisphere meets the south, and here is where the tour guide proceeds to carry out a whole bunch of scientific experiments to prove that the equator is geographically accurate.
The first of these experiments proved to me that something I’ve had trouble believing my whole life is actually true.
My aunt is from New Zealand and spent a lot of time living in Australia. I remember being quite young – about four or five years old – and my brother telling me that in Australia the water goes the other way around the sink and toilet, because it’s upside down. Obviously I didn’t believe him. But my aunt backed him up and said that it’s true – the water spins the other way around! It made no sense to me, though, and so I spent almost two decades refusing to believe it.
That is, until the day I went to the equator!
Using a portable sink (they exist) with a plughole on a stand and some tiny little leaves, the guide proceeded to show that the water actually spins different ways when you pull the plug out depending on which side of the equator you’re on.
First he stood in the Southern hemisphere, and the leaves moved anti-clockwise when he pulled the plug. Then, he moved to the Northern hemisphere and repeated the experiment. And would you believe it, the leaves moved clockwise! Then, he put the sink directly on the equator, so it was sort of half in and half out of each hemisphere, pulled the plug and the leaves just went down. No movement clockwise or anti-clockwise. It was crazy!
This is where any scientists reading this will go “That’s not crazy, it’s science” but for somebody who spent their whole life believing that their brother and aunt were conspiring against them in the world of toilet flushes, it’s crazy.
The next experiment involved an egg and a pin. Again, it has something to do with the gravitational pull of being on the equator, but I’m not sure about the science of it. If you managed to balance the egg on the pin, you got to go away with a snazzy certificate proclaiming that you are an “Eggmaster”. I mean, who doesn’t wanna be a master of eggs?!
Finally, in another gravity-related experiment we were all told to stand on the equator, close our eyes and put our arms out before trying to walk along the line, one foot in front of the other. Trying to keep your balance was impossible!
Then, it’s photo op time!
There’s a nice inconspicuous sign proclaiming in both Spanish and English that you are indeed at 0° latitude. So this is where you stand, one foot on either side of the red line painted along the floor, sign in front of you and say cheese! Voila, a photo of you in two hemispheres.
Tip: Don’t forget to take your passport if you want to get a fancy ‘Middle of the World’ stamp!
When the tour is over, it’s time to clamber back into the minibus and drive just around the corner to the official Middle of the World monument.
Now this is a very fancy, very large and very expensive looking monument built right on the equator. Except, of course, it’s not actually on the equator. But still, it’s impressive to look at.
If your camera has a good enough zoom lens, you can probably get away with standing just outside of the turnstiles to get a picture. Otherwise you have the choice of paying $3.50 to enter the compound but not enter any of the museums or climb to the top of the monument, or $7.50 for a full entry ticket that permits you to enter any of the surrounding museums and climb to the top of the monument.
As our bus driver told us we only had 30 minutes, I opted for the $3.50 entry. Although it’s not actually on the equator, it’s still a beautiful monument and really deserves to be admired from up close. So if you don’t want to splash out on full entry, at least go for the partial entry. Trust me, it’s worth it!
After half an hour of taking photos and sitting to admire the view, it was time to head back to the minibus and subsequently to the hostel. On the way back you have the option to be dropped off at the periferico (cable car) in order to watch the sun set over Quito. Having exhausted our supply of dollars, and noticing the dark clouds looming overhead, we opted against this and chose to go straight back to the hostel.
All in all, the trip only took about 2 and a half to 3 hours, but it was definitely worth it just to be able to say that you’ve been in two hemispheres at once!