Experiencing the Fascinating Uniqueness of Zero Latitude in Ecuador
The equator — the invisible line dividing the Earth in half north to south — has been studied by scientists for centuries. And the infamous line is made even more famous by the proud Ecuadorians who boast about it — and rightfully so — being one of the several geographical aspects that makes their country so incredibly unique. Visiting the equator is a must when volunteering in Ecuador, and should be on everyone’s bucket list. Read on for what fascinating things you can learn about zero latitude in Ecuador.
Quito: The Largest Major Equatorial City on Earth
The equator stretches all around the Earth, passing through approximately 79% of water and 21% of land, and running through a total of 14 countries. Although the equator passes through other countries around the globe, no other country seems to show so much pride for its unique geographical position at the “middle of the world” or the bulge of the Earth. One of the reasons for that is that Quito, Ecuador is the closest major city to the equatorial line on the planet. It’s so close by — just 15 minutes from Global Volunteers’ partner community of Calderón in northeastern Quito — and so much fun, that it’s one of the most popular free-time options for volunteers in Ecuador. After all, it is thrilling to have one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern. This small Andean country is the only one in the world that carries this identify in its name as “Ecuador” means “equator” in Spanish. In fact, both the capital city of Quito and the country get their names from their equatorial location.
Another geographical aspect of Ecuador’s zero latitude that makes it unique is its location high in the Andes. The monument to zero latitude just north of Quito is located at 9,861 feet above sea level — that’s 1.74 miles above sea level! Ecuador certainly has a lot of uniqueness packed into its mere 98,990 square miles — about the size of the state of Colorado. Also due to the country’s position straddling the equator and high in the Andes Mountains, the peak of Mount Chimborazo (20,548 feet) is the point on the planet closest to the sun. Measuring from the Earth’s core outward, it’s the highest peak on Earth. This is just yet another geographical characteristic of Ecuador that makes its citizens so proud of their country.
So what is so special about this invisible line of zero latitude?
The Equator: Fascinating Scientists for Centuries
Basically, the scientific features of the equator are that the bulge of the Earth is the result of the planet’s diameter being wider at the equator — abut 26 miles wider than at the poles. And as a result of the rotation, gravitational pull is weaker at the equator than at the poles. Over the centuries, many scientists have studied this unique location. But even before the arrival of foreign scientists in Ecuador, the pre-Columbian Quitu culture took its name from the equator: “qui” meaning “middle” and “tu” meaning “Earth”. Using a sundial, they had located the equator before the French mission came to study the line with surveying equipment in the 18th century.
The first Geodesic Mission of the French Academy of Sciences brought French scientists and Spanish naval officers to Ecuador in 1736 to determine the equatorial line. “Geodesic”, which originally meant the shortest line between two points on a curved surface, became generalized to define the science of measuring the Earth’s size and shape. These scientists, who were part of the first major international scientific expedition, sought to provide more information about the Earth’s circumference and set out on two expeditions — one to Ecuador and the other to the North Pole. This mission was the first of its kind to employ modern scientific principles.
The Middle of the World Monument
The “Middle of the World” monument was built in the late 20th century and is a towering 100-foot structure holding up a giant globe. It’s surrounded by a large open plaza with the four cardinal directions imprinted on large stones. However, this monument is off by approximately 240 meters from the actual equator line. Nevertheless, this does not affect visitors, who still love to take photos at the monument. If you leave the misplacement to the side and focus on the monument honoring the scientific engagement sparked by the equatorial line, you’ll be both curious and fascinated. And then you can hop over to the true and accurate equator line right next door — detailed below.
The Middle of the World monument is surrounded by cafés, restaurants, artisanal shops, a craft beer museum, and other scientific establishments, including a planetarium. After taking those iconic photos in the two hemispheres, people can enjoy walking around, shopping, and taking in the uniqueness of this location on Earth.
The True and Accurate Equatorial Line at Intiñan
Right next door is Intiñan Museum, where the true zero-degree latitude equator line runs. The museum’s name means “Path of the Sun” in the indigenous language Quechua as inti means “sun” and ñan means “path”. Intiñan offers a fun and engaging tour to learn about the unique phenomenon that occur only at zero latitude as well as the ethnographic history of different regions of Ecuador. Here, your guide will take you through demonstrations of the effects of the weaker gravitational pull at the equator as a result of the Earth’s fast rotation at the middle of the planet. To see all of these amazing demonstrations, you’re just going to have the take the trip yourself (we don’t want to spoil all the surprises!), but they include being able to balance an egg on the head of a nail as well as not being able to walk in a straight line with your eyes closed and your arms out! You’ll most likely lose your balance. This experiment is also certain to cause a lot of laughter as well as some competitiveness.
Visitors here can learn about traditions, rituals, cultural artifacts, and tools used for hunting and fishing. This museum seeks to teach about the country’s four main regions – the Andes, the Coast, the Amazon, and the Galápagos Islands – and the cultures and cosmography of the original inhabitants of these places through which the equator passes. One of the newest additions to Intiñan is the chocolate exhibit as Ecuador produces some of the finest, most aromatic varieties of cacao in the world.
Intiñan also exhibits some of the Amazon’s iconic flora and fauna. And there is also an original hut (choza in Spanish) that is said to be a representation of ancestral culture from Ecuador and an actual residence that stood in the exact same spot in 1875. The choza is made from mud, stone, excrement, and bamboo, and shows how traditional homes were kept warm and protected from earthquakes. Guinea pigs are kept in the hut and visitors can learn all about how important these little animals are in some Ecuadorian cultures.
Fun Facts About the Equator
Check out these some lesser-known facts about the equator:
The Equator in Video
Take a look at the first minute of this video, which highlights the awesomeness of the Middle of the World:
Zero Latitude: An Excellent Hands-on Learning Experience
People of all ages enjoy visiting the equator as there is a lot to do here! It’s a fun and educational activity that is excellent for young, learning minds as well. Young volunteers in Ecuador commonly say visiting Intiñan was one of the highlights of their free time.
When you volunteer in Ecuador, in your free time in the evenings and on the weekend you’ll be able to visit the equator and other natural, cultural, and historic attractions for which Ecuador is renown, making for a rich cultural and service experience.
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