The Equator monument isn’t the only thing to see in San Antonio de Pichincha. There are some very interesting Inca ruins, the crater of an inhabited volcano, and another Equator museum which claims to be the true location of the Equator. You can do some of them on a guided tour booked at La Mitad del Mundo or it’s possible to do all of them alone.
The absolute best thing you can do at La Mitad del Mundo “city” is go to the office of Calima Tours and book a tour to Pululahua, an active volcano and geobotanical reserve. The tour drives you to a lookout point at the edge of the crater, which is just 10 minutes from Mitad del Mundo. For US$4 per person, tours depart every hour starting at 10am. It’s best to go as early as possible. I’ll explain why below.
Once at the edge of the crater, you will see nothing but green. About 160 indigenous families have lived there for over 1000 years, despite the danger the volcano brings. They have almost no connection to the outside world because TV and cell phone signals do not reach the inside of the crater. They are farmers and maintain 100% organic crops. Many people live well into their 90s. In fact, the guide who took us said that in his 25 years of taking people to Pululahua, only two residents have died. There is no cemetery for that reason – people are buried near their homes.
It takes about a half hour to climb down to the bottom of the crater and an hour to climb back up. There was a school teacher who came every day from Quito for nine years and climbed down and back up at the end of the day. When she quit, the school closed because nobody would replace her. There are countless other fascinating stories the guide told us about the volcano, and it was easily the highlight of our trip to Mitad del Mundo.
Why go early? The picture below was taken literally just three minutes after the previous one. Clouds rush in in the afternoon and visibility is limited to nothing by about 3pm. Therefore, the earlier, the better. Also, try walking down the path a bit. It’s cold at the top of the crater but it gets warmer as you descend. You can feel the temperature rising slightly even just 100m down the path.
To visit Pululahua on your own is easy. For just a few cents, you can take a bus to the edge of the road to the lookout and walk the rest of the way up. Admission to the lookout is free and it’s open from 8am to 5pm. There are a few places selling food and drinks along with a bunch of souvenir shops. If you want to go down into the crater, there is a small hostel.
Rumicucho and Catequilla
Another interesting place to visit is Rumicucho, an Inca fortress built in the late 1400s to protect Catequilla. There isn’t much to see on top other than a few walls, but the story is interesting as are the views of the area. It is also known to be an area of great magnetic activity, so much so that the Incas believed anyone injured by the activity was being punished by the gods.
Catequilla is a hill with an important astronomic center on the top. It was sacred to the pre-Inca and Inca people and it 100% accurately marks the equator – all done with primitive tools and astronomical knowledge. You can also visit Catequilla by taxi or on a tour (see below).
Admission to Rumicucho is just US$1, and a taxi can take you and wait for US$4. We decided to go with a guide, Edwin, who we found at Mitad del Mundo. He charged US$5 per person and was an incredibly knowledgable and friendly guy. He also gives tours to Catequilla, the old Mitad del Mundo monument in Calacalí, Pululahua, and just about anywhere else you want to go within five hours of Quito. Tours are in Spanish, and you can contact him at 0979142420 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is highly recommended.
Finally, a short walk a few hundred meters from the entrance to Mitad del Mundo, is Museo Intiñan. This was a very interesting place that also claims to be exactly on the equator. Admission is US$2 and guided tours last about 45 minutes. It’s open from 9am to 5pm.
First, there is a quick explanation about the indigenous people that live in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle. The guide talks about how and why they shrink the heads of enemies. We also got to see a few stuffed jungle critters such as tarantulas and snakes along with a burial mound.
Next, the fun stuff. We were treated to demonstrations of how sundials accurately predicted each month and season, and test of the coriolis effect and the direction in which water drains on either side of the equator. The water drained in different directions on either side of the line, and went straight down when exactly on the line. I was skeptical.
We were also given the chance to balance an egg on the head of a nail, which is said to be easily done at the equator. Those who were successful were given a certificate. Others were given the chance to walk the line with their eyes closed – but without falling over. Many failed. Strength tests on and off the line followed. At the end of the tour, we were given a passport stamp from the “middle of the world”.
Are these “tests” to be believed or just gimmicky parlor tricks? You be the judge. All in all, it was fun to try them out.