Amazing Places

There's an Equator Theme Park in Ecuador, But It's in the Wrong Place

Every year, half a million tourists visit Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, a popular theme park in Quito, Ecuador. Designed to mark and celebrate the equator — earth's imaginary geographical line that divides the Northern and Southern Hemispheres — this famous location attracts travelers hoping to stand at the center of the Earth. The only problem is, they're standing in the wrong place.

Related Video: Why Do More Species Live at the Equator?

Not Quite Centered

Translated into English as "Middle of the World City," "Ciudad Mitad del Mundo" is a government-owned tract of land just 16 miles (26 kilometers) north of the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. While the theme park offers food, souvenirs, and an indigenous peoples museum, it is most famous for its 100-foot (30-meter) globe monument and the yellow line painted along the ground to mark the precise center of the earth: 0 degrees latitude. Travelers from around the world flock here for photo ops and a chance to cross "standing on the Equator" off their bucket lists. Sadly, however, they'll need to walk north for a few minutes to make that happen.

According to GPS, the true equator is located about 800 feet (243 meters) from the current monument. That's about two and a half football fields in distance — a pretty big discrepancy for a theme park whose entire existence is based on its location. So how did Ecuador make such a major mistake?

Equatorial History

In 1736, an expedition called the French Geodesic Mission set out to Ecuador to settle a significant debate: Is the Earth's circumference greater at the equator or at the poles? To figure this out, they measured one degree of latitude at the equator, by measuring the distance between mountaintops there, and compared it to one degree of latitude further north, in France. Scientists spent 10 long years perfecting their measurements to finally conclude that the Earth's circumference is, in fact, greatest at the equator. These results proved once and for all that Isaac Newton was right: our planet is an oblate spheroid, a sphere that's slightly flattened at its poles.

200 years later, in 1936, the French American Committee of Ecuador chose to commemorate this mission by sponsoring the construction of a 32-foot (10-meter) tall monument at the equator. Unfortunately, GPS was decades away from being invented, so the builders' measurements missed the mark slightly. In 1979, the more recognizable and larger 100-foot (30-meter) tall globe monument took its place.

Hoping to fix the situation, Ecuadorian officials recently commissioned plans from New York architect Rafael Viñoly to build a new 5,000-foot (1,524-meter) tall monument at the exact equator, but estimates for the project came in at a whopping $250 million. Luckily, for now, tourists hoping to stand at the actual center of the Earth can take a quick drive to Intiñan, a private site nearby where the real equator awaits.

Get stories like this one in your inbox each morning. Sign up for our daily email here.

Learn more about how early explorers measured our planet in "Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World" by Larrie D. Ferreiro. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Gabriel December 7, 2018

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.