Quito, Ecuador – 1km from the equator, capital city at the centre of the world 2

Quito, Ecuador has the honour of being one of the first two sites selected for UNESCO World Heritage status (the other was Krakow, Poland). The city is also the 2nd highest capital in the world, with an average elevation of 2,850 metres (the highest is La Paz, Bolivia; in 3rd place is Thimpu, Bhutan).

But when it comes to proximity to the equator, Quito reigns supreme. The equator lies just 25 kilometres from the city centre, and it sits within a kilometre of the city outskirts.

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador. Photo credit: Benjamin White

The founding of Quito

Quito was founded in 1534 by conquistador Diego de Almagro (who fought alongside Francisco Pizarro in the conquest of Peru, and who, in 1535, claimed the lands of Chile for Spain). Quito was absorbed into the Viceroyalty of Peru (which extended across most of Spanish South America) until the year 1717, when it switched to the Viceroyalty of New Granada (which extended across Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and parts of Venezuela).

Basílica del Voto Nacional, Quito, Ecuador

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

In 1822 Antonio José de Sucre, under the command of independence leader Simón Bolívar, fought the Battle of Pichincha against the royalist army on the slopes of eponymously named volcano (located on the outskirts of the city). The battle, which led to the defeat of the royalists and the surrender of Quito, was fought at 3,500 metres elevation, which surely makes it one of the most altitudinous battles in history.

Quito, Ecuador

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Quito went on to join Simón Bolívar’s Republic of Gran Colombia, before, in 1830, becoming the capital of a newly independent Ecuador.

Cathedral of Quito

Cathedral of Quito, Ecuador

Cathedral of Quito. Photo credit: Benjamin White

The conquistadors began building their first church in Quito as soon as the city was founded (1534). The Cathedral of Quito took the place of that first church. Commenced in 1562, the cathedral wasn’t completed until 1806 (it was set back by a few earthquakes and volcanic eruptions), and is now the preeminent Catholic church in Ecuador.

The cathedral has seen its share of drama, the most theatrical of which was perhaps the poisoning of the Bishop of Quito, José Ignacio Checa y Barba, on Good Friday, 1870. The bishop drank consecrated wine to which strychnine had been added.

Antonio José de Sucre, who liberated Quito from the Spanish in 1822 (who served once as president of Peru, and once as president of Bolivia) is buried here. His wife was a Quiteña.

Basílica del Voto Nacional

Basílica del Voto Nacional, Quito, Ecuador

Basílica del Voto Nacional. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Basílica del Voto Nacional (the Basilica of the National Vow), at 115 metres in height, towers over the historic centre of Quito. Construction of the basilica began in 1892, it was mostly complete by 1909, but wasn’t consecrated until 1988.

It’s currently the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas.

Basílica del Voto Nacional, Quito, Ecuador

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Visitors are allowed to climb to the top of the twin towers, from where there stunning views over Quito and the surrounding landscape.

It also provides the opportunity – in case you ever found yourself feeling so inclined – to admire a watchtower from the inside.

Mitad del Mundo

Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

What else would you do on the equator but have a north vs south arm wrestle? Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The Monument to the Equator, built in 1982 at the town of Mitud del Mundo, is a memorial to the 1736 French Geodesic expedition that attempted to measure the shape of the world. The monument at Mitad del Mundo has a line running through it that is meant to demarcate the exact location of the equator.

Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Mitad del Mundo. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Only it’s in the wrong spot.

Advancements in technology have determined (using the World Geodetic System) that the true equator lies about 240 metres north of the monument.

Intiñan Solar Museum

Two hundred odd metres north of the Mitad del Mundo monument is the Intiñan Solar Museum, a private museum that claims to be situated directly on top of the true equator.

Intiñan Solar Museum, Quito, Ecuador

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The museum is more of a believe-it-or-not amusement park; tour guides lead tourists through a series of fun tricks that are meant to demonstrate the Coriolis effect, or lack of (executed with a movable sink, and by balancing an upturned egg on the head of a nail, amongst other things), but it’s all just smoke and mirrors. Don’t believe a word they say. More transport info here.

Read more on the historic centre of Quito in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Or visit my crappy capital cities page.

More on South America:


La Paz – at 3650m it’s the world’s highest capital. Also the most impractical?

Salar de Uyuni – 10,000km2 of salt; it’s the same size as Lebanon


Lopes Mendes Beach, Ihla Grande – former leper colony, now Brazil’s most beautiful beach

Iguazu Falls – is it the tallest waterfall? no. Most powerful? no. Greatest? yes!


Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island – 15 moai, once toppled, now back on their feet

Mount Villarrica – hike to top of 2840m volcano, take pic, toboggan down


Yanayacu River, Amazon Rainforest – screamers, hoatzins, and pink dolphins

Ancient pyramid in the heart of Lima – Huaca Pucllana 

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2 thoughts on “Quito, Ecuador – 1km from the equator, capital city at the centre of the world

  • Karen White

    I hope you won the arm wrestle!! The city looks very large and quite impressive.It must be hard to acclimatise to that altitude for some people. Quite an honour for the city to be on the equator.