Mitad del Mundo is a monument marking where the Equator crosses through Equador. It is a must see for anyone who visits Quito, and lots of tour operators will try to sell you guided day trips there, but these tours are less flexible and usually much more expensive than doing it on your own.
The cheapest way to go there is by public bus from Los Rios, where you would pay 50 cents per bus ride and transfer just once. The easiest way, is just by getting a taxi which has a flat rate of 20 US dollars each way when travelling from the old city. I got a taxi there together with a Canadian student and a German guy with a Phd in Physics very eager to see the physics experiments at the Equator, and since we did not keep the taxi driver waiting for more than two hours he agreed to wait for us for free.
To get into Mitad del Mundo you have to pay three dollars at the entrance, and that is just to see a park with the monument, and if you want to go into the monument for a tour of the cultural museum inside it you need to pay anothe three dollars.
The Mitad del Mundo was where the old explorers figured that the Equator had to be, according to their old measuring instruments. Now the actual Equator has been found with modern GPS equipment to be around 250 meters south of the monument. And that is where you will find the most fun part about the Middle of the Earth: the Intinian Solar Museum. You have to pay four dollars to get in, but that includes a guided 45 minute tour with an English speaking guide which is the best guided tour I have ever done. The tour explains a lot about Equatorian culture such as how Cuy (Guinea pig) came to be such an expensive dish and how the natives used to shrink human heads. There ever was an actual shrunken head with a size of a golf ball that was over a hundred years old, and a more recent shrunken sloth head to show that the natives could still do it. The tour also explained a lot about the animals you can find in the Amazon such as the snakes (15m boa constrictors), spiders (huge tarantulas) and Candirus fish (that swims through your urine and bites on to the wall of your bladder to suck blood and grow inside you). The absolute highlight of the day was to do the experiments that can only be done on the exact equatorial line such as:
Less than two hours before we arrived at The Middle of the Earth we were ready to head home. All in all it was a pretty awesome museum to visit, and really easy to just do on your own, without any tour booked in advance. We spent less than 20 dollars total for the hald day tour, also leaving us plenty of time to do other things that day.
6.45 a white pickup with bikes on the back was waiting for us outside our hostel. Inside was our guide and an 67 year old lady from England who were going with us up to the Cotopaxi Volcano, which has the second highest summit in Equador at 5897 meters above sea level.
On the way up we had to stop several times to acclimatize and let our bodies get used to the altitude bit by bit. Since our guide was a former park ranger in the national park, he used these oportunities to explain the map of where we would be going and to tell us all about the plants, animals and landscape which he seemed to know a lot about. For the first stop it was also possible to purchase warm clothing from locals waiting for tourists, and on the second stop you could drink coca tea that should help coping with the high altitudes. On the last stop before our walk there was also an oportunity to get a stamp in your passport from Cotopaxi stating the altitude you had been to.
Our trek started at the end of the road, at a parking lot at 4600 meters. The wind was blowing heavily and the snow hit us in the faces like small mosquitos would do when driving a motorbike. Luckily we had brought lots of warm clothes, and the guide provided us with some ugly boots that kept our feet dry. The weather was not in our favor, but that seemed to make it a bit more exiting and challenging, and despite the small snowstorm we all were motivated to get up to the top of the tourist trail.
We walked slowly, foot by foot. Both because our sunglases were filled with snow making it almost impossible to see anything and because of the guide stating the importance of not going up too fast to avoid altitude sickness. Panting was not allowed at all.
At 4864 meters we reached the refuge, where people would normally take a break and drink a coca tea before continuing, but since it was under reconstruction we did not get to go in and just made a small break outside by the sign instead. At that point the British woman had to lay down, and it did not take a long time before she started vomiting because of the altitude. And that was a woman who had walked the Inca Trail and climed to the top of Kilimanjaro before, so our guess was that she was not in shape that day or that she had just not been in the height long enough to be doing the trek. As we were determined to get to the top, we continued without her and the guide and made it to the glacier, meaning that we had reached our goal of passing 5000 meters! Going down afterwards was quick and easy with the thought of the achievement in the back of our minds. In total it took us between three to four hours round trip to do the trek.
When we got back to the parking lot at the bottom the guide and the girls got in the car to warm themselved, while I jumped on one of the bikes taking me almost a kilometer downhill past the Quilota Lagoon and to the place we could get our passport stamped before, where the bicycle was loaded on to the car again to drive back to the city. It had been a great tour and the fact that the weather was at its worst just made it a bit more of an achievement.
On the way back we strolled through the street of La Ronda, which is also known as Calle Morales where we found a great, small Equadorian restaurant serving banana tortillas with chicken and other Equadorian combinations for just a dollar and a half. The neighbourhood was also beautiful with balconies decorated with flags and flowers over stone paved streets where children were playing.
After spending some time in the old city, we took a taxi up to the Teleréfico ticket office, which like all other taxi rides in Quito cost us only 3 dollars. The gondola took us all the way up to the Cruz Loma Viewpoint at 4100 meters, which was enough to get us all dizzy while strolling around the viewpoint. Although the landscape was much more impressing on todays cable car ride, yesterdays ride up the Teleferíco de Monserrate in Bogota gave us a much better view over the city as it was not as far up as the one in Quito. Once the sun set on the top, it got dark and cold pretty quick. When getting back to the city in the evening, the streets were all empty, meaning it was time for us to head back to our hostel and just call it a day as tomorrow there will be more adventures awaiting.