The equator is the imaginary line that separates the northern hemisphere from the southern hemisphere and runs across the center of the Earth at a latitude of exactly zero degrees. In Africa, the equator runs for almost 2,500 miles/ 4,020 kilometers through seven West, Central and East African countries just south of the Sahara Desert. Ironically, the list of African countries bisected by the equator does not include Equatorial Guinea. Instead, they are as follows: São Tomé and Príncipe, Gabon, Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia.
Experiencing the Equator
In the past, it was possible for intrepid travelers to follow the equator on its journey through Africa. However, the route is no longer safe, with several of the countries along the equatorial line plagued by civil war, terrorism, crippling poverty and piracy. The imaginary line also traverses some of the most extreme environments on Earth - including the remote jungles of the Congo, the mist-soaked mountains of Uganda and the deep waters of the largest lake in Africa, Lake Victoria. However, while traveling the length of the equator is no longer advisable, visiting it at least once is an unmissable African experience.
The equator's position is directly related to that of the Earth's rotating axis, which moves slightly throughout the course of the year. Therefore, the equator isn't static - which means that the line drawn on the ground at some equatorial markers is not always entirely accurate. However, this is a technical detail, and these markers are still the closest that you can get to the center of the Earth. Pay any one of them a visit, and you'll be able to say that you've straddled the equator with one foot in each hemisphere.
Africa's Equatorial Markers
Often, the African equator is marked without much fanfare. Usually, a sign at the side of the road is the only indication that you'll have of your momentous location - so it's important to research where the line is in advance so that you can keep a watchful eye out for it. In Kenya, there are signs announcing the equator in the rural towns of Nanyuki and Siriba, while similar signs exist on the Masala-Kampala road in Uganda, and the Libreville-Lambaréné road in Gabon.
One of Africa's most beautiful equatorial markers belongs to its second smallest country, São Tomé and Príncipe. The island nation celebrates its equatorial location with a stone monument and a frieze of the world map located on tiny Rolas Island. The imaginary line also runs through Kenya's Meru National Park, and while there's no marker, there's a certain novelty to game-viewing directly on top of the equator. At luxury hotel Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club Resort, you can cross the equator just by walking from your room to the restaurant.
If you do find yourself on the equator, take a moment to test a few of the bizarre facts and theories connected with standing on the line between both hemispheres. The force of the planet's rotation causes a bulge in the Earth's surface at the equator, which means that you're further from the Earth's center here than anywhere else on the planet. Gravity therefore exerts less of a pull on your body, so that at the equator, you weigh approximately 0.5% less than you would at the Poles.
Some also believe that the rotation of the Earth has an affect on the direction in which draining water flows - so that a toilet flushes clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere. This phenomenon is known as the Coriolis Effect and should dictate that at the equator, water flows straight down the drain. Most scientists agree that due to a high number of external factors, this can't be proven with any real accuracy - but it's still fun to check it out for yourself.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald