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Safety in Ecuador

Before continuing

We highly recommend reading the State Department’s Country Specific Information about Ecuador, and enrolling in the Smart Traveler program before leaving.

Below, we have a brief summary of their report, and contact information for the U.S. Embassy. Please also feel free to contact us directly with any safety questions or concerns:

Important Phone Numbers

  • Police: 101
  • Fire: 102
  • U.S. Embassy: +(593) (2) 398-5000

The U.S. Department on Safety in Ecuador

Cajas National Park EcuadorFor the State Department’s full report, follow this link and click the Safety and Security dropdown.

Natural Disasters: Ecuador has many active and potentially active volcanos. Three volcanos within 100 km of Quito threaten the city primarily with ash fall. Baños, a popular tourist town, is located at the base of a volcano and therefore particularly vulnerable to significant ash fall. In the case of an eruption, stay alert to the sirens and instructions from local authorities. Follow the arrows on the street to evacuation shelters.

Other potential natural disasters include earthquakes, flooding, and tsunamis. Natural disasters can disrupt water, communications, power systems, and transportation. As such, roads and/or flights may be closed temporarily.

The Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute has up-to-date information about potential and impending natural disasters.

Civil Unrest: There are frequent demonstrations and protests in Ecuador. While they typically don’t target foreigners, they are unpredictable and can become violent. Avoid demonstrations and protest whenever possible.

The northern border of Ecuador (with Colombia) is a restricted region for U.S. government personnel. At least 11 Americans are known to have been kidnapped along the northern border during the past 11 years.

Travel in the Galapagos: The Galapagos’s geography (islands 600 miles west of continental Ecuador) can present significant challenges in terms of access to basic resources and medical treatment. Safety standards on boats to and around the Galapagos also vary significantly. Purchasing travel insurance that includes air evacuation is strongly recommended, as air evacuation from the Galapagos can cost upwards of $50,000 and take a long time to arrange.

Crime is a severe problem in Ecuador, and foreigners are often targets of offenses ranging from petty theft to violent crime. Taxi Cathedral in Quito Ecuadorassaults are increasingly common, wherein armed robbers, working with the driver, stop the taxi and rob the passenger, or force them to take money out of ATMs. These assaults increasingly include beatings and rapes. The State Department recommends calling taxis, instead of hailing them off the street. If you must hail a taxi, look for yellow cabs that have matching unit numbers on their windshields and doors, feature a taxi cooperative number on the door, and have an orange license plate. These qualities, however, do not exclude the taxi from risk.

Violent robberies occur all over Ecuador, not just in major cities. The State Department recommends avoiding withdrawing large amounts of cash at ATMs, as these are common locations for robberies. Indoor ATMs, such as those in well-guarded shopping malls are optimal.

Non-violent theft is the most common crime committed against foreigners in Ecuador and is particularly likely in crowded areas like markets, tourist destinations, bus terminals, and on public transportation. Bags are often stolen from under a bus seat, so either put your bag on your lap, or lock it and wrap a strap around your leg. Thieves sometimes use distraction tactics in order to rob victims as a team – such distractions include deliberately spilling on the target and “helping” them “clean it up,” or feigning some kind of choking attack, while accomplices rob the good samaritan target.

Do not leave anything valuable within plain sight in a car, even if you are currently driving it. Smash and grab robbery occurs during heavy traffic or at red lights, particularly if the driver is alone, and especially if the driver is female.

Incidents of sexual assault have increased in recent years, particularly against women who are alone at night. Perpetrators often use “date rape” drugs in the victim’s drink to disorient or incapacitate. The State Department recommends that women travel with groups and never accept a drink from a stranger.

Areas in which to be particularly alert in Quito: Panecillo, the Historic District, El Tejar, Parroquia San Sebastian, Avenida Cristobal Colon, Gonzalez Suarez, and Mariscal Sucre.

Areas in which to be particularly alert in Guayaquil and along the coast: the downtown, the Christ statue (Sagrado Corazon de Jesus), Cerro del Carmen, the Malecon 2000, Las Peñas.

In Our Experience

One of our co-founders, Jack, traveled all over Ecuador for a month; he wrote the following section.

Be a little extra paranoid with your belongings. Always keep them touching you and within sight. Air on the side of paranoid when people approach you on the street. Be aware that if you’re white, you stand out, which makes you more likely to be targeted. Your dress will likely also give you away, no matter what color your skin. A big backpack is a dead giveaway, as it is anywhere.

Buses: Keep carry-on bags on your lap, or wrap part of it around your leg if you’re keeping it below your seat. For those coming up from Peru, lower your bus expectations considerably in terms of comfort, professionalism, and driving quality. Know that Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador are forbidden from riding overnight buses in Ecuador because of the significant safety risks. This is particularly true of buses that pass over and along the Andes mountains. There are few instances when night buses are beneficial anyway (Ecuador is not that big), and they’re incredibly cold and uncomfortable, so we can’t recommend taking a night bus.

Along the coast: There is a lot of partying, including drug use, at destinations along the coast. Be aware of what you’re drinking at all times and I wouldn’t recommend accepting drinks from strangers.

Ecuador for Women

(Note from the founders: this section was written collaboratively by a white American female who lived in Ecuador for a few months and a black American female who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador for two years)

Bucay, Guayas, Ecuador, Guayaquil

Most crime in Ecuador is poverty-driven and usually nonviolent. But the safe traveler is the cautious traveler. To avoid pickpockets, be wary of anyone who comes to you with unsolicited advice, directions, or help. Move away quickly and never allow others to handle your belongings. Many pickpockets will use distraction methods such as surreptitiously squirting ketchup on your back and offering to wipe it off, meanwhile making off with your bag. To prevent the less tactful thieves from stealing your valuables, slash-proof bags and money pouches are recommended.

While the cultures on the coast, sierra (mountains), and rainforest differ, in general, you will be catcalled, stared at, and/or asked about your marital situation constantly. To avoid added attention, dress conservatively and NEVER smile at random men! Smiling is sometimes taken as an invitation to flirt or a signal that you like the attention.

There are plenty of ways to get about the country. If you choose to travel by bus, opt for a daytime departure. You will be choosing a safer and more scenic ride. Night buses are enticing for their efficiency however they are more likely to crash, be held up, or hijacked. For shorter commutes, take yellow taxis with the proper licensing displayed both inside and outside the vehicle.

Ecuadorian nightlife can be lots of fun as long as take proper precautions. Always be aware of what you are drinking. Watch the bartender prepare your order and never leave your drinks unattended. When in a big city or at night, it is best to travel with a friend or someone you trust in well-lit and well populated areas. ALWAYS call for a taxi from a reputable taxi service (you can usually get these numbers in hotels or malls). Before entering a taxi, make sure they have the proper tags, camera, panic buttons, and that the taxi driver displays his license and registration. And never share a cab or divulge too much information about yourself such as where you’re staying or that you’re traveling alone. Always keep your purse or wear your bookbag in front of you to avoid pick-pocketers.

Also, tap water is not safe to drink for foreigners. Keep bottled water with you whenever possible.

Finally: sunscreen! Bring it, use it, reapply it. Ecuador is close to the sun, ladies.

U.S. Embassy Quito Information