The Truth About Safety in Ecuador

 

On the internet and on the Gringo Trail, people have asked me about safety in Ecuador.   Is it dangerous?  Will I get mugged, robbed, killed?  In the guidebooks and discussion forums, the crime news can be overwhelming.  There are people who have been robbed on their front door and raped 2 blocks from their house.  Neil and I met a couple who were sprayed with feces, and during the ensuing confusion (and disgust) three people tried to rob them.  In Otavalo, I met a woman who, after 15 years of living in the country, was robbed on the bus from Quito.  In Cuenca, I met one man (an army veteran) who had been robbed at gun point and then jumped by a group of locals within seven days of each other.  So while safety is an issue in Ecuador, this aspect is a constant concern in world travel in general.  Ecuador is a special place, worth visiting and living in.  Originally, we had only planned five weeks for this little country.  Instead, we stayed the entire length of our visa– crossing the border at Loja into Peru– and intend to return again soon.  The people are warm and helpful.  The landscape is beautiful.  That being said, here’s the truth about travel safety and how we dealt with it.

 

Cuenca has beautiful boulevards and romantic side streets.

Paranoia?  I Prefer Constant Vigilance

The fact of the matter is I’m from New York and I’m the first person to say “I don’t trust nobody!”  Not saying that I’m paranoid but I don’t like dark side streets or ATMs off the main drag.  My hand is physically resting on my bags during bus rides and a carabiner clamps my purse to a chair while I eat dinner.  While some people say I am paranoid, I prefer the words of JK Rowling’s Mad-Eye Moody; I practice constant vigilance.  I travel in groups when I can.  I don’t carry much cash on me.  I keep small bills and coins in my pocket so that I don’t have to pull out my money wallet.  And I am now thoroughly in the habit of checking over my shoulder regularly.  So while I do consider myself lucky, I also think this aspect of my personality has contributed to safer travels in Ecuador and Peru as well as general safety in South America.

 

 

Banos is 3.5 hours south of Quito and is one of the safest towns in Ecuador

Stay Safe and Use Common Sense in South America

ATMs:  I use ATMs (usually in the mornings) that are attached to actual banks and preferably inside a guarded alcove.  Once I make a withdrawal, which during long-term travel, is never less than US$100, I make a beeline back to my hotel and lock it away.  Carrying large sums of cash on you, makes you a target.  So take it out and stash it away.

 

Nightlife:  Take official taxis.  In Ecuador, call for one.  In Peru, look for the official blue sticker on the side of the cab.  Lock the doors and don’t accept additional passengers off the street.  Travel in groups and never walk home alone, even if it is just a few blocks.  Cabs are US$2, so do it.  Don’t leave your drink unattended or accept them from strangers.

 

Bus Rides:  Check low-value luggage below and ask the porter to keep an eye on your pack.  Bring valuables on board with you.  If the driver asks to take your bag, just say “arriba” and point to the seats.  He’ll understand.  Inside the bus, never put your bag on the top rack or even at your feet.  The optimal place is in your lap.  If someone leans over you to open the window, just keep your hand on top of your bag.  If someone asks for the time, don’t be ashamed to decline assistance.  On overnight buses, Neil and I use carabiners to link our bags together and to the seat.  Brightly-colored ones signal would-be thieves that we mean business.

 

A small town with a big party scene, Montanita is a fun seaside spot for relaxing

Walking Tours:  Always ask the hotel desk and tourist office about walking around town.  What streets should you avoid?  Until what time is it safe to walk around?  Are there certain trams/buses to avoid?  In terms of hikes, I felt very safe walking around Otavalo and the tourist office encouraged our explorations.  However in Vilcabamba, we were advised to stay clear of one specific trail.  We did and all ended well, for us.

 

Overall, remember that the average person in Ecuador makes about US$400 a month.  So when you bust out that iPod Touch or a crumpled wad of green backs, people will notice–sometimes the wrong type of people.  Stay humble and don’t give anyone a reason to hurt you.  Don’t walk home drunk and don’t leave your bag on the counter because you’re “just going to look over here for a second”.  During our 3 months in Ecuador, I felt the most safe in Banos and Montanita while Quito and Guayaquil felt the most intimidating to me.  Even locals there advised us to take care with our belongings. If something arises, don’t hold back your goods and cash.  Give them over and walk away with your life.  As I tell friends along the trail: “It just aint worth it, kid.”

 

 

 

 

About Melissa Ruttanai

Melissa is a social media coordinator, pro-blogger, and certified teacher. Her travel obsessions have brought her to 33 countries and 25 US States. Her work has been published by at DINK Life, International Living Magazine, Escape From America Magazine, Trazzler and On Holiday Magazine. Connect with Melissa on Google+ Twitter: @WorldWinder and Facebook.com/WorldWinder
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45 Responses to The Truth About Safety in Ecuador

  1. As a fellow New Yorker who travels I think you’re spot on, Melissa. (I have been enjoying your writing, following your links from LinkedIn.) I’ve been to many a place where travels all around were being ripped off and in each case, the people let the bag out of their sight. A few times I didn’t even realize people were trying to scam me because of how I naturally acted defensively. (I was always polite, never offensive, but always careful.)

    A New Yorker advising people to take cars… funny as taking a cab is contrary to all I know from NYC, but the way you put it, I believe it makes good sense and I will remember this as I finally get to visit Ecuador.

    Keep up the terrific writing!

    • Hi Deborah! Hope you’re celebrating the Giants as we all are in NYC. Thank you so much for following the writing. We are trying to be honest and fair and realistic about long term travel. Of course, safety is super important–and closely followed by not getting ripped off. But I agree that neither of these aspects should deter world travel.

      I have to laugh when you mentioned taking cabs. I hate cabs, would rather walk from place to place (which is what we’ve ALWAYS done before). But in Ecuador especially in the big cities… we suck up our pride and hale the cabbies. This is hard for us. We are used to walking 8 hours in a day (helps burn the extra sake at lunch:)

      When will you be in Ecuador? Where are you headed?

  2. Thanks so much for your post, Melissa. I really appreciate the honest advice and will forward your link to my travelling companion for our upcoming trip to South Am as she tends to be a bit more courageous and nonchalant about travel risks than I might be.

    • Hi Doreen! I’d curb the more risky travel habits in the big cities: Quito and Guayaquil. In Guayaquil, I immediately felt shaded-out. So, Neil and I were literally in the city for 5 hours, enough to arrange our overnight bus. But, I will say that Guayaquil has the best bus terminal in Ecuador. It’s a mall, arcade, and transport hub.

  3. Liz Hamill says:

    Thank you for a great, honest post! I’m tentatively planning a trip to Ecuador this year or next, and I appreciate this info and will act accordingly. It won’t be too tough for me–except for the caribeeners, I pretty much do everything you describe. Even when I’m traveling in the States, I’m one of those people who double-wraps the strap of her bag around her ankle in the airport and the train station and even in restaurants.

    • Neil Friedman says:

      Hey Liz, Glad to hear you’re coming south of the equator. Melissa does a good job of explaining how it is. What we really noticed in Ecuador was that the majority of people who did experience trouble were intoxicated (70%). Others were targets because of their bags or location generally. But seriously after 98 days in country, we loved Ecuador and are planning a return in the spring.

  4. I’d love to know what you think of a woman travelling alone, in case I/she doesn’t meet someone with whom to travel in Ecuador.

    • Hey Deborah! Solo travelers are extremely common in Ecuador (and the world over). Of the solo travelers that we’ve met, I’d say over 60% are female. Of course, you have to use your wits just like everyone else but off the top of my head, I can think of 4 women who struck out on their own. Two were long term expats, living and exploring in Ecuador. Two others just traveling through on their way to Colombia. They caught buses off the Panamericana Highway and did all the sights by themselves. It’s cool and they REALLY loved the life :)

      • Also, solo women travelers are more likely to tag along with other travel groups. Neil and I often pick up travel buddies. In Vietnam, Thailand, Ecuador, Peru, and in Bolivia, we strike up conversations with solo women travelers and end up sharing the road for a week or two. Our friend Marie (from Quebec) just left us. We traveled with her from Copacabana to La Paz to the Death Road. Good times! I’d say, go for it!! :)

  5. Robin says:

    I’d like to learn Spanish and live with a host family (immersion) for three months with an eye toward relocating in Ecuador. How does one best choose which agency and/or school to deal with? I’d be a woman traveling alone.

    • Hi Robin! I’d first decide where you want to move. Most expats sample Ecuador via Banos, Cuenca, and the Ruta del Sol. All have English schools of similar quality and cost around US$5 per hour. Homestays can be tricky. I’d start with AirBnB and then on the ground see who is hosting English speakers. Personally, I don’t use agencies. They have too much control in a situation that is very important. And fees can be crazy.

  6. Kevin says:

    Can you give me information about Quito? Is it dangerous? Did the rate got higher? can i have infos about Quito, Ecuador?

    • Neil Friedman says:

      Hi Kevin,
      If it’s your first time in Quito, I’d sign up as a member for the South American explorers club. They’re on Facebook too so you can ask some questions and have up to the date information. In general, you should just be aware of your surroundings. I’d stay with Pili (our homestay host in the New Town). She’s great and can point you in the direction of the local buzz. The stories that you hear around the internet are unfortunately true but sometimes exaggerated. Note that Neil and I didn’t really hit up the nightlife too much in Quito. But in Banos, Montanita, and Manta–we felt fine.

  7. Jenni says:

    Melissa, I am considering taking my family of 5 (kids twin 4 year olds and a 1 year old) to Ecuador for a couple years. I am considering taking an international teaching job. Do you feel it is safe for such a long period of time and with such young kids? We would either be based in quito or Guayaquil. Thanks,Jenni

    • Hi Jenni! It’s great that you have an opportunity to teach in South America. For us as backpacking travels, we enjoyed our time in Quito better than Guayaquil. In fact, we didn’t like the feel of of Guayaquil at all and spent less than a day there. My suggestion would be to scout out the location before committing, if possible. You can also check with South American Explorers Club to see what they have in terms of up to date info.

      While traveling, we met teachers all over SA and a few were happily living in Quito.

      • James says:

        Melissa,
        My wife and I now live in Guayaquil. We were intimidated at first but now are really starting to like the city. You might be able to give a more objective opinion if you had actually stayed in Guayaquil for more than a day. There are so many different faces of the city that staying one day in the wrong areas is worse than not visiting at all.

        • Hi James,
          That’s great that you live Guayaquil. What are the neighborhoods that you like? Restaurants? Sites?

          I think my problem with the city is that it is a city. I much rather prefer small to mid-sized cities which is why I liked Manta. Please feel free to share more about Guayaquil!

  8. mauricio says:

    yanquis todos ustedes son bienvenidos a ecuador aunque su govierno no me agrada

    • FLgator says:

      Que coincidencia, Mauricio! No me agrada a Correa tampoco. Sin embargo, bienvenidos a America. Nuestras casas son sus casas.

  9. cliff says:

    My wife has her Ph.D from the Philippines as an english teacher what are the chances of her finding work there? Thank you for all the information. Happy trails !

    • Neil Friedman says:

      Hi Cliff,
      Most people have 2 philosophies about teaching overseas.

      1) Research and secure employment online before arrival this way you at least have employment but not any assurance of a quality school.

      2) Save money and fly in. This way you can experience culture/life on the ground as well as negotiate teaching contracts directly with schools.

      You might want to do both by first emailing schools to test your wife’s credentials in this market. Then come in and see if you like Ecuador.

  10. Donie says:

    What type of jobs could you find there for Americas? Do you know of sites to research. I’m considering to relocate there. Love the country.

    • Neil Friedman says:

      Hi Donie
      We didn’t work while we were in South America. But we did meet English teachers who worked for language schools and teachers from international schools. The South America Explorers Club is an organization you can join that may be able to assist on a job search.
      At World Winder we are both certified English teachers so we can give you more advice on finding teaching jobs abroad.

  11. Raul says:

    I am glad to see your post. I think it does bring up several good points. I think awarness and common sense are extremely important. I have traveled to Ecuador over 20 times in the last 10 years with groups of tourists with no incidents. While I know any city can be dangerous place, especially the big ones (Quito, Guayaquil), one has to be cautious anywhere in the world!

  12. Kim says:

    I am thinking of a Spanish immersion and staying in one place for most of the summer. What is safest Quito, Cuenca Guyaquil? Last year we went to Lake Atitlan for the summer. My 10 year old went to school in the morning with Guatemalans at a religious school and later Spanish classes. I am looking for something like that in Ecuador.

  13. Karla says:

    Melissa,
    I am leaving for Ecuador soon and I can’t lie; I am a little nervous. I have not been back for 15 years! The last time I went I was car-jacked so I have avoiding it but it’s time; I have family there.

    Thank you fo sharing. My family lives in Guayaquil, so we will be staying there and then going to Banos. We are probably going to Naranjal as well.

    • You’ll have a great time! Let us know what you think of Guayaquil. We didn’t spend any time there and would love to get some perspective. When you get to Banos, stop in a the brewery.. It was called Stray Dog but may be called Chicago Brewery now. Tell the bartender Christian that we say hello from NY!!

      How long is your trip?

      • Derrick Lefcoe says:

        I’m going to Ecuador in mid-May as a solo traveler. I’m planning to take the overnight bus from Guayaquil to Loja.

        Do Americans / Europeans take this route frequently?

        Is this a safe route?

        Is there a way to hook up with other western travelers (at the airport / bus terminal)?

        • Hi Derrick,
          Guayaquil was a huge bus terminal with lots of people, security, and a food court too. It feels like an airport terminal so in the waiting room you might even be able to find other travelers. Neil and I were always together so we felt fine on the bus with some precautions: When we fell asleep we had our valuables secured to our bodies using carabiner clips. I had my money belt underneath my clothes and some spare change, bills in my pocket.

          We rode buses all over Ecuador and didn’t have a problem including Guayaquil to Banos overnight. Some people who ran into trouble stowed their bags above their heads and under their feet. Pickpockets saw and took their bags.

          • Derrick Lefcoe says:

            Melissa:

            Thanks for the response :)

            Sounds like safety precautions as normal with traveling.

            Appreciate the comments on having bags on laps. I’ll pack accordingly.

            If I’m taking an express bus from Guayaquil to Loja overnight am I correct in understanding there are no scheduled stops once the bus leaves the terminal? I looked on the panamericana website, but it wasn’t clear.

            Other question is how long did it take to leave the airport:

            How long was the taxi ride from GYE to the Terminal Terrestre? I read the advisory on the US consular website about taxis, so any insights are welcomed.

            I’ll post an update after I’ve taken the trip to keep information on this route up-to-date for travelers.

            • Sorry, Derrick, we didn’t take a taxi from the airport. So I have no idea how long that would take. Give yourself plenty of time.

              There are no rest stops officially on buses. Mostly, the drivers just go through the night. But maaaaaybe once in a while they will stop and you can hop off and use the road side since you are a guy. I kept my liquids to nil and waited upon arrival. Plan as if they won’t — since they rarely do.

              We’d love an update once you’ve traveled. This is a hot topic and everyone can use up-to-date info. Take pictures too :)

  14. dieter homburg says:

    it was great to read evrything on this page great info i think.. i just got to EC a few month ago and i am very disapointed of poeple living in a cage. evrything is in a cage and i am not a cage guy at all . now i hear that Banos is a little better and would love to heat from poeple who live or work in Banos.. it might be my last and final move
    if i have to live in a zoo i want to be the zoo keeper. i have traveld alot but not much in SA just wanted to try something different and maby retire here.. right now it is not a go at all
    thanks for your time
    homburg@dieter.com i am asking for input plaese

  15. Amanda says:

    Hi Melissa, me and my boyfriend plan on taking a trip to ecuador this september. Did you guys learn some spanish before getting in? Did you learn just enough to get by or more than that?

    • Neil Friedman says:

      Hey Amanda,
      We were in Ecuador for three months in total and we found that on the traditional tourist circuit you do not need to know much Spanish. However, if you want to enjoy more tranquil and less touristed spots then you should definitely study a bit.

      I am an ESL Teacher and already spoke some Spanish prior to our trip. I also brushed up on my Spanish before we flew to South America. Here are some things I tried which seemed to help. I also use some of these strategies in my ESL/EFL lessons:

      1. listen to music with Spanish lyrics. You can learn slang. I listen to rock en espanol. Bands like Manu Chao, Jarabe de Palo, La Ley, and Mana have great music and interesting lyrics.

      2. Buy and use a bilingual pocket dictionary. You can get one specifically for travel from a travel book company or buy one meant for regular classroom Spanish learning.

      3. Use your bilingual dictionary before you go and while you are actually traveling. You can make a personal dictionary. With a personal dictionary you choose the words that go into an empty notebook as you learn with other methods. Let me know if you need more info on that.

      4. Watch movies or tv with Spanish subtitles. You can listen in English and read them in Spanish or vice versa. This is especially helpful if you are going to watch an entire series. (“Big Bang Theory”, “Friends”, and “Two and a Half Men” are watched around the world–and people use series like these to teach themselves English–many of our tour guides used shows like these do improve their language skills)

      5. Before you go to Ecuador- Research a good Spanish school. Ecuador is regarded as one of the best countries to take a Spanish course.

  16. Scott Tarbox says:

    Did you spend any time near the Colombian border? My friend and I are planning a trip circling several countries, starting in Colombia and down through Ecuador and Peru. From everything I’ve read, Ecuador seems the most dangerous. I know things can change in as little as a year and I read that Scopolamine has become rampant and the first source I checked said the northern border is one of the worst places.

    Didn’t know if you had any supporting or contradicting information.

  17. seth gleason says:

    Hello , i am concerned about my friend going over for a school trip to help in a program of the people of the country. i am needing for a peace of mind that they will be safe and not in any sort of unwanted harm or danger. I am not trying to be paranoid, and i know its a group thing and a very excellent program and experience, i am just a bit “concerned.”they will be there for 3-4 months.
    Any advice or thought would most help my ease in this .
    Thank you for any help you can provide.
    Sincerely,
    a nervous worry pants
    Seth

  18. Michelle says:

    Hi there

    I really enjoy reading your blog. my friend and I are traveling from Colombia to Ecuador and continuing on down south. Our first stop in Ecuador is Quito. Do you have any suggestions of where to stay or safety tips for two women traveling through Ecuador. Also, do you have any other suggestions of where to go in Ecuador that we would feel comfortable visiting? I speak spanish, but my friend does not. We are a little scared, of course, but very excited as well. We just want to do the right thing and not get pegged as “gringas”.

    Thanks,
    Michelle

  19. Matt Sullins says:

    I have been in Ecuador since Febuary 14, 2013 (9 months now). I read so much about Ecuador before moving here and how dangerous of a place it is. Maybe that was the case back a few years ago but I can say personally that I have now lived on Quito and in Guayaquil and I have also traveled much of the country and I have not once felt even remotely uncomfortable. If you have lived in a major city in the US then you know how you should conduct yourself here. Be smart and there is really nothing to worry about. If you have any questions about my experiences here, please drop me an email. – Matt

    MatthewsSullins@gmail.com

    • Neil Friedman says:

      Thanks Matt! I agree, you need to be smart and aware of your surroundings. It’s part of the respect that you must have the culture and people. DOn’t be a fool because then you’ll stand out and people (the wrong people at times) will take special note of you.

  20. Gabriella says:

    Hi! I have a few questions regarding Ecuador. I am going in a couple of weeks for a 3 week stay and I am taking my 2 daughters, who are 14 and 15. We will be staying in Quito for about a week and then Guayquil for the remaining 2 weeks.
    1) Are those 2 cities generally safe for children/teenagers? Is it child friendly?
    2) How much money do you recommend taking? We are staying with family so hotel money will not be needed but how much for food, attractions, etc?
    3) Do you know how Christmas and New Years is over there?

  21. Jorge Luis says:

    Hey guys if u need information about Ecuador and cities let me know emailme and i wolud love to help

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