Crime in Ecuador - Tips to Stay Safe

Like many countries, Ecuador has its share of pickpocketing and other crime-related issues, but with a little common sense and a few tips, you can have a trouble-free trip.

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Valuables such as cell phones, laptops, tablets, cameras and cash are lucrative to petty thieves in many developing nations, and Ecuador is no exception. 

The emphasis is on the petty part of petty crime. While it may be frightening when a knife or gun is produced, violent crime is rare. Unlike other South American countries where violent crime rates are higher, in Ecuador the weapon is usually just a way of intimidating the victim.

The best response is compliance – don't fight back or resist, hand over your valuables and live to tell the tale.

Crime in Quito

The old part of town is beautiful, world heritage-listed beautiful, and it draws crowds of tourists. Pickpockets love crowds, so be aware of your surroundings and belongings.

This is also one of the poorer parts of town, so avoid it at night unless you're a confident and experienced traveler.

The modern section of Quito, La Mariscal, is also potentially dangerous at night. Call for a taxi rather than walk back to your hotel.

Transport terminals are always a magnet for pickpockets and petty thieves so take precautions there too. Quito has a tourist police force, easily identifiable by their hi-vis yellow vests and gray uniforms.

Taxi Crime in Ecuador

Taxi robbery is a danger in Quito, Guayaquil, Manta, Machala, Playas and other coastal towns. You hail a cab, hop in and a few minutes later you're joined by some less-than-friendly fellow passengers who want your money. They may even take you on a tour of the local ATMs, which is not a great way to see the city because it'll cost you everything in your bank account.

(More on secuestro express in this article about Colombia)

The north end of the Malecón 2000 near Las Peñas, outside the San Marino Mall, and the Urdesa restaurant/bar district are known spots for taxi robbery.

The US consulate in Guayaquil forbids its staff from hailing cabs on the street, including yellow cabs, because of the risk of taxi robberies.

They insist staff use "vetted taxi services" if you want to be ultra-safe, you can use the same services: FastLine, Solservice and Wayose.

Pichincha Volcano Trail

This volcano, on the western outskirts of Quito, has a great view of the city from the summit when it's not erupting. The last eruption in 1999 covered the city in ankle-deep ash.

For a long time, Pichincha was known as a crime hotspot but the Ecuadorian government took action and now the weather and poor fitness levels are more of a threat than crime. However, if you are concerned about hiking it alone, head up on weekend mornings when plenty of folks are out and about. The weather tends to be better in the morning, and if you do need help (e.g medical assistance), there are people around.

Crime in Guayaquil

The crime problem is a little worse in this port town, it's like Quito with the petty crime turned-up a bit. As usual, avoid the poorer areas, especially the El Guasmo district. Take caution as you travel in the downtown, southern areas and on public transport in the city.

In addition to the pickpockets and scammers, (watch out for the old ‘mustard ketchup squirted on your pants to distract you' trick) some of the biggest crooks in this town are the friendly experts who'll tell you they can get you a great deal on a Galapagos Islands cruise, then whack an enormous mark-up on the real cost.

City Smart in Ecuador

By using some common sense, you can experience Ecuador's cities safely:

  • Chat with locals to find out about an area's safety to find out where the unsafe parts are so you can avoid them

  • Take caution when out and about alone. If traveling around at night, take a taxi

  • Never leave your drink unattended or accept drinks from strangers. Drink spiking does occur in Ecuador

  • Don't wear expensive jewelry or watches

  • Don't take more than cash than you need for the day

  • Take only one credit card, and consider opening up a new credit card with a low limit for your tip to Ecuador; if it's skimmed, stolen or if you're the victim of an express kidnap, you won't lose your life savings

  • Hang on tight to your camera, and keep it in a bag until you need to take a shot

  • Ditch the backpack. Have a look at what the locals are using, and go buy one, you'll blend in and have a souvenir

  • Keep all bags and other valuables where you can see them in restaurants and other public places

  • Make copies of important documents, card numbers, and leave them in the hotel safe (not the room safe) or upload to a secure location

  • Always carry identification (it's required by Ecuadorian law) but make it a photocopy of your passport, not the valuable passport itself.

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