Travelling Safely in Ecuador
Updated: Oct 8
Ecuador, a land of diverse landscapes, vibrant cultures, and warm hospitality, has long been a magnet for travellers seeking meaningful experiences. In 2022, Ecuador received over 1.2 million international visitors, and this number continues to increase.
However, in light of recent events, some visitors are concerned about their personal safety when coming to this small Latin American country. In this blog post, we will shed light on the security risks throughout the country, as well as sharing simple strategies to keep yourself safe.
Historical Safety in Ecuador
For many years, Ecuador has been a welcoming destination for travellers from around the world. Destinations such as Quito, Cuenca, and the Galápagos Islands have long been favourite spots for tourists, and incidents involving foreigners have been relatively rare. As of August 2023, Ecuador was still ranked the 5th safest country in South America by the US State Department, higher than neighbouring countries such Peru, Colombia and Brazil. Ecuador’s safety levels are not far behind high countries such as the USA, France and Sweden.
However, as with anywhere in the world, some areas are safer than others. Guayaquil, Quito’s historic centre and coastal towns such Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo have a reputation for security problems. Much of this violent crime is gang-related, which does not affect tourists.
Nevertheless, visitors can fall prey to petty crime such as pickpocketing, bag snatching or theft, especially if they aren’t paying attention. Whenever you visit a new destination, it’s best to be overly cautious until you become familiar with your surroundings. Below are our top tips to greatly increase the likelihood you will have nothing but a safe, enjoyable adventure in Ecuador.
Keep valuables (such as cameras and jewellery) hidden from sight in public places
Take you phone, wallet and keys out of your pockets and into your backpack, so they can’t be easily taken
Wear your backpack on your front, where you can always keep an eye on it
If you’re travelling with all your belongings, put your passport, secondary bank cards and extra cash in a money belt
Make photocopies of all your important documents/passport and present them before the originals
When going out for drinks, go with at least one person you already know
Don’t leave drinks unattended and don’t go beyond what you can comfortably handle
Be aware of common scams from pickpockets (being squirted with mustard or a fight breaking out in front of you)
When travelling by bus, keep your backpack on your lap rather than overhead. (Storage under the bus is generally safe, especially if the company gives you a ticket with a number that matches a sticker they put on your bag)
Avoid travelling in a hurry or during rush hour when possible, if you’re packed together and flustered, you’ll be an easier target
Take special care around ATMs, ensuring there is nothing no suspicious around you
Only take registered yellow taxis or share your location when taking an Uber
If needed, call the national emergency number: 911
Above all - trust your instincts and say a polite, but firm, “no” if you don’t want to accept an invitation
Civil unrest, primarily led by indigenous groups in response to unpopular governmental policies, resulted in large national protests (known as a ‘paro nacional’) in 2019 and 2022. While the country ground to a halt and there was some violence in cities like Quito, the conflict was concentrated between the protesters and the police.
Aside from the violence, it is incredible to see indigenous peoples standing up for justice and history be shaped before your eyes. In the rare event that one of these takes place during your visit, staying out of harm's way should ensure your trip is safe, although your travel plans might be compromised.
“I was a volunteer and intern coordinator from May to July '22. The peaceful solitude of the mountain village of Atandahua and with companionship of other volunteers, is a great place to not only help the community, but also help yourself gain inward perspective. We went through a 3 week 'Paro'. This consisted of roadblocks and political demonstrations from the indigenous factions. The beautiful thing is, that during the Paro we were safe, because of our connections with and contributions to the community we live in.
If you or your family are concerned about safety, this is probably one of the safest places in South America.”
- Kasper (Denmark), Project Volunteer
Recent Events in Ecuador
Ecuador has been thrust into the international spotlight due to a series of high-profile events, notably incidents involving violence between different drug cartels and the tragic assassination of the presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, in August 2023. Naturally, these events have raised concerns among travellers and it's understandable to have questions about the safety of the country.
However, it's crucial to view these incidents within the appropriate context. While the media reports on these events might be alarming, it's essential to note that the targets of these incidents are primarily individuals involved in criminal activities and political tensions. These unfortunate incidents are isolated, localised, and targeted at specific individuals or groups. They do not pose a direct threat to the average traveller, especially those who exercise caution and remain aware of their surroundings.
Safety in Guaranda
Areas with a high indigenous population have tended to have a lower crime rate. The reason being that there is more community organisation and the practice of ‘castigo indígena’, where criminals are publically shamed for their crimes.
Safety and a strong sense of community were some of the main factors we were looking for in identifying where to establish El Terreno. While there are high levels of poverty, this typically doesn’t translate into a higher level of crime and we have only had one very minor incident since July 2021. There also is a police station in our village and volunteers generally share how safe they feel.
“Before I came, everyone I told about my trip was worried for me, warning me about the crime in Ecuador. But since arriving, I haven’t felt unsafe once - it’s amazing!
Here in Guaranda every person I have encountered has been really friendly and welcoming. In New York, where I’m from, I can’t even leave the house after 9pm - I feel much safer than back home!”
- Olive (USA), Anthropology, Culture and Development Intern
Despite the recent headlines, for conscious travellers aware of their surroundings, Ecuador remains a safe destination for the vast majority of people. While the political and drug cartel landscape remains uncertain, it is unlikely to impact the average traveller. Guaranda in particular, is one of the safest parts of the country, largely due to its historic indigenous community organisation.
As with anywhere in the world, travellers need to pay attention to their personal safety, but by taking a few simple steps, we expect you to have a safe, fun and meaningful visit to Ecuador.
“The people both in the project as well as the village are so incredibly nice, and it feels like a very safe place. All in all it's an experience I'll never forget, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who is ready and up for immersing themselves in Ecuadorian culture, learning a ton, working hard, meeting amazing people and creating unforgettable memories! If you're thinking about it, do it! All the best!”
- Elise (Sweden), Architecture & Sustainable Construction Intern
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