Many people are worried about how safe travel in Ecuador really is. And I don't blame them. The unknown is always a little scary and when traveling to Ecuador for the first time there are many unknowns. So I will try to paint a realistic picture of what to expect when you arrive.
The first experience most of us will have is in the big cities, either Quito or Guayaquil.
The majority of international flights arrive at night, so this can be even more nerve racking. And there's always a crowd outside the airport. The most important thing while traveling in Ecuador is to always be aware of your surroundings.
Be prepared mentally as you leave the airport. Know where you are going. If you do not need help with your baggage, let those offering help know. Watch your bags. We've never had a bad experience at the airport, but the crowd of people can be overwhelming.
Use registered taxi services especially when traveling in Guayaquil. The airport, malls and supermarkets all have taxi services that you can trust.
While staying in the big city you don't need to be paranoid that thieves are lurking around every corner. But still be aware of your surroundings. Crowded areas are ideal opportunities for pickpockets.
A friend of ours was boarding a bus when a guy swiped his wallet. He realized what was a happening and grabbed the guy, but someone else shoved him and as he lost his balance he let go and the thief got away.
Money belts worn under your clothes can be a good option. And in general it's a good idea not to carry more money than necessary.
You may be concerned as night falls in the city. But do not feel you cannot go out at night. It's good to stay in areas you are familiar with or at least have a plan when you go out. You don't want to wander into a lonely neighborhood.
While kicking back for a meal at a restaurant, still be aware of your surroundings. One of my friends put her bag under her chair as we ate at a restaurant. When we went to leave it was gone. Several beggars had entered while we were eating and we think one just bent down and grabbed it. Her passport was lost.
Be careful...girls especially...while drinking alcohol. Date rape drugs have been used in bars and clubs.
Of course as night progresses the possibilities of a bad situation can increase. So try not to be out after most people have abandoned the streets.
In Ecuador, long bus rides are just part of life. And crowded buses are very common. Make sure you know where your bags are. Some buses have overhead storage for bags, but I advise against using it. It's just too easy for someone to push your bag to the front and walk off the bus with it.
On the other hand storing your bag in the compartments under the bus tends to be very safe. Many bus lines give you a claim ticket for your bags and some even insure them for a small amount of money. So having a bag misplaced from under the bus is very rare. If you are carrying any thing of value with you, keep it in your immediate possession at all times.
In recent years, the occurrence of highway robbery on the bus system has gone up. Although there is no real way to avoid this completely, you can lessen the risk. In most cases, robberies take place on coastal routes at night. So whenever you can avoid nighttime travel to the coast it's a good idea. Some night buses do not pick up passengers along the way. Traveling on one of these buses can also cut the risk.
As a precaution for all of us who ride the bus, we have prepared a form to be filled out each time you travel. It is a good idea to use this form, because the information you collect will put the driver on alert that you are serious about your safety and the safety of every other passenger on the bus. It will also show you are not ignorant to the traffic laws of Ecuador.
You can download the following information below for safe travel in Ecuador: traffic laws in English or Spanish, and the "Tenemos Derecho a Vivir" form. Each download includes contact information for the police in every province of the country so you can request help if needed.
Ecuador Traffic Laws-English
Ecuador Traffic Laws-Spanish
Tenemos Derecho a Vivir Form
We want to thank all those who use this form to protect themselves and others. We can no longer just assume that bus drivers have the same regard for human life as we do, but we can work together and do our best to push them to do what is right.
Are you making a solo trip? You can be just as safe as if you were traveling with a friend.
You may want to consider having a buddy system with family or friends back home where you agree to check in at certain times during your trip.
There are Internet cafes throughout the country, sometimes on every corner. So a quick email daily or every few days can go a long way to ease the fears of loved ones back home. And it's also nice to know that someone will be aware of where you are, even though you're on your own.
Another basic precaution for safe travel in Ecuador is to not flash expensive jewelry or gadgets. This will keep you from becoming a target of pickpockets. Be especially careful if you are carrying a smart phone.
In general, there is not very much violent crime. So the biggest risk to travelers is having their things swiped. But if you don't let it be known that you are traveling with money or expensive possessions you can avoid problems.
One of the possible troubles a traveler could face while traveling in Ecuador is an unexpected strike. Though the last several years have had very few strikes, a strike is popular way that the people of Ecuador use to make a point. Especially since you may not be following developing news, it is often good to plan to be in Quito or Guayaquil a few days before you fly. This can assure you make your flight home.
If you are traveling with friends, bring one with when you're going to take money out of the ATM. If at all possible take money out during daylight hours. If you are traveling alone daytime withdrawals are a must. Also try to keep the amount of cash you are carrying to a minimum.
Safe travel in Ecuador can be threatened by something as simple as a sidewalk. Building codes haven't been enforced in many places, especially in smaller towns. Uneven sidewalks and rickety bridges can be dangerous. Watch your step!
If you ever feel threatened in any way, go into a nearby store or restaurant. Ecuadorian people are incredibly friendly and will be sure to help you in any way they can.
The most important thing for safe travel in Ecuador is again...be aware of your surroundings!