Safety and security
Muggings and pick pocketing are very common. In Quito, take particular care in ‘La Carolina’ and ‘El Ejido’ parks, the districts of ‘La Mariscal’, ‘La Floresta’ and ‘La Marin’, the bus terminals and the old town including the main square and ‘El Panecillo’ hill. Avoid travelling to ‘El Panecillo’ hill on your own or by foot. Use one of the standard tours or reliable transport instead. In Guayaquil, be particularly careful in Urdesa, Kennedy, Alborada, and the Malecon Simon Bolivar districts and the bus terminal.
Don’t wear expensive jewellery when walking around and watch your bags on public transport. Wear your rucksack on the front of your body. Where possible, don’t store anything under your seat or in the overhead storage on buses.
Carry a colour copy of your passport, including the visa entry stamp page, and keep the original safe. Only take out as much money as you need.
Look after your belongings. Methods of distraction include requests for assistance, staged fights and pushing or shoving. Don’t resist a robbery.
Take care when withdrawing money from a bank or at an ATM.
Incidents of attacks and serious sexual assault against foreign women have increased in the city of Montañita (Santa Elena province in the east of Ecuador). All visitors, particularly women, should take extra care to find reputable and secure accommodation whether travelling alone or as a group. Avoid travelling after dark and be alert to the use of date rape and other drugs in drinks. If you feel unwell, seek urgent help from people you know.
Criminals often use drugs to subdue victims. Home-made versions of the drug ‘scopolamine’ leave victims in a subdued, compliant state and cause amnesia. Be wary if you’re approached by a stranger offering you food, drinks, leaflets, perfume samples, telephone cards or cigarettes, no matter how friendly or well dressed they appear.
Armed robbery can be a constant hazard throughout Ecuador, but especially in Quito, Guayaquil and in remote areas. Seek local advice about the safety of the area you are visiting and travel in a group whenever possible.
Quito has a Tourism Police unit with branches in the north and old town of the city but also at the airport and bus terminals. The Ministry of Tourism has a tourist service complaints management system e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ecuador District Attorney´s Office (Fiscalia General) now has an English online tool for tourists to report robbery, theft and loss of belongings and documents (the tool is listed under ‘Denuncias online para touristas).
There has been an increase in robberies on interstate transport and at bus stations, especially Quito, Baños and Latacunga tourist towns. Most incidents took place at night. Where possible you should avoid travelling by road after dark. Cases involving British nationals have been reported on the routes between Quito and Baños; Baños and Cuenca; Quito and Tulcan; Quito and Guayaquil; Quito and Cuenca; Quito and Puyo; Quito and Latacunga; Quito and Otavalo; Quito and Mindo; Cuenca and Ambato; Guayaquil and Cuenca; and Latacunga and Quilotoa. Avoid taking interstate buses with a reputation for stopping to pick up passengers at night as many criminals use this means to attack passengers.
Express kidnappings - short-term opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim - also occur, particularly in Quito and Guayaquil. Victims can be targeted or selected at random and held while criminals empty their bank accounts with stolen cash cards. This type of crime can involve illegitimate and registered taxis. Ecuadoreans and foreign visitors are targets.
The use of unregistered taxis significantly increases the risk of becoming a victim of crime. Try to book a taxi through your hotel or by calling a known radio taxi service. If you are using an authorised taxi (yellow cab) in Quito and Guayaquil make sure it has the municipality registration number sticker displayed on the windscreen and doors; the orange license plates or the new white plates with an orange strip on the top and video cameras inside. Avoid hailing a taxi on the street. Larger supermarkets and airports have taxi ranks.
In mid-2013, the Ecuadorean National Transit Agency launched the ‘Secure Transport’ project throughout Ecuador. This includes the installation of security kits - video cameras, panic buttons and GPS - inside interstate buses and registered taxis. You should only use the yellow registered taxis, with the ‘transporte seguro’ logo, if a radio taxi isn’t available.
You can also order a secure taxi from a new free smartphone application ‘Easy Taxi’, available for Android and iPhone. A photo, the name of the taxi driver and the vehicle description will be sent to the customer.
Watch this this video from the British Embassy in Quito for more information and tips on transport safety:
There is a 20 km exclusion zone, under army control, along the entire border with Colombia. The FCO advise against all travel to this area, except the official border crossing town of Tulcan in Carchi province. Guerrilla groups, drug traffickers and criminal gangs are active and there is a risk of kidnapping and a high risk of crime. Foreigners, including oil workers, are potential targets.
In 2018, there have been serious attacks within the exclusion zone, in the northern province of Esmeraldas. These have included 2 bomb explosions and a kidnapping of local journalists in the San Lorenzo and Mataje areas. The Ecuadorean authorities have declared these attacks to be terrorist incidents.
The security situation can change very quickly in the province of Esmeraldas, including in areas outside the exclusion zone. On 4 April 2018, a home-made explosive was detonated in the town of Viche, near a bridge on one of the main roads connecting the highlands to the coast and various popular beach destinations. If you’re travelling in Esmeraldas, you should pay close attention to warnings issued by the Ecuadorean authorities, be particularly cautious and vigilant, and monitor this travel advice regularly.
If you’re crossing the northern border at Tulcan (Rumichaca official land border point), Carchi province, you should enter and exit the town via the main highway. Lago Agrio (also known as Nueva Loja), the main town in the border province of Sucumbios, and San Lorenzo, in the border province of Esmeraldas, both lie within the 20km zone.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the area bordering Colombia in Carchi province inside the 20km exclusion zone. The border area in Carchi province is home to various eco-lodges, near El Angel Ecological Reserve. Illegal armed groups and criminal gangs are present in the area. If you’re travelling to this area, make sure you travel with a reputable operator with good communication systems, emergency plans in place and an official guide.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the area of Tarapoa and the Cuyabeno reserve in Sucumbios. In February 2012 a group of tourists including British nationals were assaulted at gunpoint by a criminal gang in the Cuyabeno reserve. In September 2012 a group of tourists were robbed and 2 tourists were kidnapped in the Cuyabeno reserve but subsequently released.
There is a higher risk of crime in southern parts of Sucumbios province, including Coca (also known as Francisco de Orellana). There are popular eco-lodges in the area along the Napo river, between Sucumbios and Orellana provinces. Use only reputable operators to visit this area. Some lodges are a long distance from the nearest major hospital and helicopter evacuation may be necessary in an emergency. Reputable eco-lodges in this area have good communications and emergency plans in place.
The Ecuadorean Ministry of Tourism and the National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT) have launched a Tourist SIM card (“travel SIM”) available for purchase for smartphones or tablets, aiming to provide tourists with various services during a 30 day period. It includes 1GB of data, free Facebook and Whatsapp, and voice call/SMS credit.
Volunteer and adventure activities
If you’re joining a ‘volunteer’ or ‘adventure expedition’ programme, where possible make sure the UK organisation responsible for the travel has an official local agent in Ecuador with sufficient autonomy and resources to handle an emergency situation. Be wary of unauthorised intermediaries ‘enganchadores’ trying to offer you cheap hotels or tour deals.
If you’re planning to undertake adventure activities like canopy, bungee jumping or quad biking, make sure you use a reputable local tour operator and the equipment is in good condition. In May 2012 and January 2016, 2 foreign tourists died in Mindo and Bucay areas due to canopy accidents.
Due to high altitude and unpredictable climates, you should be well prepared if you’re hiking in Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands. Don’t stray from established paths and avoid exploring remote areas without an experienced guide. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you expect you will be back.
The teleférico (cable car) from Quito to Pichincha volcano, that overlooks the city (at 4,050 metres above sea level), is a popular day trip from the capital. However, there have been some accidents, including fatalities from hypothermia. You should take warm and waterproof clothing – even on a clear day, the weather can change quickly – and take a recognised guide who knows the route well. Tourists have been killed by electrical storms while climbing Pichincha, so you should pay close attention to the weather, and re-consider your plans if conditions look bad.
Watch this video for adventure sports safety tips from the British Embassy in Quito:
Use of traditional hallucinogens
Traditional hallucinogens, often referred to as Ayahuasca or San Pedro, are found in Ecuador. These substances are often marketed to tourists as ‘spiritual cleansing’, and typically contain dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a strong hallucinogen that’s illegal in the UK and many other countries. There are many risks involved. Consumption isn’t regulated. Intoxicated travellers have been assaulted and robbed. Health risks are not well understood, and on occasions people have suffered serious illnesses and in some cases deaths after taking these drugs, which are often taken a long way from medical facilities making the risks even greater.
You can drive a hire car using a UK licence or International Driving Permit.
The Ecuadorean police recommend that you also get a local temporary driver permit. Always carry your passport, driving licence, vehicle registration and proof of insurance with you when in the vehicle.
Road conditions are variable. Heavy rains and mudslides often close or wash away roads, which can cause significant delays and accidents.
Serious accidents are very common, mainly due to careless driving, speeding and badly maintained vehicles. Ecuador has one of the highest rates of road accidents in Latin America. In May 2014, near Papallacta region, a road collision involving a bus carrying foreign tourists caused the deaths of 2 British nationals and injury to others. In March 2018, a bus crash on the Guayaquil to Quito route caused 11 deaths and 54 injured people, including 2 British nationals who were seriously harmed. In the same week, there was another critical road collision in Manabi province resulting in 12 deaths.
If you’re a passenger in a vehicle travelling at an unsafe speed, you should firmly instruct the driver to slow down.
Where possible, avoid travelling by road outside major cities after dark. If you take public buses, check the reputation of the bus company and make sure it’s insured with a ‘SPPAT’ (formerly SOAT), mandatory traffic accident public insurance. There is an online interstate bus booking system.
When taking yellow registered taxis in the major cities make sure the taxi meter is reset. The minimum charge in Quito is US$1.45 during the day and US$1.75 at night, even if the meter registers less for your journey. If you or the hotel called a taxi, agree a price before you get in.
The national rail company, Tren Ecuador, offers a range of train routes along the Andean and coastal regions in Ecuador. Most of the rail system has been repaired.
The new Quito ‘Mariscal Sucre’ International Airport is in Tababela, at about 37 km towards the north-eastern part of Quito. The main connecting roads have now been completed. Journey times from the airport to central Quito can vary from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the time of day.
Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL Air. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out. UK government officials have been told to do the same as a precaution.
There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in and around Ecuador’s waters. Sailors should be vigilant and take appropriate precautions.
There have been several serious accidents in the Galapagos Islands involving boats operated by tour companies. You should ask about safety features before making a booking, and check that life boats and the life vests are provided before boarding.
Street demonstrations, protests and strikes are common. Although most are peaceful, they can turn violent. You should monitor local media and avoid all large gatherings.