Safety and security
Muggings and pick pocketing are common. Stay alert in public places and avoid walking alone in quiet areas or at night. Look after your belongings. Methods of robbery include distraction techniques (e.g. requests for assistance, staged fights and pushing or shoving), bag snatching by a passenger on a motorbike and threat of violence (with a knife or gun). In the event of a robbery, do not attempt to resist attackers or take any action that puts you at greater risk. Report the matter to local police as soon as possible. If the incident takes place in a lodge or hotel, staff should be able to assist.
Do not wear expensive jewellery when walking around, carry only the money you need for the day and take care of your credit cards. Watch your bags on public transport and wear your rucksack on the front of your body. Where possible, do not 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.
Take care when withdrawing money from a bank or ATM. There have been cases of violent robbery outside banks. The Ecuadorean national police offers a free escort service from/to banks when large amounts are involved. You are encouraged to use this service, which you can request by calling 911.
Express kidnappings - short-term opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim - also occur. 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.
Criminals may use drugs to subdue victims. Homemade 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 something (food, drinks, leaflets, perfume sample etc), no matter how friendly or well-dressed they appear.
Armed robbery is a risk throughout Ecuador. Violent crime remains high in Guayaquil and Quito, with reports of homicide, gunpoint robberies and home invasions. Most violent crime is gang-related, but tourists can get caught up inadvertently. Armed thieves have also intercepted vehicles and threatened passengers. In Guayaquil, particular caution should be exercised in the city centre and southern parts of the city, and very careful consideration should be given to any visits to Guayaquil’s port installations. Seek local advice about the safety of the area you are visiting and travel in a group whenever possible.
In 2023 there have been several security incidents in and around Guayaquil, including the murder of several civil servants and small explosions. There have also been armed attacks against the police which have resulted in officers being killed. Whilst these incidents were not in the normal tourist areas of Guayaquil, British visitors are advised to be extra vigilant and to monitor local news and official instructions. Should an incident occur where you are, follow the instructions of police and local authorities.
Due to a series of security incidents in and around the city of Guayaquil, a state of emergency has been declared, with effect from 2 April 2023, in Ecuador’s Zone 8. Zone 8 covers the cities of Guayaquil, Samborondón and Duran, and areas in the provinces of Santa Elena and Los Ríos. See map of Ecuador’s Zones here. A curfew is in place from 01:00 to 05:00 local time.
Due to the increase of crime in Esmeraldas province in February 2023, a 60 day state of emergency (from 3 March 2023) was declared in the province, with a curfew in place from 21:00 to 05:00 local. You are advised to take extra caution and remain vigilant if travelling to this area.
Attacks and serious sexual assaults against foreign women increased in the town of Montañita (Santa Elena coastal province) in 2019 and 2020. 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.
An online report system is available for victims of gender violence to get immediate assistance through the ‘Fiscalía’ (Prosecutor Office)
You should read our guidance: Information for Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault in Ecuador.
Quito has a Tourism Police unit with branches in the north, old town, airport and bus terminals. Tourism Police units are also found in the cities of Guayaquil and Cuenca, and Santa Elena and Imbabura provinces.
The Ecuador Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía 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 turistas).
You can call 911 or the crime emergency line 1800-DELITO (335486) for direct assistance.
The Ministry of Tourism has a national tourist service complaints management system e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Zebra crossings are often not respected by drivers throughout Ecuador. You should exercise extra caution when crossing roads. Driving standards are poor and traffic accidents are common.
There are regular reports of robberies on interstate transport and at bus stations, especially in Quito, Baños, Cuenca, Tena, Riobamba, Mindo and Loja . Most incidents take place at night. Where possible you should avoid travelling by road after dark. Cases involving British nationals have been reported on various routes. Try to avoid storing your bag in overhead luggage space or underneath your seat. Keep your valuables in a safe place, preferably in a money belt or safe inside pocket.
Do not hail taxis on the street, especially at night. Using unregistered taxis significantly increases the risk of you becoming a victim of crime. Try to book a taxi through your hotel or by calling a known radio taxi service. Where possible, try to travel in a group. 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, and the orange license plates or the new white plates with an orange strip on the top and video cameras inside. Authorised taxi booths are present at Quito and Guayaquil international airports.
When travelling to remote areas it may be safer to travel with others or take part in a tour with a reputable company.
Travelling to areas within 20km of the Ecuadorean border with Colombia to which the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to carries significant risks due to the presence of organised crime linked to the production and trafficking of drugs.
The security situation in those areas of Esmeraldas, Carchi and Sucumbíos provinces, which lie outside the 20km border zone, can change quickly. If you are travelling to these areas, including Cuyabeno, the Napo river, and the El Ángel ecological reserve where there are a number of eco lodges, you should take local advice, pay close attention to warnings issued by the Ecuadorean authorities and be particularly cautious and vigilant. Illegal armed groups and criminal gangs are present in these areas. Travelling during daylight hours and with a reputable operator with official guides, emergency plans and good communication systems will reduce risks. Some lodges are a long distance from the nearest major hospital and helicopter evacuation may be necessary in an emergency.
If you’re crossing the northern border at Tulcán (Rumichaca official land border point), you should enter and exit the town via the main Panamericana international highway. Lago Agrio (also known as Nueva Loja), the main town in the border province of Sucumbíos, and San Lorenzo, in the border province of Esmeraldas, both lie within the 20km zone to which we advise against all but essential travel.
Volunteer and adventure activities
If you are 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 are planning to undertake adventure activities like canopy, bungee jumping, quad biking, rafting or kayaking, make sure you are fit and healthy for the activity. Use a reputable local tour operator, properly accredited to provide this service (with a specific licence). Check that the equipment is in good condition. Also check with tour operators’ health and safety regulations. For water adventure sports, ensure that the weather conditions and river currents are within the advisable standards. Make sure your insurance covers all the activities you want to undertake. Foreigners, including British nationals, have died undertaking canopy, rafting and kayaking activities.
Hiking and Mountaineering
Due to high altitude and unpredictable climates, if you are hiking in Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands, you should be well prepared and sufficiently fit and healthy. Ascend at a more moderate rate to give your body some time to adjust. Stay well hydrated. Don’t stray from established paths and avoid exploring remote areas without an experienced guide. Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back, and where possible, avoid walking alone, in case of any emergency. Many rural areas of Ecuador do not have good phone signal, so you may not be able to rely on your mobile phone if you run into difficulties.
The teleférico (cable car) from Quito to Pichincha volcano, which 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, as well as high factor sun block – even on a clear day, as the weather can change quickly – and take an accredited specialised guide who knows the route well. Where possible, try to start the excursion early to minimise any potential risks related to unexpected heavy mist or storms. 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.
In October 2021, a significant avalanche occurred at the Chimborazo ice-capped volcano causing the death of three climbers. Following this, the Ministry of Environment announced the temporary suspension of high mountaineering and climbing activities (over 5000 metres) in Chimborazo and other volcanos. The Chimborazo Reserve subsequently re-opened on 1 November 2021 for tour operators and accredited mountaineering clubs, but with the requirement to register the visit on the ‘Sistema de Información de Biodiversidad (SIB), via email email@example.com, with a minimum of 5 days’ notice. It is important to note that official mountaineering restrictions can be announced at short notice. Travellers interested in undertaking climbing or mountaineering activities are advised to monitor official channels, such as the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Tourism and Chimborazo Local Government.
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 which is illegal in the UK. There are many risks involved in taking these substances and consumption is not regulated. Intoxicated travellers have been assaulted and robbed in the past. On occasions people have suffered serious illnesses and in some cases deaths. Medical help is not always located close by.
You can drive a hired car using a UK licence or International Driving Permit, but only for the first six months after you arrive in Ecuador.
Always carry your passport, driving licence, vehicle registration with you in the vehicle.
Check driving restrictions that certain cities have in place, based on the last digits of the car registration plate number on pre-established days / peak hours.
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, which has led to many fatalities including of British Nationals.
Always wear a seat belt. If you are a passenger in a vehicle travelling at an unsafe speed, you should firmly instruct the driver to slow down.
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. If you or the hotel called a taxi, agree a price before you get in.
The operations of the national rail company, Tren Ecuador, are suspended until further notice.
You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The FCDO cannot offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes lists of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices – IATA Operational Safety Audit and IATA Standard Safety Assessment. These lists are not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
Quito ‘Mariscal Sucre’ International Airport is in Tababela, around 25 miles from the north-eastern part of Quito. Journey times from the airport to central Quito can vary from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the time of day.
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. Even for short journeys, you should use reputable boat transport operators and ask about safety features before making a booking. Check that life boats and the life vests are provided before boarding.
On 17 May 2023, President Lasso dissolved parliament, in accordance with the Constitution. This will see legislative and presidential elections in 3 months time. British nationals are advised to avoid any potential demonstrations.
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.
You should always remain vigilant, avoid any protests or demonstrations and keep up to date with developments via official local sources (ECU 911 emergency services) and this travel advice. You should also be wary of unverified, unofficial information and allow extra time to reach your destination. Check the state of roads on the Ecuadorean government website (in Spanish).