Safety and security

Crime

Muggings and pick pocketing are common. In Quito, take particular care in ‘La Carolina’ and ‘El Ejido’ parks, the districts of ‘La Mariscal’, ‘La Floresta’ and ‘La Marin’, the old town including the central bus station, 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 the Kennedy, Alborada, Urdesa and Malecon Simon Bolivar districts.

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. Keep your passport and money on you at all times. Take care of your belongings in restaurants or cafes and watch out for thieves. Criminals sometimes squirt liquids (ketchup, mustard, water, etc.) on you and then steal your bag while ‘helping’ to clean you up. Other 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. The authorities suspect that gang members inside banks inform others outside when a potential target withdraws cash.

Criminals often use drugs to subdue victims. Home-made versions of the drug ‘scopolamine’ leave victims in a sedated, compliant state and cause amnesia. Be wary if you’re approached by a stranger offering you food, drinks, leaflets, telephone cards or cigarettes, no matter how friendly or well dressed they appear. Armed robbery is a constant hazard throughout Ecuador, but especially in Quito, Guayaquil and in remote areas. A British national was shot dead in February 2009 in Pedernales, in Manabi province, while undertaking conservation work. Seek local advice about the safety of the area you are visiting and travel in a group whenever possible. In 2012, there was an increase in robberies on interstate transport and at bus stations, especially in Baños tourist town. Most incidents took place at night. You should avoid travel by road after dark. Cases involving British nationals have been reported in the provinces of Pichincha, El Oro, Los Rios, Guayas, Azuay, Manabi, Tungurahua and Chimborazo. Avoid taking interstate buses that have 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 taxis and complicit taxi drivers. Both Ecuadorians and foreign visitors are targets. In mid-January and the end of April 2012, in the old town and in La Mariscal in Quito, two British couples were attacked by taxi drivers and accomplices who boarded the taxis to assist in the robbery. The passengers were pepper sprayed. The victims were later released in an isolated area of Quito. In March 2012, a taxi driver ran off with a British tourist´s rucksack and other bags when he stopped to withdraw money from a street cash point. On 28 December 2013, a Japanese tourist was murdered, and his wife seriously injured by a taxi driver in Guayaquil.

The use of unregistered taxis significantly increases the risk of becoming a victim of crime, including armed robbery and express kidnapping. Where possible, you should 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 the municipality registration number sticker is displayed on the windscreen and doors, as well as on the orange license plates which are gradually being replaced by new white plates with an orange strip on the top. Avoid hailing a taxi on the street. Larger supermarkets and airports have taxi ranks.

In 2012, the Municipality of Quito launched a ‘safe taxi passenger’ campaign in which a taxi passenger can send an SMS to 2468 with the taxi’s registration number to get an instant confirmation about the taxi’s status. 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 a video camera inside, if a radio taxi is not available.

Local travel

There is a 20 km exclusion zone along the entire northern-border with Colombia under army control. 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.

If you are crossing the border at Tulcan (Rumichaca land official border point) 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 outside 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.

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 and subsequently released in the Cuyabeno reserve.

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.

Take care if you travel to Quininde in Esmeraldas province. Violence and crime is on the increase. Tourists are not generally targeted, but you could be caught up in an incident.

If you are joining a ‘volunteer’ or ‘adventure expedition’ programme, particularly popular with gap-year students, make sure the organisation is fully represented or partnered in Ecuador and has sufficient autonomy to act in an emergency. Be wary of unauthorised intermediaries ‘enganchadores’ trying to offer you cheap hotels or tour deals.

Road travel

You can drive a hire car using a UK licence or International Driving Permit.

The Ecuadorean police also recommend that you get a local temporary driver permit. Always carry your passport, driving licence, vehicle registration and proof of insurance with you.

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. Where possible, avoid travelling by road outside major cities after dark. When taking public buses in Ecuador, check the reputation of the bus company and make sure it’s insured with a ‘SOAT’, a ‘mandatory traffic accident insurance policy’. If you are a passenger in a vehicle that is travelling at an unsafe speed, you should firmly instruct the driver to slow down.

When taking yellow taxis in the major cities make sure the taxi meter is reset. The minimum charge in Quito is US$1, even if the meter registers less for your journey.

Rail travel

The national rail company, Ferrocarriles del Ecuador, offers a range of train routes along the Andean region in Ecuador. Most of the rail system has recently been repaired.

Travelling on the roof of trains is no longer allowed due to serious risks posed by overhead cables and bridges.

Air travel

From Wednesday 20 February, 2013, the new Quito International Airport for domestic and international flights began operations.

The new airport ‘Mariscal Sucre’ is in Tababela, at about 37 km towards the north-eastern part of Quito, and some roads to Tababela are still under construction. According to some sources, the minimum journey time to get to the airport will be between 1-2 hours.

Sea travel

There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in and around Ecuador’s waters. Mariners 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.

Political situation

Presidential and parliamentary elections were held in February 2013. President Rafael Correa was re-elected and began his new term on 24 May 2013.

A state of emergency was called in 2010 following a strike by parts of the police and military. The security situation deteriorated significantly. The situation has since returned to normal and police officers are back on duty, but the state of emergency at the National Assembly in Quito remains in place.

Street demonstrations, protests and strikes are common. Although most are peaceful, they can turn violent. You should monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.

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