Even if Ecuador is the second smallest country is Latin America, it is a fantastic example of natural diversity. You can visit Pacific Coast, the Amazon Basin, volcanoes as well as the cloud forests. Additionally, if you are the adept of trekking, Ecuador won’t let you down – quite the contrary.
We could say that this tiny country overflows with postcard-like places. Aside from the remarkable heights of the Andes, other photogenic places await you in Ecuador. Essentially, the cities comprise of unique architectural treasures that date back to the Spanish colonial days. Meanwhile, the towns and villages show a different facet of this country.
Still, even if Ecuador is definitely a dreamy destination due to its diversity and uniqueness, you might wonder whether visiting it is safe or not. The official safety index for Ecuador is 55 percent. This means that is isn’t the most dangerous country to travel it, nor is it the safest. This means that you shouldn’t let your guard down during your visit. Concurrently, you should be aware of the threats that lie before you.
So, keep on reading if you want to know: how safe is Ecuador for tourists?
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Ecuador
Overall Risks in Ecuador: MEDIUM
There is a heightened security risk in Ecuador, due to the increase of violent crime. Assault and armed robbery are quite widespread, especially in the main cities – including Quito and Guayaquil. At the same time, violent crime incidents entailing the use of weapons and firearms are likely to take place.
On a different note, due to the unstable political situation in Ecuador, demonstrations and protests are commonplace. These often result in severe violence.
It’s worth taking into account that local laws prohibit tourists from participating in this kind of actions. Otherwise, they might get arrested. This is why foreigners should steer clear of partaking in demonstrations of this kind – even if they are intended as peaceful gatherings, there is a possibility that the situation will worsen.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in Ecuador: MEDIUM to HIGH
How safe is Ecuador for tourists when it comes to theft and robbery crimes? In truth, pickpocketing and muggings are likely to happen in Ecuador – specifically in the main cities. For the most part, the crimes that occur are crimes of opportunity.
In other words, there are numerous professional thieves that target unaware tourists in popular areas or in the proximity of cafes and restaurants. Additionally, bear in mind that bag snatching is a common practice engaged by pickpockets.
Since tourists tend to be quite distracted around bus terminals or public means of transportation, thieves take advantage of this by using pickpocketing skills.
A common practice is that of the accidental spill. Pickpockets pretend to spill something on you, and afterward, another friendly local comes along to help you get rid of the stain. So, make sure you keep an eye out for these scams.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Ecuador?
Being cautious whenever you’re traveling is common sense. This is a principle to abide by regardless of your traveling destination.
We advise you to steer clear of wearing expensive jewelry whenever you’re exploring the cities. Plus, you should be wary of your bag or backpack whenever you take the bus or other means of transportation. If possible, you should try to carry your rucksack on the front of the body.
Make sure you keep your original documents safe. On the flip-side, you should carry a colored copy of your passport, accompanied by the visa entry stamp page. Additionally, don’t carry too much money with you.
The bottom-line is that you should keep an eye out on your belongings. If you notice that someone attempts to distract you through staged pushing or shoving, or by requesting assistance, you should walk away, as these might be pickpocketing attempts.
Scam Risk in Ecuador: MEDIUM
There are a lot of scams you can come across while in Ecuador - some are basic, while others may, in fact, be able to trick even the really cautious travelers. For example, you may be approached and offered a Galapagos cruise on a very low price - this usually comes with a lot of hidden costs that you will learn only when it's time to pay. Then, you can be exposed to ayahuasca scams, taxi scams, bus ticket scams, gate fee scams, unlicensed taxis, bird poo scams, rental car scams, sob story tellers, counterfeit currency, snatch thefts, restaurant scams, and lottery scams.
Obviously, you may have already figured it out how most of these work. Unlicensed taxis can and will overcharge you - significantly. Locals will throw some bird poo at you, claim that it was a bird who did that, and offer to clean your jacket/ clothing. Naturally, they'll ask for payment when they're done. You can also be faced with a random fee at a random gate or entry that you knew you didn't have to pay for. In this case, check if the man is actually an employee there or at least licensed to charge entry fees.
Long story short, Ecuador is a rather popular country, with a lot of yearly visitors. Therefore, it goes without saying that the country is a good territory for scammers to practice their job, so to speak.
- How to avoid getting scammed in Ecuador?
Avoiding scams implies a heightened sense of awareness, if we may say so. This means always giving a second thought when faced with a suspicious situation - or even one that's out of the ordinary, so to speak. In order words, you should always doubt strangers and locals approaching you. If you do so, you will most likely avoid the majority of the scams that you can experience in Ecuador.
When it comes to services scams, paying attention can help you avoid those scams! How? Well, in terms of unlicensed taxis, it is recommended that you never get in a random taxi on the street. While abroad, we recommend you to find a reputed and respected taxi company prior to your trip so that you know what number to call once you're in Ecuador. Even if you are in a hurry, you shouldn't trust the taxi you see waiting in front of a hotel or such.
On the other hand, when it comes to restaurant and bar scams, there's one simple thing that you can do to avoid any issues! Simply ask for a menu before ordering - if the waiter is not able to provide you with one, just leave the restaurant and find a new one. Also, when you have to pay, check the bill carefully and make sure that the prices on the menu fit with those on the bill. As you can see, it is very easy to avoid overcharging as a tourist!
Last but not least, keep in mind to take almost everything with a grain of salt! Locals and strangers are not to be trusted, neither the services or products they try to offer or sell to you! With a little bit of doubt, you can avoid every single scam out there!
Kidnapping Risk in Ecuador: MEDIUM
Unfortunately, during the last couple of years, more and more kidnapping incidents have been reported in Ecuador. As a matter of fact, recently, three journalists were kidnapped, as well.
Essentially, express kidnapping is the most widespread form of crime – aside from pickpocketing and mugging. This entails kidnapping foreigners in order to extort a quick ransom, by contacting the victim’s family. Another option is driving the victim to a cash machine when one is forced to withdraw as much money as possible.
It’s worth noting that foreign nationals are an appealing target for criminals. At the same time, taxi passengers might fall victims of this type of crime, as well. In fact, numerous taxis have been held up at gun point. This is why you should avoid hailing taxis on the street. To be on the safe side, you should use a radio taxi instead.
- How to avoid being kidnapped in Ecuador?
Once again, being cautious and wary of your environment is highly recommended. When possible, try to use a radio taxi as opposed to hailing one on the street.
Additionally, steer clear of creating a predictable, fixed routine; as this could make you more prone to get kidnapped by criminals.
Even if the police tends to respond quickly to calls for help, they aren’t that reliable when it comes to following up on investigations. As a result, the arrest rates are pretty low, whereas the conviction rates are pretty poor. However, note that the emergency number is 911 – should you find yourself in need of assistance.
Terrorism Risk in Ecuador: LOW to MEDIUM
Due to the heightened risk of terrorism around the world, you might have questions whether terrorist incidents are likely to happen in Ecuador or not.
In lines with official reports, in 2018, several incidents entailing bomb explosions took place. These happened in the northern province of Esmeraldas, which is bordering Columbia.
Additionally, it’s worth taking into account that the security situation can change dramatically in a matter of hours in the Esmeraldas province. This is why you should be wary of warnings issued by the Ecuadorean authorities.
- How to avoid terrorism in Ecuador?
Overall, Ecuador is not under a continuous threat of terrorism. The only areas that come with such risks are the Esmeraldas province and the 20km exclusion zone along the border with Colombia. These areas also come with travel warnings for all travelers - Esmeraldas is to be visited for essential travel only, while the exclusion zone is to be avoided entirely!
Therefore, you shouldn't worry about terrorism if you visit the southern part of the country, for example. Still, being cautious is helpful, as you don't want to be caught off-guard! In this respect, we recommend you to keep a close eye on your surroundings for any suspicious items or individuals. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, it is better to just flee the area and alert the authorities as soon as possible. Usually, the areas targeted by terrorists are places of prayer, markets, malls, crowded places, and areas of interest. You should either avoid or limit the time you spend in these places.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in Ecuador: MEDIUM
Is Ecuador safe for solo women travelers? Many women enjoy traveling by themselves – and the good thing is that many women have attempted to visit Ecuador. Nevertheless, there are some heightened risks that you’d be exposing yourself to. At the same time, you’d have to put up with a bunch of little annoyances.
The primary nuisance solo women travelers are likely to cope with in Ecuador is causing whistling, kissing or hissing noises. That is to say, when you walk by yourself, especially in front of a group of men, they will inevitably make some kind of noises as you pass by.
Fair-haired women are more prone to attract attention. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that Ecuadorian women are off the hook. In this situation, it is best to ignore the perpetrators. If you attempt to say something in return, it could lead to nothing good.
The areas in which such incidents are prone to happen are the larger cities, or the areas overflowing with tourists – such as Baños. In this kind of places, it’s pretty inevitable not to be started at consistently. Some men might even attempt to engage in conversation, inquiring about your love life and other unsuitable questions. That’s because there is a general misconception among Ecuadorian men according to which Western women are loose and easy.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in Ecuador?
This misconception is due to the way in which women dress and socialize. This is why, in order to avoid unwanted scenarios, you should dress respectfully, and be wary of the impression you are leaving behind – because, whatever you may do, you are sending a message. By dressing respectfully and avoiding wearing revealing garments, you’ll significantly reduce the amount of unwanted attention you receive.
Also, steer clear of walking alone after dark, especially in towns. However, hiking makes no exception to the rule, which is why you shouldn’t embrace lone hiking as a solo woman traveler.
As you can see, you are subject to harassment while traveling through Ecuador, especially if you are a solo woman. While you cannot fully avoid this, applying the tips we've just mentioned does help - a lot. On top of that, you should refrain from answering back to any people that harass you, as it is much better to just ignore them than have their attention pointed at you even more. Moreover, besides dressing appropriately, you should also avoid displaying any valuables, electronics, gadgets, and money while walking on the street. These, just as any pair of revealing garments, can attract unwanted attention!
Last but not least, you should avoid walking alone through areas that are not fit for solo travelers, namely shady alleys, city outskirts, slums, bad-reputed neighborhoods, and such. Stay within the areas designated for tourists and don't explore/ discover the surroundings without a group or a tour guide.
Rape Risk in Ecuador: MEDIUM
There is also a considerable risk of rape in Ecuador. Even though these incidents aren’t necessarily widespread, this doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.
Incidents of sexual assault and rape can happen, in well-traveled tourist areas as well. Bear in mind that criminals usually target women that are alone. They also use incapacitating drugs or alcohol, in order to make the victims vulnerable to attacks.
These are so-called rape drugs – which include rohypnol and scopolamine, aim at disorienting the victim, leading to prolonged unconsciousness and other severe medical conditions.
- How to avoid getting raped in Ecuador?
In order to minimize the risk of sexual assault, it’s highly recommendable to travel in groups. If you’re traveling alone, avoid secluded areas, especially at night.
Also, the number of incidents has increased in the city of Montañita. Being utterly careful regarding the accommodation you choose is a good precaution measure.
Since criminals use drugs in order to subdue the victims, you shouldn’t accept drinks offered by strangers, no matter how friendly and well-dressed the person offering you the drink is. Plus, if you’re in a restaurant or club, avoid leaving your drink unattended, as it is common for criminals to slip drugs into people’s drinks.
Risks for People Traveling with Children in Ecuador: MEDIUM
After answering the question: is Ecuador safe to visit for solo woman travelers, we’d like to move on to families with children. Should you attempt to visit Ecuador as a family with children?
Such a journey would definitely account for a memorable adventure. The best part is that there are numerous activities that are thrilling for children – and not only. Since it is a small country, traveling across it is more accessible than, say exploring Peru.
Nonetheless, parents shouldn’t overlook the risks we outlined in the paragraphs above. Altitude sickness could be an issue, as well as sunburn. Additionally, you should be wary of the risks that come with each specific area. Some areas pose higher risks than others. Plus, using public transportation can be dangerous.
Many incidents take place in interstate buses. Also, there are numerous unlicensed taxis in Ecuador. So, to avoid falling victim of criminal events, it would be best to use radio taxis from hotels – when you have the possibility, of course.
Plus, make sure you get the appropriate vaccines and get informed concerning the risks of natural disasters – especially in high risk areas.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
If you plan on traveling across Ecuador, then you have to train your children and teach them how to properly behave on a trip. They may never get in serious danger, but we all know that they could get themselves into certain situations that are not necessarily safe. For example, they could get lost in a crowd or get stuck behind while traveling. Keep in mind that this is not entirely their fault - after all, you should keep an eye on them at all times.
This is exactly how you can avoid any unwanted scenario while traveling with children - always keep them under surveillance, pay attention to what they eat, drink, and do, and make sure that they stay healthy!
Natural Disaster Risks in Ecuador: MEDIUM to HIGH
How safe is Ecuador for tourists when it comes to natural disaster risks? Considering that this country is situated in an active seismic zone, earthquakes are likely to happen. Additionally, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis raise a range of safety concerns.
Essentially, Ecuador hosts a range of active volcanoes, especially in the proximity of Quito, as well as on the Galapagos Islands – which are a main tourist attraction for foreigners.
That being said, you should inform yourself of the risks that come with the territory. Concurrently, ensure that you are acquainted with the safety and evacuation procedures before embarking on your adventure.
It’s also recommendable to monitor seismic-volcano activity and get informed concerning evacuation routes.
Along the coast in the Galapagos Archipelago, there is a heightened risk of tsunami. Each Ecuador safety guide should note that the evacuation routes maps are of utmost importance for each traveler. Plus, in the proximity of the glaciated volcanoes such as Cotopaxi, there is an increased risk of lahars – which are flows of mud, water and lava that are known to be utterly destructive and dangerous. The towns of Salcebo and Latacunga are more vulnerable than other areas.
You should also note that the rainy season lasts from December till May. During this time-frame, the irregular El Niño climatic phenomenon occurs every now and then. It could lead to heavy rains and severe flooding. Plus, there is a significant risk of landslides, especially at times of heavy rainfall.
Due to potential strong currents, you should steer clear of crossing rivers, and be doubly mindful in affected areas. On a different note, when exploring the coastal region, it’s highly recommendable to seek local advice regarding tidal activity and take the necessary precautions.
Transportation Risks in Ecuador: MEDIUM
First of all, it is worth mentioning that drivers don't usually respect the country's zebra crossings. In short, don't take a crosswalk as granted and look both ways before attempting to cross the street.
Then, you should avoid or be extremely careful while in bus stations. There has been a high number of robberies reported at various bus stations and on interstate transport. Be particularly careful in the stations of Cuenca, Quito, Tena, Banos, Mindo, Loja, and Riobamba. While traveling on a bus, keep your valuables where you can see them. This means that you should avoid the luggage compartment, overhead space, and the space underneath your seat. You should keep any bags on or between your legs. Naturally, valuables and money are to be kept inside a pocket or money belt.
Moreover, you should also take only buses from reputed companies, especially those that are known for not stopping to pick up passengers in random locations. They may pick up criminals - or, in some cases, the drivers may work with criminals.
The same applies to taxis - do your best to avoid unlicensed vehicles and make sure to have the number of a reputed taxi company that you can rely on. You can ask your accommodation for recommendations in terms of taxi companies and transportation services. For increased safety, you should always book a taxi through your hotel, as they will most likely contact a known taxi service.
Given the many issues the country has with transportation, Ecuador has launched a "secure transport" system that had video cameras, GPS, and panic buttons in registered taxis and interstate buses. All of the vehicles equipped with such a system have the "transporte seguro" logo on them. Naturally, these should be your main choice when it comes to transportation - but remember to check the inside of the vehicle for panic buttons and such and not rely fully on the logo.
In terms of road travel, the Ecuadorean authorities recommend you go get a local temporary driver's license if you plan on driving in the country. However, keep in mind that the road conditions here are rather variable, with mudslides and heavy rains often washing away or closing roads. As a result, serious accidents are quite common in Ecuador. On top of that, speeding, careless driving, and badly maintained vehicles are known to be the other main causes for serious and fatal crashes/ accidents.
Ecuador comes with one of the highest road accident rate in all of Latin America. Therefore, be extremely careful when driving and don't trust other drivers to be very skilled or aware!
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in Ecuador: MEDIUM
Since Ecuador is a popular tourist destination, it goes without saying that the country has more night-clubs, pubs, and bars that you can handle. After all, we know very well that such locations are the main places where tourists and locals alike can have some fun!
However, if you are a tourist who cares about their possessions and well-being, then you will not get drunk nor trust any stranger that approaches you. First of all, reports tell that the number of sexual assaults and attacks against foreigners, especially against foreign women, has increased in the recent years - mainly in the city of Montanita. The use of date rape drugs has also been confirmed. Therefore, you should not drink while in Ecuador, especially if you are alone.
In fact, you should not visit any night-club, pub, or bar if you are not accompanied by a group or at least a tour guide, especially during the night. Criminals in Ecuador are known to use drugs that subdue their victims. They use a home-made version of scopolamine, drug that leaves you in a compliant state while also causing amnesia. If you are with a group, someone will notice your state and get you back home as soon as possible.
Basically, if someone approaches and offers you drinks, food, perfume samples, leaflets, cigarettes, or telephone cards - a few of the ways through which criminals get the drug to you -, you should refuse them politely and leave the area as soon as possible. Don't waste any time explaining them that you don't need anything that they're offering you - simply ignore them and leave.
Health Risks in Ecuador
Ecuador comes with a risk of Zika virus transmission. Make sure to check for more information and advice on this matter, in order to learn how to avoid being infected with this particular virus. If you plan on traveling to the Amazon region, then the country's authorities recommend travelers to vaccinate themselves against yellow fever. Moreover, if you enter in Ecuador from Brazil, Uganda, Congo, or the Dominican Republic, then the yellow fever vaccine is mandatory for you.
If you need medical care in Ecuador, keep in mind that private hospitals will often demand you a credit card guarantee before treating you. On top of that, private treatment is known to be rather expensive! If you lack the money, then you can rely on the country's public healthcare system - it comes with no costs. However, specialized medical treatment is often available only in the country's main cities.
Therefore, it is important that your medical insurance is comprehensive and covers a wide range of issues and treatments, so to speak. For example, if you visit Galapagos, you shouldn't do so without an insurance that includes evacuation by air ambulance. This is because these Islands come with limited facilities that may not be able to provide you with treatment in case of a medical emergency.
Make sure that you are equipped with proper travel health insurance and enough funds to cover the cost of any treatment, medicine, or medical transportation before you start your trip. Don't take foreign healthcare for granted!
List of Vaccines You Need in Ecuador
As you might expect, some vaccines are utterly mandatory for traveling to Ecuador. To start with, Ecuador is the home to a bunch of mosquito-borne diseases – such as Zika, Malaria, yellow fever and dengue. Concurrently, getting vaccinated against typhoid is recommended, as this disease spreads through contaminated food and water.
Furthermore, infected animals might transmit rabies, whereas hepatitis A is transmitted through contaminated food and water. This is why you should get vaccinated against these, as well. Getting vaccinated against hepatitis B is also recommendable.
It’s also compulsory to get health insurance for your journey. Traveling to exotic destinations is unpredictable, which is why you should be prepared for whatever may come.
Most Dangerous Areas in Ecuador
As you might expect, some areas in Ecuador are more dangerous than others. For example, there is a heightened security risk specifically within 20 kilometers of the border to Columbia. The town of Tulcan in the province of Carchi makes an exception to this, however – since this is the official crossing town.
The reason why this area is particularly dangerous is due to the growing threat of kidnapping. At the same time, organized and drug-related crime events are prone to occur. This is why the authorities recommend foreigners to steer clear of exploring this area.
Moving on, the province of Sucumbios poses a range of risks, as well. Similarly, there is an ongoing threat of drug-related and organized crime. Hence, if traveling there isn’t a necessity, it would be best if you didn’t go there.
The city of Montañita has experienced an increase in sexual assault cases, as well. This is why foreigners, solo women travelers, in particular, should be wary of their surroundings. Concurrently, it’s advisable to choose your accommodation carefully, to ensure that it is reputable.
Concluding Remarks: Is Ecuador Safe to Visit?
On a final note, which are the main Ecuador safety travel tips we consider being the most important? Even though traveling to this destination does entail a range of risks, as we clearly outlined beforehand, this shouldn’t stop you from exploring this beautiful country. As long as you follow a bunch of quintessential Ecuador safety travel tips, you’ll be on the right path.
That being said, if you are late at night, it’s best to take a cab. However, make sure it is a reputable cap company, as there are numerous scammers in this business, as well. Since the police don’t go after petty thefts, you should avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you.
Steer clear of taking walks through dark, secluded areas – specifically at night-time and dusk. If something unfortunate happens, there is a minimal chance that you’ll be heard or seen. If you’re withdrawing money at an ATM, have a look around you first.
This concludes our Ecuador safety guide. Stay safe and make sure you factor in our tips!