safety in ecuador

Ninety nine point nine percent of Ecuadorians are wonderful, friendly and welcoming people who take pride in their country and enjoy the presence of tourists and visitors. However there are a number of very professional thieves in the most populated and visited areas who are much better at releiving you of your personal possessions than you are of defending yourself. While violent crime is relatively rare, it pays to take some simple precautions that can prevent frustration and lost time through theft.

Below are a number of recommendations born from experience over the years with volunteers, students and visitors that will help you to prepare for your trip.

Tourist Police: There is a special branch of the police force for tourists. They have an office located on the corner of Vicente Ramon Roca and Reina Victoria (close to our offices), which is the place to go to report theft of personal property to get a police report for insurance purposes.

Avoiding theft

Our advice is to be aware without becoming paranoid.

As in any poor country, there are those who live by stealing from those with things worth stealing. And while many Ecuadorians are the victims of thieves too, as a foreigner you are a more obvious target. Following the simple precautions below will greatly reduce your risk, and allow you to relax and enjoy your stay in Ecuador.

  1. Do not carry valuable items around with you if you do not need to.

a.       Leave credit cards, passport, extra cash at home. Don't carry your digital camera around if you are not going to use it (and back up your photos on CD regularly in case you do lose your camera). Work out how much you need for the day and just take that much cash plus a bit extra. Make a copy of your passport and carry it with you instead of your original (copy must include the front page and your entry stamp or visa).  IF YOU DON'T ABSOLUTELY NEED IT, LEAVE IT AT HOME. 

  1. Withdrawing Cash
    1. When using a cash machine, always choose one that has a security guard nearby. If people (not customers) are hanging around the machine as you approach, or if anyone tries to talk to you or distract you at the machine, do not use that machine to withdraw your cash. Always block everyone's view before putting in your pin number, and make sure you have your card details and emergency phone number somewhere in case it is stolen or if your pin number is compromised.
    2. Avoid withdrawing large sums of cash, but if you must, do so on your way home so you can keep the extra cash safe.  Have someone go with you if possible, and it is always a good idea to take a taxi if you have a lot of money on you.
  2. Public Transportation
    1. The Trole system in Quito is notorious for professional pickpockets, especially when it is crowded. They use razor blades to slit open bags and backpacks and take out valuables. Never wear your backpack on the Trole. Keep it on the floor with a strap around your leg such that someone would have to bend down to tamper with it, or wear it in front of you. Keep all of your valuables secure, including anything in your pockets.  REMEMBER: THEY ARE PROFESSIONALS.  If you can keep one hand on your valuables at all times, so much the better.
    2. Similar problems exist on all mass transit systems, such as the Ecovia and the Metro, but they are less common.
  1. Public Spaces
    1. One common trick is to spill some mayonnaise or ketchup on tourists and make a fuss about wiping it off. This is a distraction while someone else steals your bag or other personal belongings.
    2. In restaurants and internet cafes NEVER put your bag behind you on the seat, or at your feet where you cannot see it. Small groups of thieves, sometimes dressed like businessmen, go into these places, and cause a distraction while someone else steals your bag. The best thing is to put your bag down and hook one leg through the strap, or to keep it on your lap. Take everything with you when you go to the bathroom.
    3. Always be extra careful in crowded places, and never have valuables in your regular pockets or in a backpack worn where you cannot see it.
  2. After Dark
    1. The Mariscal area has many bars, restaurants and clubs and is a fun place to spend the evening. It also attracts thieves who take advantage of the distractions of being out at night to steal wallets, bags, jackets, etc. NEVER leave anything valuable in pockets or bags that you leave unattended. If you are in a group in a club try to make sure that there is always one person sitting with the bags etc., while you dance or go to the bar. The best advice is to take only what you need with you, no valuables like cameras, and keep everything on you in a safe place.
    2. Avoid walking alone or with just one other person late at night. A small group walking together is safer. Using taxis to get home after 9.00 pm is strongly recommended. Short rides only cost $1.50 to $2.00; cheap insurance even if it's only for a few blocks. 
    3. If you are accosted, stay calm, give them what you have and let them go on their way. If you were smart you did not have much to lose.  Later you can make a report to the Tourism Police.


Traveling Outside Quito

  1. When traveling on buses outside Quito there are several precautions to take to avoid being robbed.
    1. Never put things in the overhead rack. While you are sleeping or looking out the window someone could take it as they walk past.
    2. Never put things under the seat where someone behind can tamper with the bag. Even bags on the floor by your feet can be at risk from people or kids opening them from under the seats in front of or behind you.
    3. Do not allow other people to take or touch your bags. Some thieves will pretend to help you to stow your luggage, either stealing your bag right then or setting you up for a later theft.
    4. Never leave your things on the bus while you get off to buy something.
    5. Keep your valuables on your lap in a well closed pack or bag and keep the strap around your arm, especially if you are going to sleep.
    6. Generally it is safe-perhaps safest---to put packs in the luggage compartments underneath the bus. Just make sure the assistant puts them in and shuts the door.



24 hour medical assistance is available at the Clinica Pichincha on Avenida Veintimilla and 9 de Octubre (just a few blocks from our office). English spoken.

Emergency dental work: Family Dentistry, Veintimilla 1328 y Paez (close to the office). English Spoken.

We hope that your enjoy your studies and/or volunteering with Yanapuma, and that your stay in Ecuador is a pleasant one. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments for us.

Yanapuma Foundation
Our work is founded on the belief that the processes of globalization are inevitable. Without help indigenous cultures and communities most often end up losing control of or destroying their resource base. They lose their traditional cultural values and relationships to their environment. Thus they are drawn into a system in which they are ill-equipped to compete and are destined to remain at the bottom of the economic ladder, with under-developed infrastructure, and poor prospects for future generations. We believe that such communities have the right to maintain control of their resources and to live dignified and sustainable lives. With the right help they can develop suitable strategies and work towards a fulfilling future. But their responses need to be coordinated across all axes in order to achieve truly sustainable lives. Thus we believe it is important to support sustainable practices on multiple levels in order to present viable and holistic options.