If you want to see spectacular natural landscapes and biodiversity that you can’t find anywhere else, then you can’t go wrong with Ecuador. You certainly won’t be alone if you visit.
The small South American country of Ecuador receives over two million visitors annually. Most visitors to Ecuador flock to its spectacular natural sites, such as the Galapagos Islands.
Even if you’re not a lover of hiking and nature, you’ll still find plenty to do in bustling cities such as Quito and historic towns such as Cuenca. But while this storied country has plenty of culture and countless historical sights to see, is Ecuador safe to visit? Here’s our take.
Is Ecuador Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes. Ecuador is one of the safest countries to visit in South America, but you still need to be on your guard because it’s more dangerous than most cities you’ll visit.
Although the situation has calmed down since the massive protests of 2022, there is still the potential for civil unrest. Crime is also a big concern and the reason why many countries maintain Ecuador on an elevated travel advisory list.
Ecuador’s recent political situation was characterized by instability. In the summer of 2022, demonstrators across the country took to the streets to protest against President Guillermo Lasso and his economic policies that were affecting poor people.
The result was violence, widespread blockages, and shortages of important goods all over Ecuador.
Human Rights Watch criticized the government’s initial aggressive response as well as its long-term neglect of the country’s mostly indigenous impoverished population, which causes protests like this to erupt frequently.
The protests of 2022 ended, and the president narrowly escaped impeachment, but the situation in Ecuador is still far from stable. Australia advises its citizens to reconsider travel to Ecuador due to the threat of civil unrest, among other reasons.
Although other countries are not as stringent in their travel advisories, lowering the alert levels after the situation calmed down in autumn 2022.
Even if the situation is not so concerning that you need to be on your guard constantly, it’s good to be aware of the potential for civil unrest. Follow the news for predicted strikes and protests.
Be aware that protests are often unannounced. If you see people gathering, step away from the crowd as you don’t want to get caught in an unsavory situation. Protesters often block roads and highways.
Be aware that you might need to change travel plans last minute. Never try to cross a roadblock. Besides civil unrest, a major threat to visitors to Ecuador is crime.
Crime levels are very high, including levels of violent crime. The US State Department warns citizens to exercise increased caution in Ecuador due to high levels of crime, especially organized crime.
Some of the most concerning crimes present in Ecuador are:
- Express kidnapping
- Armed robbery
- Petty theft
Besides threats from people, you should also be aware of threats from nature when you visit Ecuador. When you go into the mountains, keep a close eye on weather conditions.
The weather changes rapidly while you’re hiking, and you don’t want to get caught in a landslide or avalanche. Other natural disasters that can happen in Ecuador include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis, as the country is in an active seismic zone.
Crime in Ecuador
The most concerning problem for tourists when visiting Ecuador is the high crime rate. Even though crime mostly affects locals, it does bleed into tourist areas.
Some hardened criminals will even target foreigners because they perceive foreign visitors as wealthier, more lucrative targets. What is particularly concerning is that the violent crime rate in Ecuador is very high.
In 2022, the country saw a record-high rate of murders, with 25.5 deaths per 100,000 people and 4,539 total homicide victims. While much of this violence is concentrated in certain regions, which drives up the country’s overall violent crime rate, everywhere in Ecuador sees high murder rates.
The presence of organized crime syndicates largely contributes to the cycle of violence. In the same article cited above, officials blamed organized crime syndicates for 83% of homicides in the country and other violent incidents.
According to the Organized Crime Index, Ecuador has a 7.07 criminality score, making it one of the most criminal states in the world. Organized crime groups control massive human trafficking routes, the illegal arms trade, illegal logging, and more.
A few factors contribute to Ecuador’s high crime rate. One is the location. Ecuador is perfectly located to act as a hub for drug trafficking from Colombia and other producers to the United States and Europe.
Endemic corruption means that the government is often closely aligned with criminal groups, allowing them to operate with impunity. Besides the high violent crime rate, Ecuador also has a high property crime rate, especially for robberies and petty theft.
According to public opinion surveys conducted by Cost of Living, the risk of being mugged or robbed is perceived at 69.91%, or very high.
Other crimes that people worry about the most are theft, armed robbery, car break-ins, and bribery. Finally, the crime situation in Ecuador is probably much worse than the statistics suggest.
Local police officers are notoriously slow when it comes to solving crimes, leading many people not to bother reporting because they feel as if there is no point.
Theft is ubiquitous in Ecuador, and you need to keep a close eye on your valuables wherever you go. It is the most common in big cities such as Quito and Guayaquil as well as popular tourist destinations.
Pickpockets and thieves often target foreigners because they perceive them to be wealthier, thus making them better potential targets. According to the UK government, thieves use a variety of tactics to rob victims.
The most common is distraction. Thieves might spill something on you, then pretend to help you clean it up. Be careful whenever someone is approaching you or seems too desperate to get your attention. Always keep a firm grip on your valuables in public.
Other times, thieves resort to more direct methods to relieve you of your valuables. Bag snatching, including from the back of a motorcycle, is common throughout Ecuador.
Opt for a cross-body bag or backpack that is harder to remove from your person than a simple tote. Always carry your bag on the side of your body facing away from the road. Break-ins, especially car break-ins, are also increasing in prevalence across Ecuador.
Make sure that your valuables are always hidden in the car, such as in a glove compartment, while you’re driving to prevent attracting attention — some thieves will even operate while vehicles are moving and take advantage of slow traffic and red lights.
Never leave valuables in a car unattended while it’s parked. You will need to take several precautions to keep all your valuables with you as you travel through Ecuador.
Make copies of your documents that you can store elsewhere as well as an emergency backup credit card. Don’t flash valuables such as watches or jewelry that will attract attention.
Keep a firm grip on your valuables and bags at all times, even in places where you might feel complacent such as overnight buses. Avoid walking alone at night down unfamiliar streets.
Petty theft is the least of your worries in Ecuador, as far more violent crime is prevalent and often affects tourists. The most common crime that foreigners experience in Ecuador is armed robbery.
Armed robberies often occur in unauthorized taxis. Country Reports says that the nickname for this is the “secuestro express.” A criminal posing as a taxi driver will pick up an unsuspecting passenger, then drive them to a point where armed accomplices get in and rob the passenger.
You can minimize your risks of this form of armed robbery by only taking authorized taxis, but criminals are getting better at infiltrating actual taxis. Express kidnappings are also forms of armed robberies that frequently affect tourists.
Criminals will target tourists and force them at gunpoint to visit several ATMs over the course of a few hours, emptying their bank accounts.
They often catch people withdrawing money from an ATM, so make sure that you only use ATMs in bank buildings or other secure places, and avoid using them if you notice someone sketchy is around.
The Canadian government also warns its citizens that criminals frequently drug people to rob them, often using the terrifying drug scopolamine. Be careful of anyone offering you perfume samples, food, or anything free on the streets, and keep an eye on your drinks while out in public.
You can’t completely avoid encountering an armed robber in Ecuador. Unfortunately, crime is widespread, and criminals operate with impunity in traffic jams, on hiking trails, and in the middle of cities in broad daylight.
Hopefully, you won’t be unlucky and experience an armed robbery. If you do, cooperate and hand over your valuables. Robbers often escalate their operations to assault and rape victims, and you don’t want to risk that happening.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Certain regions of Ecuador are more dangerous than others. Right now, don’t visit the regions of Guayas and Esmeraldas provinces, including the popular city of Guayaquil.
The Ecuadorian government had to declare a state of emergency after escalating violence, including bombings that killed several police officers, wracked the regions.
Don’t travel to the land border with Colombia, as that is prime territory for organized crime syndicates. Sucumbíos province also has an elevated crime rate, especially kidnapping.
In Quito, hotspots for theft include southern Quito, the historic center, El Panecillo, and La Mariscal. Stay alert wherever you go, including the airport, as criminals can be anywhere.
Things to Consider
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when traveling to Ecuador:
- Quito has a designated tourist police that you can go to in case of trouble.
- Credit card fraud is also common in Ecuador, so always keep an eye on your card when paying to avoid skimmers.
- Sexual assault against foreign women is sadly growing in Ecuador, especially in the coastal regions. Female travelers should probably be on the alert.
- Ecuador is at a high elevation level, so give yourself a day or two to adjust for altitude sickness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions about Ecuador? This might cover them:
What should you not do in Ecuador?
There are a few things you shouldn’t do in Ecuador to minimize your risk of being the victim of a crime. You shouldn’t act in ways that draw attention to yourself, such as flashing your valuables or speaking loudly in English. Try to take public transportation outside of peak hours as fewer pickpockets operate then.
Is Ecuador safer than the US?
Ecuador does have a higher crime rate than the United States. However, the difference is not as drastic as people might think, and it is only slightly less safe than the US, according to statistics. That might make you feel safer about going (or less safe about leaving your home).
What is the safest city in Ecuador?
The safest city in Ecuador is Cuenca. Cuenca is a quieter town whose historic old town is even protected by the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is also a popular destination for retired ex-pats.
Is English widely spoken in Ecuador?
Most hotel receptionists, waiters in popular restaurants, and tour guides in Ecuador speak some English. However, the official language is Spanish, and Quechua is also widely spoken. It’s polite to know at least a few words of Spanish to communicate with your average street vendor.
Are people in Ecuador friendly?
Yes, people in Ecuador generally have a reputation for being friendly. However, be careful if someone is overly friendly, as scammers and pickpockets sometimes approach their victims that way.
Visiting Ecuador requires a higher risk tolerance than visiting some other destinations, thanks to its very high crime rate. However, the crime primarily affects locals, not tourists.
If you avoid dangerous regions and take basic precautions, you can have a great time in Ecuador. So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip to this idyllic country today!