Staying Safe in Ecuador
By Russell Maddicks
With over 22,000 UK travellers visiting Ecuador in 2013, and visitor numbers up by 20 percent in the first few months of 2014, the UK Embassy in Ecuador has produced a video and a downloadable App with travel and safety advice.
The main thing to keep in mind when planning a trip to Ecuador is that it is a relatively safe country compared to its South American neighbours.
A few simple and common sense precautions will help to ensure that you don't fall victim to crime, and that if you do, you know what to do.
One Latin American crime that most UK visitors might not be aware of is known as Secuestro Express (express
kidnapping), where victims are held up at gunpoint or with a knife, robbed of their valuables and then taken to ATMs or banks and forced to empty their accounts, or at least withdraw the maximum on their debit or credit cards.
In Ecuador, particularly in Guayaquil, thieves have been targeting tourists hailing unregistered taxis at night.
Usually, a second car trails the taxi and stops it at a suitably dark spot, whereupon the occupants of the second car get in and threaten the tourists with a weapon.
If you are involved in an express kidnapping, it is better to immediately give your assailants what they want without a fight.
Once they've stripped tourists of cash and valuables and taken all the money they can out of an ATM or two, the thieves generally release their victims unharmed.
The best way to avoid express kidnapping is to always use licensed taxis from taxi ranks, or have somebody from a hotel or restaurant call you a radio cab.
My Top Tips for Travelling Safely in Ecuador
Learn some Spanish and Listen to the Locals – The more you can speak and understand the better. Heed advice on places to avoid, and don't enter poor areas of cities and towns.
Don't Attract The Attention of thieves – Leave gold chains, diamond rings and expensive watches at home and keep digital cameras and mobile phones out of sight.
Use The Hotel Safe – Just carry enough cash for the day and distribute it in different pockets, with a reserve in a moneybelt. Always have some cash to hand over if you are mugged.
Don't Use ATMs In The Street Or At Night – Try to use ATMs in banks or shopping malls during the day. It's important to plan ahead and budget for emergencies.
Travel With Others – You are safer in a group. Solo travellers – especially women - are more likely to be targeted by pickpockets and bag snatchers.
Be Extra Aware In Crowded Markets And When Traveling on Public Transport During Peak Hours – Don't travel on the tram with anything you don't want to lose. In Quito and Guayaquil, very experienced pickpockets, including minors, take advantage of the crush on the trams and buses during peak hours to separate tourists from their wallets and mobile phones. Carry your day pack in front of you. Keep valuables tucked away, preferably in a money belt under your clothes.
Don't Hail Taxis On The Street At Night – Get the number of a reliable taxi company from your hotel and have them call you a taxi. If you can't call a cab, use official yellow taxis with orange number plates. Never take an unregistered "pirate taxi.
If You Are Held Up Hand Over Your Valuables – If you do get held up by an armed assailant hand over your stuff. Keep calm and do not resist. If you have a "muggers wallet" (see below), you can hand over that and hope the mugger will go away
Have Some Emergency Cash Tucked Away - Keep emergency bills hidden in belt, shoes, etc. just in case you are pickpocketed or mugged. You could also consider carrying a “mugger's wallet”. This is a decoy wallet with a few small bills to make minor purchases with, and an expired credit card, old library/gym card for authenticity.
10. Make Copies of All Your Important Papers - Take copies of your passport, plane ticket, and insurance policy by scanning them or taking a photo of them with your mobile phone. Email the copies to yourself by email, along with a list of the important contact numbers (embassy, bank, insurance company) you may need while abroad. After entering the country, take a few photos of the entry visa stamp in your passport and email that to yourself as you could need it if your passport is lost or stolen.
If you have any other tips for staying safe or would like to share your story of traveling in Ecuador, please leave a comment below.
To download the FCO App on Consular Services and Safety Advice click here.
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