Posted by: adventuressetravels | December 23, 2011

Unsafe Ecuador

10 Tips to stay safe in Ecuador

Ecuador is a lovely country.  With a wealth of nature from the famed Galapagos Islands to lush rainforests; active volcanoes to beautiful beaches, and much more.  For many years it was a safe place to go, bordered by the chaotic Colombia.  Today the situation is quite the reverse.

Unfortunately crime is on the rise in this country where tourism is such an industry.  Mostly petty theft, but it can also be worse than that.  In the two months I traveled in Ecuador I experienced and witnessed more crime and evidence thereof than I have in my life.   Here are some tips for staying safe and keeping all of your possessions.

  1. 1.       One of the most common scams is the “helpful stranger” scam.   The lead-in scenarios vary.  Someone will “accidently” throw out a bucket of water, “bird poop” will land on you, someone will purposely throw mustard or any other messy and wet substance.

Immediately a “helpful stranger” will come to your rescue, trying to help you clean it off and while he is cleaning you off a third party will make off with your valuables.

I met a lovely British girl who had dirty toilet water thrown on her.  While the apologetic culprit cleaned her off she entrusted her SLR camera to a kindly old man.  Before she knew it the “kindly old man” had vanished with her camera.

If you ever feel any “bird poop” or have any substance thrown on you walk more quickly, get out of the area, and keep a close hold on your possessions.  Pickpockets also take this opportunity to strike.

  1. 2.       When taking long-distance busses be sure to keep your valuables with you.  It may seem like common sense, but do not put computers or electronics in the compartment under the bus, as thieves may take it.  More than that though, keep your valuables on your lap or better yet, under your clothes.  If you have a zippered bag, turn the zippers towards you.

If you fall asleep make sure not to get too comfortable and always sleep with one eye open.  A crafty thief slipped my wallet out of my purse without my noticing and I have heard many a tale of travelers leaving their backpack on the floor under their feet only to have their camera surreptitiously lifted from their pack.

  1. 3.       Travel with your valuables under your clothes and carry a photocopy of your passport with you. 
  2. 4.       When going out wear your purse in front of you diagonally across your shoulder, and keep one hand on it at all times.  I watched an extremely pregnant Ecuadorian woman pushing a stroller have her purse snatched from her shoulder. 
  3. 5.       If you are out late be sure to take a taxi back to your hotel or hostel.  I have heard numerous stories of robbers pulling guns on tourists after dark.  One German girl had her camera stolen from her by armed robbers.  Several weeks later she got it replaced, only to have the second one pickpocketed from her a few days later.
  4. 6.       Do not call the robber’s bluff.  If a thief is audacious enough to confront you asking for your valuables give them up without a fight.  No questions asked.  Your life is more valuable than possessions.  An Ecuadorian friend showed me a knife scar from the time he refused to give robbers his wallet.  He was lucky that he got out of that situation with his life.
  5. 7.       If a robber tries to get you into a car do not go.  Give your things, run, scream, and do whatever you have to, but make sure the criminal does not take you to a third location
  6. 8.       Carry an air horn.  This will call attention to the situation, startle robbers, and hopefully give you enough time to get away
  7. 9.       Change money, or go to banks to withdraw money in Ecuador.  Many of the ATMs have cameras in them that will record your card number and drain your account.  Luckily my bank caught on that someone other than myself was withdrawing money from my account, and froze my card.  Unfortunately that left me stranded in Ecuador without an ATM card.
  8. 10.   As when traveling anywhere, the most important thing is to stay alert and aware of your surroundings and the people around you at all times. 

I am always skeptical of fear-mongering in media.  When the news stations single out a country as being unsafe, I always like to do a little additional research.  I do believe you can learn from others’ experience and so I am more open to trusting fellow travelers.  It is not my goal to dissuade anyone from going to Ecuador. There are some amazing things to do and see there. There are many Ecuadorians who are honest, hardworking and kind people, but sadly because of this bad element travelers, and Ecuadorians themselves, really should keep their guard up at all times.  I do however urge travelers to use caution and hopefully these tips will help prevent at least a few opportunistic crimes.


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