Ecuador’s great diversity in Nature and culture makes it an interesting destination for tourists. This Latin-American country is still relatively unknown as a tourist destination. Therefore, many people wonder if Ecuador is a safe destination to travel to for tourists. In particular because Ecuador is a South-American country and the continent is known for having some unsafe areas. Ecuador is one of the safer countries of the continent. Nevertheless, it’s still smart to know what to look out for, for a safe and enjoyable trip.
There is no reason to be afraid, but it’s important to be well informed. Many problems which tourists could encounter are avoidable. If you follow the warnings and recommendations on this page, you can expect to truly enjoy one of the most impressive countries in the world.
From west to east, Ecuador is divided into four regions: the Galapagos Islands, the Pacific coast, the Andes and the Amazon. This is a natural regional split, however it also resulted in a cultural and economic split and thereby a split in terms of local dangers.
In terms of security, the Galapagos Islands are very safe. The islands consist of small local communities who live from tourism and fishing. A holiday to the Galapagos Islands is probably even safer than visiting Washington or Copenhagen.
Most dangerous at the Galapagos Islands is what you encounter in nature. But even in nature, there is very little that could go wrong. The dangerous areas in nature as well as adventurous activities are only accessible with a guide. Guides at the Galapagos Islands are all certified and professional.
However, the one thing that tourists often underestimate and that requires a warning is the strength of the sun. Everywhere you go, you need to bring sunglasses, a hat or cap with neck protection, a (spare) shirt with long sleeves and high factored sunscreen (50 or above). And if you go to the beach, you should bring lots of water. All beaches are natural. You’re not going to find a kiosk at any of the beaches at the Galapagos Islands.
The Amazon in Ecuador is a rather safe place to travel in terms of security. In the jungle, you’ll find friendly small communities. There is no need to worry about the locals. The only area in the Amazon rainforest you should avoid is the northern border area with Colombia. However, as a tourist, it’s very unlikely you would end up there anyways.
The danger in the Amazon in Ecuador, is not so much the society, but more its nature. You should never go swimming or wander around in the jungle without a professional guide. You can easily get lost and it’s full of dangerous wild animals. Besides safety issues, you’ll see a lot more with a guide. You won’t know where the wild animals are hiding.
Besides the animals, the rivers and the woods, you should be prepared for the climate as well. The Amazon rainforest is hot and humid all year round. You’ll need sunscreen and lots of mosquito repellent everywhere you go!
The Amazon is the only region within Ecuador for which vaccination is recommended. However, within the Amazon Rainforest it does make a difference how deep you’ll go into the jungle. For instance, if you go to Tena, your doctor may let a yellow fever vaccine depend on your personal health. While in Yasuni, a yellow fever vaccine is more common. Nevertheless, we’re not going to sit on the chair of your doctor. But we do recommend being specific about how deep you’re planning to go into the Amazon rainforest when asking your doctor for advice.
In the Amazon, heavy rain is not rare. This can have an impact on travel safety. After a night with heavy rain, some areas may become inaccessible. Tour guides will know exactly what’s safe and what’s not. However, rain can also impact road safety. If you drive yourself with a rental car, it’s important to follow recommendations from the local authorities.
Quito is a large city with over 2 million inhabitants. The city is very polarized. There are some poor neighborhoods which are better to avoid for tourists. Safety in Quito really depends on which area in the city you’re visiting. One can divide the city into 3 sections: the modern north, the old town in the center and the residential south.
The southern section of Quito has a lot of poverty. Along with poverty comes insecurity. We recommend avoiding this part of the city. Also, from a touristy point of view, there is not a lot interesting to discover there.
The north and the center of Quito are a lot safer. The center is typically where all the tourists go. The oldtown in the city is UNESCO world heritage, because it’s the best maintained colonial city in Latin-America and it’s full of beautiful cathedrals and interesting museums. This attracts tourists. The authorities want to keep it that way. Therefore, the touristic streets are full of security measures. Nevertheless, you should be aware of pickpocketing.
The northern part of Quito is less touristy. This part of the city is wealthier and this is where the locals like to go out. You’ll find many bars, restaurants, cinemas, clubs and shopping malls here. As there are less tourists, there are also less security measures. However, this part of the city is still safe.
We recommend being more careful during the late evenings and at night. You should avoid walking the streets alone at these hours. In particular, if you had too much to drink. It’s best to avoid parks in the evening. Also, if you leave your hotel or hostel in the evening, we recommend using a taxi. Official taxis are safe. If you are unsure which are the official ones, you can ask hotel receptions to call one for you. Even if you are not staying there as a guest, they are generally happy to call one for you. The locals prefer Cabify (similar to Uber). This may even be the safest of all, because all drivers are registered and all rides are tracked.
For Latin-American standards, public transportation is rather good. In particular the trolley busses which bring you over longer distances. The city is currently working on a brand-new metro system through the entire city. Nevertheless, we’d still recommend using Cabify or an official taxi. At rush hour, public transportation can be really packed. Busses are extremely cheap. Cabify and official taxis are just cheap. Saving a few cents up to a few dollars is simply not worth the inconvenience and the (small) risk of pickpockets.
Traffic in Quito does not come without a warning. The roads are rather busy and the driving style is more aggressive than you would encounter in Europe or the US. If you cross a zebra, you shouldn’t expect cars to stop for pedestrians, not even police cars. Inexperienced drivers, we don’t recommend renting a car. As an experienced driver, you should be fine. However, if your plans are to stay a few days in Quito before hitting the road. We recommend using cabify/taxis in the city and rent your car from the day you leave the city. It’s more convenient and cheaper too.
Finally, it’s good to keep the effects of the altitude in mind. First, it makes you underestimate the strength of the sun. The altitude cools Quito down. During the day, it’s only just above 20 degrees Celsius (70 F). That could make you forget that you’re right at the equator where you can easily get a sunburn or sunstroke. Second, your body needs to get used to the altitude. You may have a bit of a headache during the first days. It’s important to drink enough water and not to drink too much alcohol.
Other than Quito, there are no large cities in the Ecuadorian Andes. Cuenca is the second biggest city of the Andes with 330 thousand inhabitants. Cuenca is pretty safe. It’s probably too small for the typical security issues which larger cities have to deal with. The same goes for all other Ecuadorian Andes towns.
Most important warnings and dangers in the Andes are typically related to the mountains and the elevation. Just like in Quito, everywhere in the Andes there is a risk of underestimating the strength of the sun. At the Galapagos and at the Pacific Coast, the heath and the extreme light will warn you. In the Andes, this is not the case.
You will need about a week to fully adjust to the altitude. That’s how long it takes your body to have fully produced enough additional red blood cells. Not everyone is equally sensitive to the effects of altitude. However, everyone should plan for some acclimatization. For instance, if you’re planning to spend 5 days in the Andes and at one of those days you want to climb the Cotopaxi to the top. Do so on day 5 and not on day 1.
Many people who think of Ecuador, think of beaches, sun and hot weather. You will find all of that in Ecuador indeed, but not in the Andes. At the very volcano peaks, you’ll find snow and you want to wear proper hiking shoes and warm clothing, not flip flops with a t-shirt. You wouldn’t be the first tourist to underestimate the cold. However, the locals would be happy to sell you a warm handmade poncho of alpaca fur.
Earlier we explained that the Amazon is less safe at the north-eastern border with Colombia. The same goes for the north-western Coastal border area. If you decide to go from Ecuador to Colombia by road, it’s best to go through the Andes in the center of the country. This area is safe.
We recommend avoiding the very northern Coastal area right at the border with Colombia. The further you go south, the safer it gets. The area of Esmeraldas and Same is safer than the border already. Although in some of these areas, you still need to be careful. Around July to October, the Northern beaches are warmer than the southern ones. Therefore, both locals and tourists decide to go to places in the north such as Same, Tonsupa and Esmeraldas. Here, you’ll find several beach resorts. Within the resorts, it’s completely safe.
The more famous and safer beaches you’ll find from the central until the southern Ecuadorian Pacific coast. At places like Manta, Puerto Lopez and Salina, you’ll find less closed resorts. Still, it’s wise to remember that you are not at a beach in Western-Europe. So, we’d still recommend not to walk alone at night over an abandoned beach.
Furthermore, you should be very careful when you go swimming in the sea. The Ecuadorian beaches are at the Pacific Ocean. You may not always find warning signs in the case of strong currents. Also, there are many beaches without lifeguards. Before you decide to jump into the water, you may want to check if there are others doing the same. If you’re the only one, you may want to look for another spot at the beach.
Most of the roads in Ecuador are good. Only if you go to remote areas, you will encounter dirt roads. However, you need to keep in mind that you could encounter other drivers with aggressive driving styles. We only recommend renting a car in Ecuador if you are an experienced driver.
Several roads take you through mountains and the edges of the jungle. If you’re driving through the Andes or the Amazon, you should check weather related traffic warnings before getting on the road.
At traffic lights, you’ll often encounter street vendors. It’s secure to buy from them. Although fresh food is not recommended. You cannot know how hygienically it has been prepared. Also, we recommend to only pay with small cash. Transactions at the traffic lights go fast and this way you avoid being scammed.
If you are in a traffic jam around Quito or Guayaquil, it’s best to have your windows closed. There have been a few cases where passing motorbikes took cellphones out of the hands when driving by.
Busses in Ecuador connect almost the entire country. For the longer distances, you have the choice between public and private. The public ones are very cheap and often packed. You need to keep an eye on your valuables. Although the chances that you fall asleep with the aggressive driving style is rather slim. Private busses and shuttle services are not so expensive either. We recommend choosing the private option. Not just for safety, but especially for comfort.
Within the cities, we recommend private transportation above public as well. Taxis are rather cheap. Cabify (similar to Uber) would be your best option. Drivers are selected and rides are tracked, making it very safe. Official taxis are fine as well. If you are unsure which taxis are the official ones, you can ask hotel receptions to call one for you. Even hotels you are not staying at are happy to arrange you a taxi.
As a pedestrian, you should be careful if you cross the street. At pedestrian crossings without traffic lights, you are expected to wait for the cars. However, cars do respect traffic lights. So, if you have the greenlight, they will wait for you.
Ecuador is a safe place to travel. It’s a great holiday destination. However, you need to keep in mind that it’s still Latin-America. Below we sum-up a list of recommendations for a safe vacation in Ecuador.