Ecuador is an adventurer’s dream, with mountains, volcanoes, and hiking paths galore, from the Galapagos to the Andes. The country also has cosmopolitan cities in spades, with opportunities for chic dining, shopping, and culture in Quito, Guayaquil, and beyond.
Travelers of all stripes should certainly consider a trip here, but as with everywhere in Latin America, you should always have your wits about you when traveling. So, is Ecuador is safe to visit?
Ecuador is generally a safe place for travelers. It has a strong and developed tourist infrastructure and a network of reliable public transport between destinations. However, issues like pickpockets, scam artists, violent crime, and natural disasters definitely exist and can ruin an otherwise idyllic trip.
In this guide, we’ll lead you through the most common issues for travelers in Ecuador, so you can plan your trip with confidence.
Read more: (Opens in new tab)
A Guide to Staying Safe in Ecuador
As of 2022, Ecuador has a Global Peace Index rating of 1.988, ranking 79th in the world and coming in as the 5th safest country in South America. This rating is largely due to very low levels of organized conflict, terrorism, and internal violence; positive relationships with its neighbors; and a police force that is sufficiently separate from the military. However, it received less glowing ratings for the high likelihood of violent demonstrations, perceptions of criminality in society, and political instability.
It is worth noting that in the early 2000s, Ecuador changed its currency to the U.S. dollar as a response to runaway inflation. The move led to a lot of unrest, and the country was in tumult for several years. Today, the economy has recovered, with the well-developed tourism industry representing a large source of Ecuador’s income. Tourism has increased steadily on a year-to-year basis, largely because of its one-of-a-kind natural phenomena and opportunities for outdoor adventures.
As is the case for much of South America, the high perception of criminality in society, from pickpocketing to violent crime, can cause visitors to think twice. There are many stereotypes about drug cartels (often glamorized in pop culture) as well as partying gone wrong, petty theft on buses, or taxi scams. Sadly, these things do happen. Additionally, Ecuador’s geographic location also puts it at high risk for natural disasters, like earthquakes or tsunamis and that is before we even get to volcanic eruptions!
However, even when taking these things into account, Ecuador is still absolutely worth visiting, and not all stereotypes are as common as they seem. We’ll look at each of these issues in more detail in this article, but the main takeaway point is this: if you plan ahead and prepare, there’s no reason to let an amazing experience in Ecuador pass you by.
SafetyWing is the travel insurance of choice for scores of backpackers!
- Subscription style insurance
- Cheap and flexible
- Available after your trip has started
Public Transport in Ecuador
Ecuador has a fantastic public transport system, with buses departing between its larger cities dozens of times a day. Buses are also an excellent method of transportation for getting to natural wonders, such as Baños, Laguna Quilotoa, and beyond. They are largely clean, spacious, and very affordable.
However, buses can be hubs for petty crime. Keep a close eye on your belongings, and try not to doze off if you haven’t secured them somewhere on your person. Avoid using the overhead racks, as it can be hard to react if someone grabs your things on their way off the bus.
Similarly, putting your bags underneath the seat in front of you can lead to them being cut open with a knife. While it may be uncomfortable, the best place for your bag is on your lap, where you can hold onto it at all times.
It’s worth prioritizing traveling by day and sitting near the driver. You’ll be less likely to doze off, and it may help you feel safer. You’ll also get to see views from the window that you’d miss in the dark! Lastly, consider paying a bit more for a direct bus to your destination, so you don’t have to change buses and risk your bags being stolen in the shuffle.
Crime in Ecuador
Again, the perception of criminality is something that dissuades many from traveling to Ecuador. Unfortunately, pickpocketing, hotel room theft, and other petty crimes, in particular, can happen. But as you’ve likely heard before, you can avoid falling victim to most of these by simply being aware. Here are a few tips:
- Stash your valuables (cash, ID, etc.) in a money belt that you can put under your shirt or pants
- Don’t accept anything handed to you by a stranger, and be wary of overly-friendly strangers
- Don’t get too distracted when you’re taking photos or seeing the sights, especially in crowded areas
- Avoid walking places at night, especially if you’re alone
- Always ask the taxi driver to turn on the meter! This is the law in Ecuador, and most drivers will comply. Uber processes payments through the app directly, which is also a good option.
While most crimes that affect tourists are minor, organized crime does exist in Ecuador, largely focused around narcotrafficking. Due to its geographic location between large-scale cocaine producers Colombia and Peru, drug trafficking is a persistent problem for Ecuador. The best thing for tourists to do is to avoid high-risk areas, especially the border with Colombia.
If you’re seeking to embark on multi-day hikes or venture deep into the Amazon, consider hiring an official guide. Overall, it is exceedingly unlikely that you will be affected by organized crime randomly in Ecuador, provided that you stay out of situations that could become dangerous and stick to the tourist infrastructure.
Drink and Drugs in Ecuador
It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid accepting anything handed to you by a stranger. Cigarettes could be laced with other, more dangerous drugs, and drink spiking can also occur. Keep a close eye on anything you’re imbibing, and don’t leave it unattended. Alcohol and drugs can be enticingly cheap in Ecuador, so it’s good to know your limits and avoid overdoing it.
Historically, Ecuador has had among the toughest drug laws in South America. While designed to stop narcotrafficking, these efforts led mostly to small-scale drug users serving very harsh prison sentences.
Recent years have brought some decriminalization, particularly in regards to the consumption of marijuana. However, reports suggest that over 90% of non-Ecuadorians in prison are there for drug-related reasons. It’s recommended that you exercise extreme caution with drug consumption or possession in Ecuador, as authorities are not known for being lenient. In particular, any suspicion of involvement in drug trafficking, even accidental, will be punished severely.
Ayahuasca and San Pedro are a bit of a gray area. They are considered legal for ceremonial use, but not for recreational use. This has led to some visitors participating in “shaman ceremonies” via a loophole in the recreational ban, but punishments can still be very harsh for breaking the rules. Additionally, hallucinogens like these are very potent and powerful, so exercise caution if you decide to partake.
Natural Disasters in Ecuador
One of the main dangers in Ecuador stems from its geographic location. Seismic shifts can lead to earthquakes and tsunamis, and the country’s place on the Andean Volcanic Belt can lead to a higher likelihood of volcanic eruption. Indeed, 55 of the 150 active volcanoes in the area are located in Ecuador!
In the case of a seismic event, the Ecuadorian government has strict protocols in place via the Ecuadorian National Geophysical Institute and the National Service for Risk and Emergency Management. It’s worth looking over these protocols prior to traveling. There is also an app called Ecuador Seguro that you can download. Your hotel should have earthquake protocols as well so it’s well worth asking about these when you check-in.
The Galapagos Islands are at particularly high risk for tsunamis, and the region has a network of sirens and evacuation routes if one is imminent. Relatedly, if you’re traveling in Ecuador during the rainy season, make sure the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon is not occurring that year, as this can lead to severe flooding.
Travelers to the Cotopaxi area, as well as Latacunga and Salcedo, should be aware of the risk of mud, lava, and water flows called “lahars,” which can cause a type of landslide. Note that you should not attempt any glacier or volcano hiking without an official guide – in fact, a guide is required by law.
The risk for natural disasters has led to a well-organized federal response in Ecuador, and this shouldn’t discourage you from visiting. It’s better to be safe than sorry, though, so it’s worth paying attention to the news and being aware of evacuation routes and protocols.
Is Ecuador Safe for Women?
There is nothing about Ecuador in particular that makes it unsafe for women travelers. Following normal safety precautions, such as avoiding wandering around alone at night, ignoring cat-calls, and trusting your instincts about strangers definitely apply. Similar to other South American countries, vestiges of “machismo” still exist, and could lead to men being more pushy than you’re accustomed to– say no firmly and leave situations that make you feel uncomfortable.
If undertaking a long-haul bus journey, perhaps consider sitting near another woman or the driver, and also consider planning lodging ahead of time in order to share with family or friends where you are each day.
Is Ecuador Safe for Solo Travelers?
Ecuador’s natural phenomena have long made the country a bucket list item for solo travelers and lovers of the outdoors. Again, following your instincts and being aware of your surroundings is as crucial in Ecuador as it is in other places, and there is nothing about Ecuador in particular that makes it unsafe for solo travelers. Note that solo travelers (and travelers with large backpacks!) are a common target for scammers. Avoid exploring alone at night, and definitely check with locals if embarking on hikes alone.
Ultimately, remember that going somewhere with a tour is not a sign of “failure” as a solo traveler! In fact, it may be the best way to keep safe. There are dangers in the Amazon and the Ecuadorian highlands that have nothing to do with humans, and it’s not recommended that you take these on solo.
Is Ecuador Safe for LGBT+ Travelers?
Homosexuality was illegal in Ecuador until 1997, but the country has made several important changes since that time. Homosexual relationships have been legally recognized since 2008, with same-sex marriage becoming legal in 2019.
Quito has had a popular Pride parade since 1998, and crime on the basis of sexual orientation is legally considered a hate crime. Conversion therapy is illegal, and it is legal to change your name and gender markers without surgical requirements. Overall, Ecuador is legally considered to be progressive towards the LGBTQIA community.
However, Ecuador is not a panacea. Same-sex adoption is still illegal, and hate crimes often go unpunished due to societal and cultural norms, despite being unconstitutional. There is a high percentage of transgender persons incarcerated for supposed drug-related crimes, which are often used as an excuse to criminalize simply being transgender.
It is often suggested to refrain from any PDA for same-sex couples while out and about, which may make your visit less enjoyable. While larger cities like Quito and Guayaquil have gay bars and clubs, you may face more homophobic interactions in smaller cities.
Ecuador Travel Safety Tips
- Stay away from the Colombian border: a lot of drug-related crime happens in this area, and it’s definitely not worth visiting. In fact, the government has blockades set up, and you likely won’t be able to get too close, even if you wanted to.
- Keep an eye on the news for any seismic activity: this can cause earthquakes, tsunamis, and other severe weather. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with emergency exits at your lodgings just in case, and there are earthquake apps you can download in your language of choice, such as Ecuador Seguro. You should also consider registering with your country’s foreign service, such as STEP in the U.S.
- Don’t be flashy: split up your cash, leave valuable jewelry and tech at home, and try to blend in with those around you. Keeping your phone in your hand or back pocket is tempting for pickpockets, and anything that makes you stand out too much can make you a target. Again, consider a money belt (or alternative) or theftproof backpack for cash and valuables.
- Always keep your passport with you: besides being a good rule of thumb, it is actually the law in Ecuador to always have a form of identification on you. For non-Ecuadorians, make sure you also have your entry stamp.
- Take it easy: altitude sickness is a real possibility not just hiking in the Andes, but also in cities like Quito. Take your time adjusting, bring any necessary altitude sickness medication, and don’t jam-pack the first few days of your trip.
Ecuador Safety FAQs
Is Quito safe?
Yes, for the most part. The biggest piece of safety advice for Quito is to not hike El Panecillo by yourself: either get a guide or take a ride-share to the top. While the hike itself isn’t challenging, the path is a known hotspot for petty crime.
Is Guayaquil safe?
Yes, for the most part. The area along the riverside is pretty reliably safe, but it isn’t advised to venture too far into downtown or the southern parts of the city.
Is Cuenca safe?
Yes, very safe. Cuenca is a very popular destination for families drawn to its UNESCO status and nature offerings. It has a large expat community.
Are the Galapagos islands safe?
Yes, very safe. The only things to be mindful of here are over-tourism, which is affecting the health of the flora and fauna, and sun exposure. Layer on that SPF!
Is the water in Ecuador safe to drink?
Tap water in Ecuador can be touch-and-go. While tap water is largely fine in Quito and other large cities, you may want to stick to bottled water or invest in a filtered water bottle, just in case. Brushing your teeth with it shouldn’t be an issue.
Can you eat produce in Ecuador?
It is often recommended to stick to fruits and vegetables that have been cooked or that you peel yourself. By this logic, bananas, avocados, or cooked foods in restaurants are likely fine, but a fresh salad should be avoided, as it may have been contaminated by unpurified water. However, this is a personal choice. If you’re at risk for GI issues, you may want to think twice, but the street food and fresh produce in Ecuador is absolutely delicious, and worth sampling if you feel comfortable doing so.
Do you need any vaccinations to visit Ecuador?
Traveling to Ecuador puts you at risk for many mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, malaria, or Zika, so pack that bug spray and try to avoid being bitten. If you are traveling to certain areas in the Amazon, a yellow fever vaccination may be needed, so check with your doctor.
Is Ecuador Safe? The Verdict!
The quick answer is that yes, Ecuador is safe for travelers. It is one of the most biodiverse countries in South America, and its astounding natural offerings alone make it a true bucket-list destination.
In the past, its reputation has prevented a lot of travelers from visiting, but this really doesn’t have to be the case! Ecuador has so, so much to offer– delicious cuisine, sublime outdoor opportunities, and super hip cities, just to name a few. Travel within the country is easy and affordable, and you could spend months there and never run out of things to explore.
Following basic personal safety guidance is always a good rule of thumb, and ultimately, awareness goes a long way. Awareness of petty crime, awareness of natural disasters, and awareness of your surroundings should be enough to keep you safe.
Enjoy your trip, and be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!