Quito, Ecuador has a terrible security reputation and the question, “is Quito dangerous”, is one I’ve been asked often. Many travelers, even experienced ones, are hesitant to visit the South American city due to security concerns – but just how dangerous is Quito?
High Crime Rate
Qutio has an exceptionally high crime rate, even when compared to other big South American cities. The most common crime against tourists is pickpocketing, either by quick hands or intimidation. The use of knives is becoming more frequent in muggings but violence is usually rare if you’re compliant. Despite the statistics and the State Department warnings, walking the streets of Quito isn’t a terrifying experience.
Know Your Limits
According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), in Quito crime occurs at all hours, but much of that depends on where in the city you are. The tourist and backpacker areas of Plaza Foch, Parque Itchimbia, Cumbaya, and La Ronda are safe both day and night due to a (very) heavy police presence in the area. You’ll be free to walk around these areas, even at night, and will clearly see where the police protection ends. By sticking to those areas, especially at night, you shouldn’t encounter any problems.
- Although the area around the apartment I was staying at looked very quiet, I was told not to walk around much after dark. At night you shouldn’t assume a street is safe, even if right next to a populated area.
- When in the Old Town, stick to the square and the well lit side streets (they will be obvious). There is a heavy police presence here and while you’re likely to see beggars and prostitutes, will be relatively safe walking around.
- OSAC statistics show that traveling in groups of 2 or more significantly reduce your chance of being a victim of crime in Quito.
Despite this, getting around in the city by taxi is relatively uneventful. You can drive around most places at night very cheaply and it’s a good alternative to walking if you aren’t sure where you’re going. It is still a good idea to keep your electronics and jewelry out of sight just in case.
Quito Common Sense
In Quito you never walk around with more money in your pocket then you’re willing to have stolen. You shouldn’t stroll around chatting on your cell phone either – both the distraction and the phone make you an enticing target. It’s also standard practice to keep your electronics out of sight at all times.
- That said, walking around most parts of Quito during the day isn’t scary.
- Stay within the main streets at night and if you’re unsure of a route by foot, take a cab to be on the safe side.
- Never walk in any of the parks at night.
- The police response to crime reports is minimal and street criminals are rarely apprehended so don’t expect much if you have to file a report.
Practice common sense, like keeping an eye on your belongings and being aware of your surroundings and in most of the city during the day you should be fine to walk around. At night, most of the areas around hotels and hostels have a heavy police presence and the streets with security are very brightly lit up relative to anywhere else.
Not Too Dangerous To Visit
I may have made Quito sound like a scary place for some of you but it’s not. With all of the warnings I had heard about it I was expecting a much more chaotic scene as opposed to the normalcy I encountered. By using the advice above and sticking to the right streets at night you’re much less likely to face trouble, especially in the major touristic areas. Avoiding the city completely and missing places like the Mitad del Mundo and the other heights of Quito would be robbing yourself out of the food, culture, and beauty that is Quito.
Is Ecuador dangerous would be another question. A good friend and experienced RTW travelor just emailed me about an experience on a bus in Ecuador. He and his girlfriend had all their belongings stolen- computers, phones, passports, money, cameras during an overnight bus trip… To some extent, an anticipated or at least acceptable risk, to those of us with adventurous, experience seeking spirits. In this case, the police seemed to be involved in the theft. There was no violence, but when the bus stopped with thieves still onboard- the police refused to detain them, question them, or provide assistance. In fact, it was more like the police provided a distraction so that the alleged thieves could slip away. My friend was able to recover a few things, most of it was gone- either dumped out of the bus to be retrieved later or removed in some other way. What they did recover, they found in the bags of and bodies of the thieves themselves. No one was hurt and in the end, it’s another travel experience as life affirming in it’s own way as any other. Interesting that your post came out the day after I received word of Alemero’s experience.
I think that’s a major part of the problem – police corruption. It’s unfortunate this happened to your friend – I feel for them – and am also thankful there was no violence and weren’t physically hurt in any way.
When we spent a couple of weeks in Quito, we were often warned by locals to put our camera away or to be careful walking in certain areas. An expat friend who had lived there for about fifteen years said that the old town had been cleaned up a lot, but that pickpockets were moving out to the touristy areas of Mariscal Sucre since that is where the concentration of tourists were these days. We never had any problems, but we heard of others at our hostel who had been mugged at night. We made sure not to stay out late and to walk together at night. Like any big city, one has to stay aware, but we didn’t find it any more dangerous than other South American cities.
I’ve heard much of the same about the pickpockets moving in to the Mariscal Sucre. Did the warnings restrict your photography at all while you were there? I’ve got a tiny point and shoot so don’t usually worry about it as much.
I was in Quito in February and had no problems at all.I had heard about the danger and all that, but then most South and Central America big cities have that reputation. My plane landed at 10 pm, and I was in Mariscal by 11 pm at a hostel recommended at the airport. Good place. Off to dinner at a bar right by and the waiters were not too helpful because they were avoiding a fight between a few drunks. Went to the Indian place two houses away, ate dinner, and walked back to my room. During the day I always walkewd with my DSLR Nikon D90- no problems. I put it in my backpack when not in use and that was that. And when the sun went down the city does seem shady, so like Anil, Audrey and the rest say don’t stay out till after midnight and you should be fine. Be aware of where you are and what/who is around you, know where you are going, and if in doubt ask the elderly which is the safest area.
Quito is a city to be enjoyed, with great food and Intinan Museum at the Mitad del mundo a great place. Skipping it because of safety concerns would be a mistake…Guayaquil or Esmeraldas have a worse reputation and the first still gets international events!
Thanks for sharing Federico, stories like these are great for giving people an understanding of a place. It’s never black or white, completely safe or dangerous, but I think the thought of it can be scary for many people.
Good to know. That is a bummer about @singlewithluggage’s friends having all their belongings stolen, corruption is such a major problem. While it won’t deter me from going to Quito, I will definitely be aware on the buses. When we were in Peru we had read that we should avoid overnight buses (so we did) it is probably good advice for Ecuador as well.
Thanks for the info Anil. It is always good to be aware of the dangers before going somewhere but to not be too paranoid that it keeps you from going:-)
With your adventures and the places you’ve been, Quito will be a piece of cake 🙂
I heard more stories of crime in Quito (and Guayaquil) than any other city/country in South America. I felt safe but heard several who had been robbed at knifepoint. I was surprised at the huge police presence which did give a feeling of security in the main areas, especially the main square. It is one of the few cities that I didn’t just roam aimlessly and took some of the cautions to heart. I think your general advice on security covers the main issues very well. Saying that, this isn’t a reason to go to Quito. Being alert and sensible will allow you to enjoy this wonderful old and historic city which is also fairly easy on the pocket.
I too didn’t wander around too much, especially in the Old City. Did you see the police in the La Ronda area? I’ve never seen such a heavy police presence not associated with a public or otherwise major event.
A great addition to your Quito series Anil, thanks for sharing.
Thanks Matt, Quito turned out to be a creative spark for me. So much to write about the city…
Funny, Quito was actually the city I chose to visit as a solo traveler in response to a challenge and warning from my Dad (who hasn’t stepped a foot in South America) not to visit South America due to the fact that I would be kidnapped. I figured that if I get out safe and sound from Quito in 2007, I could do Cuzco and Machu Picchu in 2008. And yes, I did both trips. I opted to stay in the Old Town instead of Gringolandia (La Mariscal? I forgot the exact name), and I did wear a money belt, and took taxis which were ridiculously cheap. Nothing bad happened to me, and I did have a good time. But then again, I am not Caucasian, so that may have helped.
I think it’s a bit of chance as well but taking the cabs (which are very inexpensive) and sticking to the right areas at the right times of day helps greatly. I often wonder if it’s easier for me in many places, including South America, since my facial features let me blend in well. That said, many Ecuadorians are also the victims of crime so perhaps not.
Btw the name you’re looking for is Mariscal Sucre 😉
Great info Anil – thanks! I sounds like many towns in S. America. I felt the same way in Lima and def. in Rio. Just have to be on alert, and also hope that luck is on your side!
A little luck never hurts!
Common sense is always a great thing to bring along on any travel or trip made. I think any country has the potential for security risks- and in the safest of countries, things can go missing or things can go wrong. It is always good to have a proper plan in place ‘in case’ things go missing…or things happen…and of course, it makes it harder when the authorities are in cahoots with the criminals (as I have found in many of the countries I have lived in or visited)– however…if you have a plan…even this can be overcome 🙂
Common sense is the most underrated travel accessory 🙂
Well like in every city in any part of the world, has crime. I was born in Cuenca, Ecuador to French and Ecuadorian parent’s and was raised in Ecuador. I lived in Cuenca then moved to Quito and I never had problem with the crime in any city. I never was a victim, even though I look caucasian, I speak spanish with Ecuadorian accent, I guessed that helped me a lot haha! I just believe if you were a victim of crime, you were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. In other words… bad luck haha! Or maybe the gringo’s shouldn’t act too gringorish.. it might help hahahaha
I recently read an article about this in The Economist. It said that Ecuador has recently acheived a reputation as a new capital of financial crime. It said that Chinese and Russian mafias are operating there. Apparently some clubs in the La Mariscal district have experienced crime and even some bouncers are Russian. I think it is mostly referring to money laundering though since it didn’t say much about other crimes.
Interesting – didn’t see any Russians but you never know! Did the article say why Ecuador of all places?
It’s always a conundrum for me when I read advice to keep electronics out of sight. I take hundreds of photos each day – probably too many – but as a photographer I “see”through the camera. There is no way I could keep it out of sight; doing so would literally ruin my trip. So I guess I’d just have to take my chances. My experience in cities that have a bad rep has always been fine, but I do make it a practice not to go out at night alone, and to take taxis.. So far, I’ve been lucky, but it also has a lot to do with keeping my wits about me. I remind myself every day, not to get lax. Not to let my guard down just because nothing has “happened so far.”
It’s tough because cameras are the one piece of travel tech gear that *have* to be out in the open. In many of the populated areas I did see SLRs but they were put away between sets of pictures when not in use. I would suspect it’s much like traveling in many of the parts of Mexico you’ve been to recently.
Hi All, thanks so much for your posts. The info is really helpful.
Need some help on a few questions…
My gf and I are traveling to Ecuador for a friend’s wedding soon and, although we have shared activities, we do want to explore a little on our own. That being said, my friend suggested hotels near the Hacienda Batan Grande (more specifically, the eastern side between the park and stadium). Meanwhile, my gf and I are interested in staying in Old Town and New Town just north of Mariscal Sucre, based on some of the suggestions from lonely planet.
Are there recommendations for/against any of these areas? Hotels you had a great experience at, as well as its surroundings? Hotels vs. hostels?
I don’t know about the hotels since I didn’t stay in any but let me see if I can get some more information for you…
Nice balanced post. I think what most people have to realize is that the majority of crime in Latin America is usually a crime of opportunity. Don’t wear tons of jewelry, flash your electronics around, or basically advertise your wares. When we travel to Latin America, I’m very aware of this and leave even my wedding ring behind.
When there’s a large population of poor people, you’re going to have crime like this. Thankfully many of these places have lower violent crime rates than U.S. cities.
Very true – while crime can happen against anyone, keeping a low profile and knowing the variations in security around the city can effectively reduce your chances. Keeping your equipment out of sight is also important.
I notice an SLR in your gravatar, was wondering if you’ve traveled with it in South America – and any additional precautions you took in that case?
I’ve lived in Quito since Jan 2011. In August of this year I had liquid excrement thrown at me near the El Jardin shopping centre at midday in a foiled attempt to rob me. Then in November upon taking a taxi at night in the Old Town I was assaulted and robbed by the driver and two accomplices who were armed with knives and pepper spray. Not nice. And the two days later I was pickpocketed on avery crowded trolley bus.
My advice? Well, I coudn’t have avoided having excrement thrown at me, but at least I didn’t stop to let someone “help me” and therefore rob me. When taking a taxi ALWAYS ensure it is properly licensed and has an orange plaque on the door bearing four numbers. DON’T take the trolley when crowded. Carry only what’s essential.
Even the Plaza Foch with its heavy police presence at night isn’t safe; a friend was robbed there last year at gunpoint!
I’m curious about the taxi incident, was it properly marked or did you take an one without the orange plaque? I’m curious if these incidents have changed how you feel about living in Quito.
I suspect the tax was a pirate cab; I didn’t check to see if it had an orange plaque. I love Quito, and indeed all of Ecuador. I’ve experienced great kindness here and would be reluctant to return to my home in the UK. One simply has to exercise caution!
Hi some good posts, just returned on Saturday the 10th from a 2 and a half week stay in ecuador with my my wife were both 24! We stayed in quito just outside of the city centre went our drinking in old town and city centre quito as long as you don’t hang around the streets you will have an awesome time being english And white I did stand out and a lot of gut will stare but so do the women(double edged sword! It makes sense to exercise caution by not carrying your iPhone and putting the bulk of your money in your sock or a bra! We also traveled overnight to the coast in portavehao(not sure how to spell it) lock your bag under the bus in th cabin hold don’t sit in the first 4 rows! Beachs are awesome and would highly reccomend papiata for the natural hot water springs beatifull and safe! On traveling up the amazon to see
The community it should only cost 5 dollars per person you need to go down to the boats direct not through a tour company as they will hike the price up! We were drinking on a carpa at 3 am dancing regaton with 8 Ecuadorean couple we met in a karaoke bar! Main benefit would be to learn Spanish before you go as you will be accepted and make friends rather than alienate your selves! Any crowded spot keep your hand in ur pocket with the money in they can’t pick it out then! Due to go back again next November for 3 weeks I haven’t had any problems the last 2 trips! Defo reccomend to visit!
Thanks for sharing your experiences and have a great trip back!