Straddling the equator on South America’s west coast, Ecuador is a typographically diverse nation comprising Andes highlands, Amazon rainforest, and the thriving Galápagos Islands. South America has earned quite a reputation for being riddled with crime and dangerous destinations, but is Ecuador safe?
From the Spanish colonial capital, dotted with 16th-century palaces, to the lush and scenic hiking trails in the Andean foothills, there are plenty of worthy bucket list places that are safe to visit in Ecuador. Still, thirty-five percent of the population live in poverty here and crime remains high. It might only be three percent more dangerous than the US when it comes to the Crime Rate Index, but there are some precautions you should take when traveling to the Republic of the Equator.
From public transport to tap water and all the regions you should avoid, our guide looks at the safety risks that come with visiting Ecuador so you can prepare for a problem-free trip. Let’s get into it.
Is Ecuador safe to visit?
It can be hard to determine what is ‘safe’ in terms of foreign travel these days, and what risks that might affect locals won’t necessarily affect tourists, and vice versa. When it comes to general crime rates, Ecuador scores high, but not in a good way. Armed robbery, homicide, and petty theft are all still rife, but Ecuador’s history of violence no longer defines the country and security has improved in recent decades.
What does this look like in numbers? Ecuador has a Crime Rate index of 49.2 compared to 46.85 in the USA, on the whole. This puts Ecuador in the middle of South America’s 12 independent nations as the sixth safest. Ecuador is succeeded by Peru, Argentina, and Brazil, but Venezuela, Mexico, and Colombia all score lower on the safety index than the Equator country.
Murder rates have risen as poverty has worsened in Ecuador and the nation actually rates 23rd in the world when it comes to homicide, experiencing 175 murders per million inhabitations. This is four times that in the United States. However, as problematic as these numbers are for the development of the country, Ecuador has an efficient tourist infrastructure and a fairly reliable public transport network that makes travel relatively safe.
The biggest threat to tourists remains pickpockets but visitors are unlikely to face any problems in the major cities with most violent crimes being gang-related or domestic.
Still, it’s also worth considering Ecuador’s vulnerability to natural hazards if you’re booking a trip or thinking about making a move. From volcanic activity to earthquakes, landslides, floods, and hurricanes, it’s important to be aware of safety and evacuation procedures before you visit. Heightened seismic activity also means Ecuador is at risk of tsunamis, although they rarely occur and the strongest tidal wave ever registered was just six meters.
There is also the notorious El Niño and La Niña to consider. These warm and cool phases of recurring climate patterns affect the tropical Pacific. Pattern shifts, occurring every two to seven years, bring about volatile disruptions in temperature and rainfall in Ecuador. Yet, scientists have developed effective ways to predict these events and the time of year can also impact certain weather phenomena making extreme weather easier to avoid.
Is Ecuador safe for solo travelers?
Don’t be scared off by certain high crime rates, Ecuador is actually a great place for solo travel and a beautiful, budget-friendly destination to journey alone. From wandering the city to adventurous activities, as a small country, Ecuador is easy to navigate independently.
The cities of Quito, the capital, and Cuenca are especially great places for solo females, and Mindo and Baños are perfect if you’re after something more exhilarating. Always research accommodation well and avoid staying in poorly connected or especially quiet neighborhoods, as this can make it harder to get home at night.
Still, the only areas where travel is discouraged are Carchi, Sucumbíos, and Esmerelda towards Colombia in the north, as border crime is common and residents tend to be heavily armed. Most other regions are frequented by solo travelers and you’re likely to make lots of friends along your way.
Solo females should take some extra precautions. Peruvians are notoriously warm and welcoming and often ready and waiting to offer assistance to visitors, but some outdated attitudes do remain among the general population and female tourists are likely to stand out. Attention shouldn’t extend beyond catcalling or verbal harassment, but this can make visitors feel uncomfortable, especially at night.
Is transport safe in Ecuador?
Transport is relatively safe and efficient in Ecuador, especially when it comes to serious crime, but things can take a nasty turn at night and solo visitors are better off taking private transfers. Opportunistic thieves and organized crime gangs frequent the trains and busses, especially after dark. While pickpocketing is most common and this can be avoided by taking extra precautions with your belongings, aggressive robberies also happen and females aren’t safe riding the metro alone at night in Quito, or the night bus in Riobamba and Baños.
Women should also not drive alone in Ecuador, especially over long distances or across borders. Smash-and-grab thieves will target solo females and unregistered taxis are also untrustworthy. Avoid unlicensed cabs by calling reputable companies or booking transport through your accommodation, rather than hailing a taxi, and always think ahead when it comes to getting around so you’re not caught out without a lift.
Is it safe to drink tap water in Ecuador?
In general, water quality is low in South America. Some nations have surprisingly pure tap water, like Colombia, but Ecuador is not one of these, and drinking from the tap is not advisable anywhere in the country.
In 50 percent of Ecuador’s urban areas, water supply services are interrupted and pressure is well below western standards, particularly in outlying regions. There is also no treatment of water at all in 30 percent of urban areas and it’s not worth the risk to even rinse fresh produce under unfiltered water.
Some Ecuadorians will drink tap water but most avoid it if they can. Unpurified water and contamination can cause stomach upset and even prolonged illness, especially if you’re not used to it. Tap water in the capital of Quito is one of the only places where it is technically potable, but old pipes make the quality questionable.
Don’t make ice from tap water, or even brush your teeth with it and always boil the water first if you’re using it for cooking. Bottled water is cheap and widely available all across Ecuador.
Is it safe to live in Ecuador?
Just like travel, Ecuador is a relatively safe place to live. It’s true that the most touristy areas experience the lowest rates of violent crime, but tourism draws petty crime and you’re likely to be less vulnerable to pickpocketing as a resident.
The small equator country is a truly unique and great place for ex-pats. It’s only recently starting to pop up on international radars, but this means you can find high-quality real estate and good quality of life in many regions. Foreigners are allowed to work and earn a salary in Ecuador with a non-immigrant work visa or a permanent resident visa and Ecuador has a growing economy. Still, employment is not always readily available for foreigners and the oil and agriculture sectors are most in demand.
Salaries are also relatively low in Ecuador, which can affect your quality of life and security. Securing residence in a safe neighborhood or any additional security can cost more, but Vilacamba, Cuenca, and Cotacachi are all diverse and safe places to live. Bigger cities experience more crime but Quito is still one of the most popular places for ex-pats. La Floresta, La Carolina, and La Paz are among the best neighborhoods with upscale condo buildings, easy walking access to amenities, and plenty of restaurants and entertainment venues.
You can get by in Ecuador with just a little Spanish, but learning the language can also help you earn the trust of locals and make some friends. While Ecuadorians are notoriously friendly, you’re less likely to make yourself vulnerable to scams and petty crimes if you try and fit in like a local.
7 Safety Tips for Ecuador
- Be vigilant after dark – This doesn’t mean you can’t walk around at night at all in Ecuador, unlike in many South American countries, but it is best to stick to busier, well-lit areas and travel with a companion. Do your research and avoid dodgy neighborhoods. If you’re unsure, book a taxi through a reliable company.
- Look for green sticker taxis – If you’re hailing a cab, registered taxis should always have a meter and a green sticker with their identification number on the side. There should also be a red panic button inside in case you feel unsafe, but Uber and Cabify are regarded as safe alternatives.
- Be extra vigilant on public transport – Tourists are always at a heightened risk of being pickpocketed. Only travel with what you need and keep your belongings close and hidden.
- Watch out for traffic – Ecuadorian roads are notoriously chaotic. Lanes, and even traffic lights, aren’t always strictly followed so avoid driving and always look twice before stepping out into the road.
- Stay up to date with alerts – Before and during your visit, it’s good to be clued in on the weather situation in Ecuador. The rainy season brings about more risk of hurricanes, floods, landslides, and tropical storms. Check weather warnings before you visit any remote regions.
- Bring a backup card – You can never be too careful, and even if you don’t get pickpocketed we all lose things on holiday,y and ATMs in Ecuador are unreliable. Bring more than one credit card and plenty of cash as a backup.
- Know your limits – Things can get a lot less safe when alcohol is in the equation and you’re more vulnerable when you’re unaware of your surroundings. Make new friends but always know who you’re drinking with and never leave your drink unattended.
Is Ecuador safer than the USA?
Ecuador is less safe than the USA, but only slightly. Ecuador has a Safety Scale index of 50.8, compared to 53.1 in America. This means the United States are only around three percent safer than the Republic of the Equator, with marginally lower crime rates, but it depends where you go and there are many North American cities that are far more dangerous than Ecuador’s capital of Quito.
What should you avoid in Ecuador?
Things you shouldn’t ever do in Ecuador include flashing your valuables in public, taking public transport late at night, eating street food on your first day, only packing warm weather clothing, getting in a taxi without checking that it is legitimate, presuming everyone speaks English and not preparing for the altitude in certain regions.
When is the best time to visit Ecuador?
The high season in Ecuador lasts from May to October with June, July, and August experiencing the sunniest and driest days. This is also the time when you’ll get unspoiled views of Ecuador’s grand mountainous and volcanic landscape. However, this is the busiest and thus, most expensive time to visit Ecuador. What’s more, the beaches on the Pacific Coast are also surprisingly a lot fresher from December to May, and it can actually be too cool for a beach holiday in the summer. If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy the coastal scenery, consider the rainy season but always plan ahead for some extreme conditions.
Is Ecuador worth visiting?
It might have high crime rates and unpredictable weather, but Ecuador is an adventurous and beautiful country. Your money goes a long way and it is very easy to travel through as you can follow the Andes in a straight line from north to south. Ecuador is most definitely worth visiting and deserves a spot on your travel bucket list.