Is a trip to ANY country complete without checking out its capital city? Most of the time the answer is no, and the same applies to Ecuador! But, before you pack your bags to head on over, you may be wondering if Quito is safe?
First of all, it is definitely worth the stopover, side trip, or even the entire trip! This ancient Incan city is filled with history, a blend of indigenous, European, and Moorish architecture, and it sits in the foothills of the Andes. Super cool.
If none of this floats your boat (are you crazy?!), then you should know that Quito was the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and it is where you’ll find the Middle of the World, one of Ecuador’s biggest attractions.
We want you to be safe at all times, and Quito does have a bit of a rep. But, follow this guide and you should be able to avoid any trouble.
Is Quito safe? A general overview
Straight off the bat, Quito isn’t exactly the safest place in the world (or South America), but there are plenty of precautions you can take to increase your safety. This might sound off-putting, but often being extra vigilant can help us avoid a situation, and plenty of people visit Quito without a hitch.
To put some numbers to it, Quito’s crime index according to numbeo.com is 60.72 (0 means you’re completely safe, 100 means avoid at all costs). We’re not going to lie, this is high, but to put things into perspective, London’s crime index is 53.33. There is a high or medium risk from most crimes, but the threat of terrorism is low. However, there is a general global threat of terrorism so you should always be alert.
The risk of being pickpocketed in the city is high. This is especially true in tourist spots where thieves are organized and have different strategies for robbing people. There is also a high risk of serious crimes against tourists (but we’ll get to that below). The best way to protect yourself from petty crime is to not flash any valuables (and preferably leave them at home or locked in your hotel safe), try not to whip out your phone (even for that selfie), and keep a tight hold of your belongings.
There are several scams in Quito you need to be aware of. These are similar to scams you’ll find in most countries, e.g. a thief spills something on you and while you’re distracted, their friend steals your stuff. You may come across people begging for money. As hard as it is, you shouldn’t give any money to them, no matter what, even if it’s children begging.
Ecuador as a whole is at risk of natural disasters. The country is prone to things like volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. The entire region has seismic activity, and Quito itself is surrounded by several active volcanoes. The city is actually wrapped around the eastern slopes of the Guagua Pichincha, one of the country’s most active volcanoes. However, its most recent explosive eruption was in 1660.
The rainy season runs from December to May, and this can be a risky time in the entire country. As recently as February 2022, heavy rains in Quito caused a hillside to collapse, killing at least 24 people.
Serious crime in Quito
You should remain hyper-vigilant at all times when traveling through Quito. There is a high risk of muggings, kidnappings, and attacks, and just like in the rest of Ecuador armed robbery is a possibility.
If any situation like this were to happen to you, you should cooperate and not resist in any way. Hand over your money and any belongings they want. By doing this, you could avoid being seriously hurt.
In the event of a kidnapping, in many cases, the attackers will bring the victim to the ATM and force them to withdraw money in exchange for being released. It goes without saying that you should just do as they say so that they release you…
There are certain neighborhoods and places in Quito where you’ll want to be hyper-aware to increase your safety. But, it is important to remember that these crimes can happen anytime and anywhere so you shouldn’t let your guard down. Some particularly unsafe parts of Quito are La Carolina park and El Ejido park, the bus terminals, and Old Town (particularly at night). You should also be wary of the districts of La Marin, La Mariscal, and La Floresta.
A survey conducted on numbeo.com of 169 people found that only 21.29 percent felt safe walking alone at night and only 56.19 felt safe walking alone during the day. This is why we ALWAYS recommend walking around in a couple or group, during the day in shady parts of town AND at night throughout the city. Keep to well-lit areas and busy streets, and if you’re traveling solo, consider taking a taxi at night to get from A to B.
Is Quito safe for solo female travelers?
Alright, it may seem like Quito is the last place on earth you want to be in as a solo female traveler, but that simply isn’t true. The city is wonderful and as a solo female traveler, you shouldn’t miss out!
First things first, you should follow the “rules” that all female travelers live by. Don’t walk alone at night, stay out of shady neighborhoods, don’t accept rides or drinks from strangers… your usual basic safety. If you’re very concerned about pickpocketing, you can read about our favorite anti-theft backpacks here.
The “buy your own drinks” rule is particularly important in Quito as there HAVE been cases of sexual assault against foreign women, usually involving date-rape drugs. Order your own drink, watch the bartender make it/open it, then keep it by your side for the whole evening.
When you’re walking alone during the day, you will most likely experience a lot of cat-calling. The best way to deal with this is to not engage and keep walking (as frustrating as that is). If you feel like someone is getting a little too close for comfort or following you, head into the nearest busy store, cafe, or restaurant.
There have been cases of sexual assaults in taxis. If you’re taking a yellow cab, always look for the green sticker and ID number on the side so you know your ride is legit. You should also be able to see a red panic button on the inside which is there if you don’t feel safe. Otherwise, Quito has Uber and Cabify, which are safer alternatives.
It is always super important to follow your gut in situations. If something feels weird don’t be afraid to be rude and just get the hell out of there.
Is public transport in Quito safe?
Public transport in Quito can be unsafe. As we mentioned earlier, there have been instances of sexual assault on solo passengers in taxis. You should either use a licensed taxi or opt for an Uber. Remember to always make sure the meter is turned on and if you can, have a rough idea of how long the journey should take (so you know the driver isn’t scamming you by taking you for a longer ride than necessary).
Buses and bus stations are common sites of robberies. Keep a close grip on your things on the bus and don’t let anyone try to distract you, or before you know it, you could have lost your stuff. Don’t take overnight interstate buses that pick up passengers. These stops are a prime opportunity for criminals to board and attack/rob passengers.
Is tap water in Quito safe to drink?
According to tapsafe.org, the tap water in Quito is safe to drink. The tap water is technically potable, but there is still a possibility of contamination from old pipes. Although the water is treated with chlorine, tapsafe.org recommends that tourists drink bottled water to avoid getting an upset stomach (no thank you).
You can however safely use tap water for cooking or brushing your teeth. If your stomach is particularly sensitive, you may want to avoid asking for ice in drinks or eating raw foods that have been washed in tap water like salad.
Top 7 tips for staying safe in Quito
If you’ve been paying attention, you may have realized that Quito may not be the safest place. But, it is still wonderful and well worth checking out. As long as you’re sensible you should be able to have a trouble-free visit. Here are our top tips to help make that happen:
- Don’t walk alone at night – Quito is not a safe place to walk alone at night. We always recommend going around in at least a pair and avoiding dimly-lit and empty streets.
- Be vigilant at all times – There is a high risk of petty AND serious crime in Quito. For this reason, you need to be vigilant at all times and keep a firm grip on your belongings.
- Only used licensed taxis – There are instances of sexual assault in taxis. Only use licensed taxis and note down the green sticker with their ID number. Make sure the meter is running and if possible, know roughly how long it takes to get to your destination.
- Beware of scams – Quito, like the rest of the country has a high risk of scams. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted as this could result in you losing your stuff or being pickpocketed!
- Don’t flash your valuables – Avoid wearing flashy clothes and waving around gadgets. If you do have valuables, leave them locked in your hotel safe.
- Don’t take interstate overnight buses – Overnight buses that make stops for passengers are a target for robbers and criminals.
- Keep a verified copy of your passport on you – All Ecuadorian citizens AND visitors are required to carry identification on their person. It’s unwise to bring your passport with you in case it’s stolen or you lose it. So, you should carry a verified copy of your passport to show any police or roadside if they should ask to see it.
Is Quito safe? Our final take
Okay, so Quito is clearly not uber safe. That being said, plenty of people visit and have a wonderful time. Most visits are trouble-free but there is a high risk of serious crime as well as petty crimes. You should always have your guard up and if you do get into a situation where you are at risk, give the criminals what they want and don’t put up any resistance.
Female travelers need to be vigilant, especially in taxis and on nights out. There are instances of sexual assault involving date-rape drugs, so keep an eye on your drinks and watch them being made! However, as long as you follow the normal “solo female travel” rules and exercise some added caution, you should be fine.
Quito is a charming and historical city that is the heart of Ecuador. It shouldn’t be missed and it shouldn’t be feared! Just keep your wits about you and follow this guide and you should have a wonderful time.