Is Ecuador Safe to Travel?

December 6, 2021

Is Ecuador Safe To Travel?

At Academy Bay Diving, we’re never surprised that travelers from across the globe want to come to the Galapagos Islands. They offer, after all, some of the most beautiful scenery and extraordinary wildlife you will ever encounter. However, reaching the Galapagos means flying out of Ecuador, and we’re often asked whether Ecuador is a safe place to travel.

Many travel itineraries with the Galapagos as their final destination will include a couple of days in Ecuador, so it’s understandable that tourists want to be able to make an informed decision concerning their safety and security. Today we’ll run through some of the main talking points around traveling safely in Ecuador and share our conclusion on whether the country is safe overall.

While you’re here, be sure to check out our range of Galapagos diving trips and courses! They’re a gateway to an immersive experience in this truly unique natural wonderland. If you have any questions for our team, please just get in touch.

Is it Safe to Travel to Ecuador in 2024?

UPDATED JANUARY 2024: As you may have seen in the news, Ecuador experienced a rise in gang-related violence in January 2024. As a result, the president declared a state of emergency. Swift action from police special forces and the military has followed to restore order. If you are traveling to the Galapagos Islands via Ecuador, or are planning to, it’s totally understandable why you may be questioning whether it’s still safe to do so.

First, let us say that nothing has changed here in Galapagos — it’s still as safe as ever. There’s no violence at all and the airports are still operating with increased security. This is a sentiment echoed in an official statement from the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. The statement clarifies that the main tourist destinations in Ecuador, namely the Galapagos, the Amazon Region, and the National Parks, have experienced no violent incidents.

Across the country, airports and maritime ports are operating normally, just with extra security measures to ensure the safety of travelers. As such, people can still arrive and depart as intended. Likewise, the roads of Ecuador are fully operational outside of curfew hours.

Ecuador, and especially the Galapagos Islands, remains a safe and captivating destination to visit. As you would expect from a country with a tradition of warm hospitality, visitors are still welcome with open arms.

Of course, this is an evolving situation, so we strongly recommend that you check your own government’s travel guidelines for Ecuador to stay up to date with developments.

Reasons to Visit Ecuador

Let’s continue this blog on safety in Ecuador with another important message worth sharing: Ecuador is a beautiful country and an amazing travel destination. The country boasts more natural diversity than most other countries on the planet, from the towering Andes to large sections of the Amazon rainforest, and, of course, the Galapagos Islands.

Within the country’s borders, nature lovers can explore national parks such as Cuyabeno Wild Life Reserve, Mindo, and San Luis de Pambil — all home to an incredible variety of animals and plant life, some of which you can’t find anywhere else!

But don’t let the bounty of natural treasures lead you to overlook the vibrancy of Ecuador’s towns and cities. Quito, the capital, is by far the most likely base camp for tourists on their way to the Galapagos Islands and you will find much to do there. With Incan roots stretching back centuries, this is a bustling metropolitan city that serves up a harmonious mix of the traditional and the innovative.

See historic architecture in the old town, then take a street art tour to see the vibrant creativity of young, local artists. Take the TelefériQo Skyrail to the top of the dormant volcano Pichincha and enjoy breathtaking views. Or simply soak up the local culture by hanging out in some of the city’s many cool cafes and restaurants. Remember, this is a major city visited by close to a million tourists each year; only a few come away with negative experiences.

The same is true of other urban centers like Cuenca, Guayaquil, and Baños. Cuenca has UNESCO World Heritage Site status, so you can immerse yourself in old-world charm on a trip here. Onward journeys to the Galapagos will leave from Guayaquil and the city is a worthwhile destination for its waterfront promenades alone, while Baños is a backpacker’s dream. Whatever your interests, Ecuador will have something to offer you and we’re pretty sure you’ll come away with a love for the country, as so many visitors do.

In relation to the January 2024 situation, incidents have occurred across the country, including Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. However, most of the incidents have occurred in and around prisons and certainly not in areas popular with tourists.

The above are just some of the reasons why Ecuador is great for tourists. But as with any country, it has its dangers. We have provided some guidance below to help keep you safe and secure as you explore!

How is Crime in Ecuador?

By far the biggest concern when traveling in Ecuador is the threat of armed muggings and pickpocketing. The Global Peace Index, though, ranks Ecuador as being the sixth safest country in South America, so the crime figures are lower than other destinations on the continent.

However, economic strife and inequality have led to a culture of criminals targeting tourists who they assume will have money or expensive goods. Avoid being a target by blending in with the local community as much as possible. Do not make ostentatious displays of wealth by showing off designer goods or pricey technology, as this could draw the attention of criminals.

Carry with you enough cash for the day’s travel to avoid having to rely on ATMs (where muggings are common). Keep your wits about you and remember that muggers will often use tactics designed to distract or disorientate you, such as asking you for assistance, staging a fight, etc.

You are safest when traveling in groups. Do not venture into areas of cities unknown to you without researching them first. Most importantly of all: if you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of a mugging, do not resist! Remove yourself from the dangerous situation as quickly as possible, even if it means handing over money or possessions.

In busy areas, be wary of pickpockets. Wear rucksacks to the front and consider investing in a dedicated money belt. Pickpockets are opportunists; it’s in the moment you fail to take precautions that they will steal from you. Be aware of your surroundings at all times and keep an eye on your possessions.

It’s a good idea to keep a color copy of your passport with you in case of an emergency (your passport itself should be kept extra safe, ideally stored securely in your accommodation).

Of course, crime in any country is an evolving situation so it’s always best to seek out local advice and government guidelines in your own country. This is now especially true in light of the January 2024 state of emergency, as mentioned above.

As we have seen, the presence of the police and military increases when the likelihood of crime increases, after flashpoints, or when events with large gatherings take place. But, of course, this is for everyone’s safety. If extra security checks take place, it’s important to keep in mind that this could cause travel delays and disruption.

If you find yourself in a situation where the police or local authorities give instructions, you should always follow them.

Travel Precautions for Tourists in Ecuador

When taking transport, always use official or licensed services. Getting into an unlicensed vehicle could lead to a mugging or another form of financial scam. Try to travel in groups and book tickets in advance. Always call on the knowledge of local people who can inform you of the best options, such as tour guides or the staff at your hotel.

If you wish to take a taxi, you can order a secure taxi from the new, free smartphone application ‘Easy Taxi,’ available for Android and iPhone. A photo and the name of your driver will be displayed.

If you are traveling in remote regions or hiking, make sure you have appropriate clothing, water, and food. The high altitudes in Ecuador can make for very changeable weather conditions. Hiking should be undertaken in the company of trained guides.

If the weather looks unpredictable, it is best to reorganize your plans. Storms can hit quickly and tourists have been killed previously during lightning strikes. Understand that you are in territory unfamiliar to you, and be extra conservative accordingly.

Read our blog What Time of Year Is It Best to Visit Ecuador? for more information about planning your trip.

So, is Ecuador Safe for Tourists?

Ecuador fares well when compared to safety in other South American countries, but there’s no doubt that some of the criminal activities prevalent across the continent are present. Most of the violent crime is gang-related and occurs in highly specific areas. While unlikely, there is a chance that tourists can become caught up in this. But as touched on above, the vast majority of visitors to Ecuador have a positive and memorable experience.

If you have any concerns, seek out your country’s government’s travel advice for Ecuador as it will contain up-to-date information designed to keep you safe. You can also supplement this with research and local advice from trusted sources.

At a time when we all have access to the latest information through the internet, naivety is not an excuse. Be aware of risks, take precautions, and enjoy unforgettable travel!

If you have any questions or comments concerning this blog or our Galapagos diving trips and courses, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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