Ecuador is an amazing country, but unfortunately it can be a bit dangerous, for travelers and locals alike. Here are some tips to keep you and your belongings happy and safe. This is not meant to be a scare tactic or to imply that you can’t enjoy yourself here, but you will have a lot more fun if you understand that there are legitimate dangers, and it is best to take appropriate precautions.
1. Try not to look like a tourist. If you have light skin or light hair, you are already going to stand out as a target. Throw a camera around your neck and say things like “I need-o, a hostel-o, where es uno??” and you’re putting yourself at risk. Under no conditions should you wear a Tommy Bahama Hawaain print button up shirt. But that’s not just for Ecuador. That’s just in life. If you own one, it better damned well be for a themed party.
2. Walk with Confidence. Spend some time looking in the mirror trying to master a good “don’t mess with me” face, then put it on at all times when walking down the streets. You will be tempted to wander slowly, taking in the sights as you walk, but this is not smart. The faster you walk, the less chance thugs have to spot you as a target and plan an attack. This is smart anyways, because if it’s not a thug that gets you, the streets might. They are really uneven here, with random holes (booby traps I think) in the middle of sidewalks, so if you’re spending too much time looking at the skyline, you might find yourself at the bottom of a pit.
3. Only take legitimate cabs. This can be tough because they are all sorts of yellow cabs that say taxi on them driving around, but they are not safe. My sister here was kidnapped in a taxi, and if her boyfriend hadn’t have had mace, things might have ended a lot worse for them. You need a yellow cab, with an orange license plate on the front and back, an orange rectangle on the side of the cab with a registration number printed, and a registration number in the back windshield. Many cabs will have some, but not all of these things. DO NOT GET IN THEM! Also, it is smart to always pretend you are meeting someone, or to have a friend see you off in the cab and say “call me when you get there!”
4. Do not show valuables: I know way too many people who have been walking down the street talking on their cell phones and had people run up and steal them out of their hands. Even if I just want to know the time, I will not show my cell phone in public. Only when I’m at work, home, or in safe setting with friends. You may like to walk down the street listening to music, or read your kindle while on public transportation, but if you want to keep those items, you don’t want to use them in public.
5. Do not carry with you more than you can afford to lose. If you need to go to the bank, you should go with a friend, make sure you are very aware of who is watching you and who is around, and then take a taxi (a legal one!) to your next destination. If you have a nice phone, don’t bring it with you if you go out at night. Do not carry credit cards or your passport, copies of your passport will suffice. 20-30 dollars is plenty for a night out, carry this and no more.
6. Do not take flyers from anyone. It is common for people to put drugs on maps or flyers. They will try and hand them to you or ask for directions, and when you breath it in you become completely susceptible to whatever they want, at which point they can rob you and take you to a bank to have you take out all of your money. Not really worth that “2 for 1” special they were offering is it?
7. Try to keep your wits about you when drinking. You like to party. I like to party. We all like to party. But if you are out in town you need to make sure you stay at a level where you are aware of your surroundings and can still react if a dangerous situation should arise. If you want to go to schwastytown, it’s probably best to do so in the safety of your hostel or a friends place.
8. Do not expect security guards to help you. Sadly, do not expect police to help you either. Most guards only care about the place they are standing in front of and nothing else. I have seen guards watch as two guys got the crap kicked out of them while they were being robbed, and I have seen a police officer do nothing more than “shoo” away a drug addict who just stole his gun. I watched as a police officer made my Ecuadorian friend do pushups in the street so him and his cronies could laugh at him. I’m sure there are good ones as well, but you can’t expect that you are safe just because you see the neon vest that says “Policia”
I was overwhelmed by all the warnings and safety precautions when I first arrived here, but after a while it just becomes second nature. Try not to get as frustrated by it as I did, because you will soon realize that for all the creeps and thieves, there is an abundance of generosity and kindness of spirit that more than makes up for it.