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Is Ecuador Dangerous for Tourists?

Yes it is true, just north of the border of the Ecuadorian province Esmeraldas on the Pacific coast, drug trafficking has increased in the Colombian province of Narino, over the past years. During the last decade or so, Esmeraldas has become a transition zone to bring drugs from Colombia to sea. In  general violence in Esmeraldas has increased since the peace agreement with the guerilla movement FARC, and nowadays violence is considered much more severe. What is obvious though it that drugs related violence is increasing in the country's prisons of Guayaquil and Latacunga, but that is gang violence inside the prisons which does not affect the safety in the streets.

Violent deaths in the most affected provinces

Esmeraldas 436
Manabi 407
Los Rios 325
Guayas 362
El Oro 237
Santo Domingo 127
Santa Helena 79
Sucumbios 70
Canar 77


Killing rates per province, including gang related killings in prisons


To put these numbers in perspective, these deaths include several hundred deaths in the prison of Guayaquil, and high percentage of the killings are related to disputes among drugs gangs and also include domestic violence, none of which really affects tourists. Overall, according to UN statistics, Ecuador's killing rate is slightly higher that the average for Latin America, which would put Ecuador in the mid range of safety for Latin America, while violence is primarily concentrated along the coast.


On the other side of the Andes, along the Colombian-Ecuadorian Amazon border, the situation is different from the coast, in the sense that there is no easy trafficking route to the sea and therefore not interesting for direct drugs trafficking. The tourist area of the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve has no easy access to the border river and is heavily patrolled by military and park rangers. Nevertheless, more than a decade ago, 2 foreign visitors were hijacked for ransom from the Cuyabeno Wildlife reserve. Because of a very quick reaction by the army with  helicopter support, both ladies  were freed the following day, unharmed. From that point forward, new measures have been put in place to improve safety for tourists in the province of Sucumbios, where the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is located and as far as I know, no new incidents with tourists have taken place in the region over the last decade.


Ecuador Travel Warning?

Of course after Ecuador's prisons having been in the news recently, a people interested in visiting Ecuador started wondering "Is Ecuador Safe to Travel" in general and the Amazon in particular. So how safe is Ecuador to travel? Foreign embassies (UK, Netherlands, USA, Canada) have given out an Ecuador travel warning for the entire Ecuador border with Colombia on a negative travel alert, which includes the Sucumbios province. But since I started frequenting Cuyabeno National Park in the Scumbios province since 1975, I have never heard of any visitor having been murdered. The has been a brief hijacking more than a decade ago, and we know of 2 armed robberies also more than a decade ago. While those incidents have been serious enough, we feel that those mishaps should be considered in perspective: In Washington DC with just a million of inhabitants in the 1990s, had something like of 500 killings per year! Fortunately that come down significantly to "just" an annual 200! Chicago still more than 500+ per year. But no friendly GOVERNMENT HAS DECLARED Washington DC a negative travel warning. I have worked for some time in Washington DC and lived nearby and never felt threatened walking anywhere.


I have discussed this with the Dutch Consul General (I am Dutch) and requested that the government re-evaluate the safety of Sucumbios. He said he understands my concerns, but the warning is contracted out by the EU to a company and the advice is followed by all EU nations. One expects governments of North America and Australia do similar contracting or simply follow what other governments say.


Now, what is the interest of a security company? Always give some warnings but not too many. That way they get more contracts while not sounding too extreme.


Safety in Ecuador for tourists has 2 aspects:

  • The statistical chance of a violation of one's property (theft, robbery), health (attack; sexual or other), one's freedom (kidnapping) or murder; and

  • The perception of safety that every person experiences differently.

Traveling risks in Ecuador include:

  • Accidents or mishaps caused wild animals (snake bites, alligator attacks, electric eel);

  • Diseases (malaria, infections);

  • Accidents on the road, in nature or in the water;

  • Petty theft like pick pocketing, credit card scams, etc.;

  • Armed robbery;

  • Kidnapping.

We at Parks and Tribes take safety very seriously and we have taken all the measures we can think off.  There is a first aid kit and most of the time there is cell (mobile) phone reception. The Ecuador alarm number is 911 and actually works rather well.


Its rather difficult to interpret the statistics of risks. Should a risk be defined as the frequency of accidents per person-trip, or per day traveled? In the case of the national parks tour, that would make a difference of a factor of 10, for the 10 days' national parks tour, and a factor 4 for most Amazon tours. Should it be evaluated per kilometer traveled? That puts Ecuador at a rather high travel risk with its annual traffic accidents rate. Flying is the safest way to travel anywhere in the world including domestic flying in Ecuador, but to get into the parks you will have to travel by car. So, if you are worried about your safety on the road, you may consider flying certain stretches. I personally fly certain stretches, not for safety considerations but to safe time. On the other hand, from time to time I still travel those distances by car, so I stay up to date of what it looks like, which for you, a visitor may be a consideration to travel by road.


The Perception of Danger for tourists.

We don't really believe that traveling in Ecuador is more dangerous for tourists than in any other country in in South America (which is backed up by the UN statistics), and we believe that in general, Latin America is safe enough for any tourist, but some areas should be avoided. As such Cuyabeno would then fall in the category of "safe for traveling" for foreigners.


The USA has declared the entire region along the border with Colombia, to be a safety risk, even though the conditions at the west side of the Andes are very different from those at the East side. Interesting enough several staff members of the USA Embassy actually went to see Cuyabeno, while the area was on alert. So the Embassy does not seem too much worried about the dangers as it tacitly allows its staff to visit the reserve!


Even pick pocketing will be rare in the rural areas, but Guayaquil and public transportation in Quito, have rather poor reputations. So, anywhere on busses and while being in Guayaquil, you would best leave passports and valuables in the hotel, while carrying a color copy of your passport.


In general, the greatest safety risk you run during your vacation almost anywhere in the world is from traffic. Just look at the figures. The USA worries about terrorist attacks. During 9/11, less that 3000 people were killed. Horrible? Absolutely! And yet, every year more than 33,000 people are killed in traffic accidents in the USA. If we look at the statistics ever since 2001, and average of 200 people per year have been killed (the only ones being the 9/11 victims averaged over the following years) versus the yearly tens of thousands traffic fatalities. It is safe to assume that in Ecuador, the likeliness for you to get involved in a traffic accident, is several thousands of time greater than you getting kidnapped or robbed at gunpoint in Ecuador. Pick-pocketing is another matter. Areas of concern are the city busses in Quito and Guayaquil, several of the large parks in the big city and the Malecon in Guayaquil, particularly when busy in the weekends, the souvenir shopping areas like the Mariscal in Quito. Never carry more cash than what you plan to spend on your excursion and leave your passport in your hotel. I personally always carry a copy of my passport on me, although in all those years I have never been asked to show it.


As a company, we don't express our opinion on whether or not Ecuador is dangerous for tourists. We merely give you a few thoughts about safety for tourists in Ecuador while traveling to provide some perspective and help you make up your mind. Also read our "Do and Don'ts in Ecuador", which may help you avoid certain risks, while our thoughts on safety may help you decide which risks you might want to consider taking, which ones you may want to avert by alternative behavior and which ones to avoid by not traveling to certain places or countries.


ECUADOR TRAVEL WARNING / RESTRICTIONS: DANGEROUS FOR TOURISTS?: Risk perception: many feel safe, some don't.ECUADOR TRAVEL WARNING / RESTRICTIONS: DANGEROUS FOR TOURISTS?: Visitors with children feeling totally at easy in Ecuador.

The center of Quito is heavily protected by tourism police, which are highly visible and everywhere.

Tourist in Ecuador feels no danger: feeling totally at ease in Ecuador.


PARKS & TRIBES Travel Agency in Quito, Ecuador

Street: Las Casas, Side street: Jose Coudrin, 2 blocks above the Occidental Highway

Canton Quito, Prov. Pichincha, Parroquia Belisario Quevedo

Tel: (++593)(02) 2 2324 4086, Cell phone: (++593) (0) 99 283 2187 Whatsapp: (++)1 304 901 0718

Email: info@parks-and-tribes.com