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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Ecuador 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Quito

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Ecuador at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Do not travel to Esmeraldas, Carchi, and Sucumbíos provinces due to crime.


Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Quito does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Ecuador-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

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There is serious risk from crime in Quito. Crime is a severe problem throughout Ecuador. Limited police and judicial resources, border security problems, and low apprehension rates contribute to Ecuador’s overall high crime rate. Pickpocketing, purse snatching, robbery, and theft of travel documents are the crimes most commonly committed against U.S. citizens.

 

Pickpockets and other petty thieves are particularly active in tourist areas, airports, restaurants, bus terminals, public markets, and grocery stores, and on public transportation and crowded streets. Criminals frequently target backpackers and travelers carrying laptop bags for robbery.

Violent crime has remained high over the last few years, with U.S. citizens reporting crimes that include armed assault, robbery, sexual assault, home invasion, and, homicide. According to Ecuadorean Police statistics, in most murders the victims and alleged perpetrators know one another. The government has established an emergency hotline (1-800-DELITO (1-800-335-486)) to inform police about murders or contract killings.

Armed or violent robbery can occur anywhere in Ecuador. In some cases, robbers have used motorcycles to approach their victims and flee the scene. Criminals have robbed tourists at gunpoint on beaches and along hiking trails. Many robberies take place on/around public transportation, particularly buses. Criminals rob those who have just finished using ATMs or exited banks.

Avoid withdrawing large amounts of cash from banks and ATMs, and use ATMs only in protected indoor areas (e.g. well-guarded shopping malls). Pay for items in cash when possible, and only use credit cards at larger, well-known establishments like hotels. To avoid skimming, take the credit/debit card to the register and never let the card out of your sight. Avoid paying for delivery with your credit/debit card. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Robberies and assaults against taxi passengers (secuestro express) present a significant safety concern, especially in Guayaquil and Manta; they have occurred in Quito as well. Shortly after a passenger enters a taxi, armed accomplices typically intercept the vehicle and threaten passengers with weapons, rob them of their belongings, and force them to withdraw money from ATMs. These incidents have also included violent assault and rape.

Carjacking or thefts from a vehicle have occurred while stopped at intersections. Smash-and-grabs occur when thieves break into parked, slow-moving, or stopped vehicles, particularly with lone female drivers.

Cooperation usually results in the best outcome for the victim. In the event of a robbery, the Embassy urges all travelers to comply with the demands of the aggressors while attempting to observe identifying characteristics of the perpetrators. Be unpredictable in your movements so that you will not be an easy target.

Incidents of sexual assault and rape continue with frequency, including in well-traveled tourist areas. There have been sporadic reports regarding the use of date-rape drugs (e.g. Rohypnol and scopolamine) with the intent of disorienting a victim, causing prolonged unconsciousness and/or altered judgment. To mitigate against risk of assault, travel in groups, maintain positive control over food/drink in bars or restaurants, and never accept a drink from a stranger. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Crime occurs throughout Quito; there are no low-crime areas. Stay particularly alert for crime on the crowded streets of south Quito, at the Panecillo, the Historic District, and in the areas of El Tejar, Parroquia San Sebastian, Avenida Cristobal Colon, and Gonzalez Suarez.

Quito’s Mariscal Sucre district, a popular tourist area, is increasingly a site of crime. In the area surrounding Plaza Foch, travel in groups when possible, avoid hailing taxis off the street or using unofficial taxis, and exercise caution at all times. Reported incidents in recent years range from petty theft and sexual assault to shootings.

Outside the city, stay alert if hiking in popular tourist destinations, such as the summit of Pichincha.

Recent criminal incidents involving U.S. citizens in Ecuador include the following:

  • In January 2019, a U.S. citizen was a victim of an attempted carjacking. Two criminals surreptitiously approached the victim’s vehicle from both sides at a traffic light at approximately 2300, smashing the passenger-side window while forcing the driver-side door open. The driver was able to accelerate and escape the scene with only damage to his vehicle.
  • In January 2019, a U.S. citizen was the victim of a smash and grab in their unattended vehicle. The perpetrators were believed to be seen escaping in their own vehicle after stealing a bag of valuables left on the passenger seat at approximately 2000.
  • In March 2018, a U.S. citizen was the victim of a smash and grab robbery of their car at approximately 1900. The vehicle was waiting to turn left from Eloy Alfaro onto De Los Perales when someone broke the side window, grabbed a bag that was  on the passenger seat, and ran away. The entire event took less than 10 seconds.
  • In February 2018, a U.S. citizen was walking from a bar to their vehicle at 0200 on Isabella La Católica. While walking in the street’s grass median, the victim saw a group of men and ran. The men chased the victim, attempting to kick their legs out from under them as they screamed for help. Only after the victim was able to get the attention of local security guards did the men turn and run away.
  • In December 2017, an unknown person or group of people unsuccessfully attempted to force entry to the house of a U.S. citizen in Campo Alegre.
  • In April 2017, an unknown individual attempted to force entry to the residential compound of a U.S. citizen in Campo Alegre. A presumed accomplice repeatedly buzzed the intercom from outside the perimeter entrance, holding their hand over the intercom camera. Although it appears a person succeeded in temporarily gaining entry to the grounds of the compound, the assailants later fled.
  • In 2017, criminals assaulted and robbed two U.S. citizens as they walked in the evening hours in Mariscal, a few blocks from their hotel.

 

Other Areas of Concern

The U.S. Embassy advises against travel to the northern region of Ecuador bordering Colombia. The provinces of Sucumbíos, Carchi, and parts of Esmeraldas have higher levels of organized crime, narco-trafficking, human smuggling, and political violence. Although Military and government agencies continue to promote economic development and law enforcement, security risks remain significantly higher there than other parts of Ecuador.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Although some of Ecuador’s roads and highways have improved greatly in recent years, road travel can be dangerous, especially at night. Some roads are in poorly condition or affected by heavy rains/mudslides. Mountain roads may lack safety features (e.g. crash barriers, guardrails). Heavy fog frequently makes conditions more treacherous. Highways often lack markings, lighting, and signage. Slow-moving buses and trucks frequently stop unexpectedly in the middle of the road. In the countryside, livestock often moves along roads or grazes on roadsides. Lacking sidewalks, pedestrians also use many roads. Motorists should carry a cellular phone and first aid kit in case of an emergency.

Two incidents are demonstrative of some of the risks of driving in Ecuador, occurring within three days of one another in August 2018. A large bus collided with a small vehicle at high speed killing 24 people and injuring 19 while driving on a stretch of road known as “Dead Man’s Curve” at 0300; and a bus carrying soccer fans overturned on a highway, killing 12 and injuring 30.

Protestors often block city streets and rural highways, which tends to disrupt public transportation.

Driving practices differ from U.S. standards. Drivers often disobey traffic laws and signals. Buses stop without warning to pick up/drop off passengers. Drivers often turn from any lane, and rarely yield to pedestrians/cyclists. You could encounter intoxicated drivers; chances of a drunk-driving accident are higher on weekends and local holidays. On the coast in particular, many vehicles are in poorly condition, and breakdowns are common. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Police may take any driver involved in an accident where injuries are involved or the driver does not have insurance into custody, even the driver is not at fault. If injuries or damages are serious, the driver may face criminal charges.

Public Transportation Conditions

Intra- and inter-city bus passengers are often targets of crime (e.g. robbery, sexual assault). Thieves often steal luggage stowed below the bus, in overhead racks, or at a traveler’s feet. Numerous bus accidents occur every year; many buses are overcrowded, in poor condition, and lack seat belts or other safety features. Armed criminals have boarded local city buses and robbed passengers. There have been instances in which criminals blocked routes between cities, forcing buses to stop, and robbing passengers. For these reasons, the Embassy strongly advises against travel by bus.

Because of the risk from secuestro express, avoid hailing street taxis; it is preferable to use taxis from a cooperativa (radio taxi association), ride-hailing services like Uber, or from a major hotel. Registered taxis are usually yellow, display matching unit numbers on their windshields and doors, feature a taxi cooperative name on the door, and have orange license plates. Many taxis do not have rear seat belts. A number of taxi drivers do not use meters, especially at night, and sometimes charge more than the usual fare. Negotiate rates prior to departure.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Aviation is generally the safest mode of travel within Ecuador. However, armed robbers have targeted arriving passengers by following them from the airports in Quito and Guayaquil. Examples include multiple vehicles that cut off and intercept a victim, as well as a single motorcycle rider who robs a victim getting out of a car. The perpetrators appear to focus on travelers returning from overseas trips laden with gifts and large amounts of cash.

Terrorism Threat

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Quito. Terrorism in Ecuador is a rare occurrence. Attacks in Ecuador have traditionally involved small domestic organizations as well as Colombian dissident groups (FARC and ELN) operating within Ecuador's borders.

A car bomb caused damage to a local police command center one morning in January 2018 in the city of San Lorenzo, Esmeraldas province, near the Colombian border. There were no fatalities, and several injuries. As a result, the President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, declared a limited State of Emergency in the cities of San Lorenzo and Eloy Alfaro to enhance police and military authority.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Quito. Ecuador has a long tradition of political demonstrations, but those demonstrations have rarely resulted in violence. However, political violence in Colombia has a spillover effect into northern Ecuador. In recent years, a dramatic increase in Venezuelan immigration has led to increased political tensions and higher crime. A January 2019 murder an Ecuadorean woman in Ibarra by a Venezuelan migrant led to reprisal attacks against Venezuelans migrants throughout Ecuador. Politicians have been under pressure to respond more forcefully to unrestricted migration flows.

Student, labor union, and indigenous protests against government policies are a regular feature of political life. While disruptive, especially to transportation, violence is usually limited and localized. Protestors occasionally burn tires, throw Molotov cocktails, engage in destruction of property, and detonate small improvised explosive devices, but fatalities are rare. Protesters sometimes use pamphlet bombs to disseminate political literature. The government has increasingly filed legal charges or opened investigations against protestors who block roads or impede public services. The government charges demonstrators with “terrorism and sabotage,” or similar charges that effectively criminalize protest, for obstructing roads and public services.

It is against the law for foreigners to engage in any political activity that promotes civil instability, or that authorities consider likely to instigate international conflict.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Some communities have used protests and strikes to obtain promises of increased government spending on social benefits and infrastructure. Some indigenous communities opposed to development have protested to block access by petroleum/mining companies.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Ecuador has many active and potentially active volcanoes, including around Quito and other popular tourist destinations. Three active volcanoes within 100 kilometers of Quito threaten the city primarily with ash fall or lahar flows.

Baños is a popular tourist destination at the base of the Tungurahua volcano; Tungurahua has erupted explosively several times in the last decade, including 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014, all of which produced significant ash fall. Mud/lava flows could pose a significant, immediate threat in Baños, especially the western side of town. If you are in Baños when a volcanic eruption occurs, stay alert to sirens and instructions from local authorities, and follow the arrows on the street to reach the evacuation shelters in the Santa Ana neighborhood on the main road on the east side of town toward Puyo.

  • In 2016, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck just off the coast of Ecuador, devastating many coastal communities from Manta to Pedernales. Aftershocks reached Quito and Guayaquil.
  • In 2015, the Cotopaxi volcano became quite active; eruptions distributed light volcanic ash over Quito.

 

Other potential environmental threats include flooding and tsunamis. Earthquakes sometimes trigger deadly tsunamis, which could strike coastal areas of Ecuador or the Galápagos Islands. Authorities disseminate warnings of potential tsunamis, but the local response is uneven. On one occasion in the Galápagos, there was no coordinated evacuation when a tsunami struck.

Critical Infrastructure

In the event of a natural disaster, transportation, water, communications, and power systems may fail due to damaged infrastructure or heavy ash fall. Roads may close, and flight delays or cancellations may occur.

Security on the northern border, where the majority of Ecuador's oil deposits are, is particularly tenuous.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex sexual activity is legal. The law protects the LGBT community from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Drug-related Crimes

The threat of violence is associated with narco-trafficking. The amount of drugs flowing through Ecuador, estimated to be in excess of 100 metric tons of cocaine per year, has contributed to the rise of all types of crime; the Mexican Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels operate in Ecuador.

The Colombian border area is a transshipment point for precursor chemicals used in illegal drug production and arms/supplies for Colombian insurgent groups and narco-traffickers. Businesses in the area report the existence of extortion rackets.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnappings, more often economic than political, have occurred, and foreigners have been targeted. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”

Police Response

Police coverage is sparse outside major urban areas. Ecuador has a very low (less than 1%) conviction rate for major crimes. Victims of crime in Ecuador should not expect the justice system to proceed with the speed and thoroughness as seen in the U.S. Although the U.S. Mission monitors and encourages investigations, the ability to assist enforcement is limited. The threshold for petty crime is US$600, meaning that police do little for victims whose loss is less than that. Response times vary, but it is common for police to take 45-60 minutes to respond to emergencies.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If arrested, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and customary international law, you may request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate. Outside of Quito and Guayaquil, awareness of international protocols is uneven. If arrested, request that the authorities do this on your behalf.

If you are a victim of police corruption, bribery, or harassment, contact American Citizen Services at the United States Embassy for assistance.

Crime Victim Assistance

Following a criminal incident, U.S. citizens should immediately file a criminal complaint (denuncia) with local authorities and inform ACS. The Tourist Security Service has opened a number of service centers throughout Quito to provide general information and as locations to file denuncias.

The main emergency phone number is 911. At least one English speaker should be available. You should also call ACS in Quito (tel: (02) 398-5000) or Guayaquil (tel: (04)-371-7000).

Medical Emergencies

Quito has modern medical services along with a trauma hospital with a variety of specialty services available. Medical care outside of Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil is more limited; basic medical services are available in small towns and villages, but travelers seeking medical care should do so only in major cities. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them; U.S. brand names are not often available. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications. Physicians and hospital personnel frequently do not speak English, and medical reports are in Spanish.

In an emergency, call an ambulance via 911. Several private ambulances services have advanced cardiac and trauma equipment with a physician on board in medical emergencies.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Expatriates in Quito treat medical emergencies at Hospital Metropolitano and Hospital de los Valles in Cumbaya; in Guayaquil, they use the Clínica Kennedy and the Clínica Alcivar. Although the facilities at these hospitals are modern and often technologically advanced, they may not meet all U.S. standards.

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

AIR MED: +593-9-9973-8900 or +593-2-246-9902

Insurance Guidance

Consult with your medical insurance company prior to travel, to confirm whether the policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses (e.g. medical evacuation - “medevac”). Many travel insurance companies have policies that include medical services and evacuation. Prepare to pay medical practitioners and hospitals at the time of service, or even before treatment. Payment for medical services is typically on a cash basis, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment. Ecuadorian providers do not accept U.S. health insurance plans.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Ensure all routine vaccinations are up to date. Ecuador only requires yellow fever vaccination for entry if the traveler has recently visited a country where yellow fever is endemic. Consider typhoid and Hepatitis A vaccination for visits of more than a month.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Ecuador.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Quito Country Council meets once a year. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to participate.  

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

E12-170 Avigiras Ave. and Eloy Alfaro Ave., Quito

Embassy Contact Numbers

Main Switchboard: +593-2-398-5000

Marine Security Guard Post One: +593-2-398-5200

Embassy Duty Officer: +593-997-883-222 (0997-883-222 from within Ecuador)

Website: http://ec.usembassy.gov

Nearby Posts

U.S. Consulate General Guayaquil is responsible for coverage of the Galapagos Islands.

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Ecuador should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Ecuador Country Information Sheet

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