Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate General Guayaquil 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.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED GUAYAQUIL AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Ecuador-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Crime continues to present a severe problem. Crimes against U.S. citizens in 2016 have ranged from petty theft to violent offenses, including armed robbery, express kidnapping, sexual assault, and homicide. Very low rates of apprehension and conviction of criminals – due to limited police and judicial resources – contribute to Ecuador’s high crime rate. The Consulate General advises traveling in groups at all times.
Pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, robbery, bag-slashing, and hotel room theft are the most common types of non-violent crimes committed against U.S. citizens. These incidents occur throughout Ecuador and have increased significantly in recent years. Pickpockets and other petty thieves are particularly active in tourist areas, airports, restaurants, on public transportation, in crowded streets, bus terminals, public markets, and grocery stores. Backpackers are frequently targeted for robbery, as are travelers carrying laptop computer bags. Thieves often distract the victim, sometimes by purposefully spilling liquid on the victim and pretending to help the victim clean it up (condiment scam), while accomplices snatch the victim’s bag or pick the victim’s pocket. To lower one’s risk of these or other non-violent crimes, travelers should leave valuables in a safe place or not travel with them. Never carry more than you are willing to lose and never carry anything you consider priceless or irreplaceable. Make use of hotel safes when available, avoid wearing obviously expensive jewelry or designer clothing, and carry only the necessary cash or credit cards on each outing. Stay alert to pickpockets when in crowds and when taking public transportation, and be conscious of distractions created to target tourists. Maintain a low profile and do not advertise that you are American.
Violent crime has significantly increased over the last few years, with American citizens being victims of crimes, including homicides, armed assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, and home invasions. Armed or violent robberies occur throughout Ecuador. Many travelers have been robbed after using ATMs or when exiting banks. Travelers should avoid withdrawing large amounts of cash at one time from banks and ATMs, and should use ATMs in protected indoor areas, like well-guarded shopping malls. In some cases, robbers have used motorcycles to approach their victims and flee the scene. Tourists have also been robbed at gunpoint on beaches and along hiking trails.
Increasing numbers of U.S. citizens have fallen victim to fraud related to their credit/debit cards. “Skimming” is most likely to occur in restaurants, bars, and, at times, hotels, where the skimmer takes the victim's card out of the owner’s view. Visitors should take the credit/debit card to the register and never let the card out of his/her sight. Pay for items in cash whenever possible, and only use credit cards at larger establishments, such as hotels. Also, be sure to monitor bank accounts and credit card statements frequently.
If one falls victim to express kidnapping and/or robbery, cooperation usually results in the best outcome, as nothing material is as valuable as one’s life.
Incidents of sexual assault and rape have increased, including in well-traveled tourist areas. Criminals generally target women who are alone, and use alcohol or incapacitating drugs on unsuspecting tourists to rob and/or sexually assault them. These so-called date-rape drugs, most often rohypnol and scopolamine, disorient the victim and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems. To lower risk of sexual assault, travel in groups, do not leave food/drink unattended in public places, and never accept a drink from a stranger.
Very few U.S. citizens have been victims of murder in Ecuador (4 since 2012). The Ecuadorian government has an emergency hotline, 1-800-DELITO (1-800-335486), to inform police about murders or contract killings.
Other Areas of Concern
Visitors should exercise extreme caution in the downtown area of Guayaquil and the southern part of the city. Tourist sites -- the Christ statue (Sagrado Corazon de Jesus) on Cerro del Carmen, the Malecon 2000, and Las Peñas -- though well-patrolled by police, are targeted by criminals hoping to prey on unsuspecting tourists. There have also been reports of armed robberies at restaurants in the Urdesa and Samborondon areas.
The U.S. Embassy in Quito advises against travel to the northern border of Ecuador, including the provinces of Sucumbíos, Carchi, and parts of Esmeraldas.
U.S. government personnel may travel to the northern bank of the Napo River in Sucumbíos, where tourist lodges are located, an area approximately four miles wide. All other U.S. government travel to the northern border area is prohibited without prior permission.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Although some of Ecuador’s roads and highways have greatly improved in recent years, road travel can be dangerous, especially at night. Some roads are poorly maintained or affected by heavy rains and mudslides. Mountain roads may lack safety features (crash barriers, guard rails), and conditions are frequently made more treacherous by heavy fog. Highways are often unmarked and not illuminated and do not have signage. In addition, slow-moving buses and trucks frequently stop in the middle of the road unexpectedly. In the countryside, livestock is often herded along roads or grazed on roadsides. Pedestrians frequently use roads, as sidewalks are often lacking. Road travel after dark is especially hazardous in all areas of the country.
Driving practices differ from U.S. standards, and drivers often disobey traffic laws and signals. In all areas, buses stop without warning to pick up/drop off passengers. Drivers often turn from any lane and rarely yield to pedestrians and cyclists. You might encounter intoxicated drivers at any time, though the chances of a drunk-driving accident are higher on weekends and holidays. On the coast in particular, many vehicles are poorly maintained, and breakdowns are common.
If you are a driver involved in an automobile accident, even if you are not at fault, you may be taken into police custody, especially if injuries are involved or if you do not have insurance. If injuries or damages are serious, you may face criminal charges.
To avoid carjacking or theft from a vehicle while stopped at intersections, drivers should keep doors locked and windows rolled up at all times. “Smash and grabs” occur when thieves break into parked vehicles but have also occurred in slow-moving or stopped traffic, particularly targeting women driving alone.
Public Transportation Conditions
In Guayaquil, security on public transportation is a major concern.
It is strongly discouraged to hail a taxi on the street. U.S. officials associated with the U.S. Consulate General are forbidden from hailing taxis on the street. U.S. citizens should never wave or flag down taxis on the street, as this action causes the susceptibility to the threat of “secuestro express.” Call to order a known taxi by phone or use a service affiliated with major hotels. Registered taxis are usually yellow, display matching unit numbers on their windshields and doors, feature a taxi cooperative name on the door, and are identified with an orange license plate. Still, passengers have been victimized even in taxis that meet these criteria. “Robberies and assaults against passengers (“secuestro express”) present a significant safety concern, especially in Guayaquil (but also in Manta andwith increasing regularity in Quito). Shortly after the passenger enters a taxi, the vehicle is typically intercepted by armed accomplices of the driver, who threaten passengers with weapons, rob passengers of their personal belongings, and force victims to withdraw money from ATMs. Increasingly, victims have been beaten or sexually assaulted during these incidents.
Intra- and inter-city bus passengers are often targets of crime, including robbery and sexual assault. Numerous bus accidents occur every year in Ecuador, and many buses are overcrowded, poorly maintained, and lack seat belts or other safety features. Armed criminals have been known to board local city buses and rob passengers of valuables. There have been instances in which routes between cities are blocked by criminals, who force the bus to stop and then board the bus to rob passengers. On buses, luggage stowed below the bus or at a traveler’s feet is sometimes stolen.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED GUAYAQUIL AS BEING A MEDIUM THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Ecuador does not have a tradition of substantial guerrilla activity.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED GUAYAQUIL AS BEING A HIGH THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
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 often block city streets and rural highways, and public transportation tends to be disrupted during these incidents. Protestors occasionally burn tires, throw Molotov cocktails, engage in destruction of property, and detonate small improvised explosive devices during demonstrations, but fatalities as a result of protests have been rare.
Pamphlet bombs are sometimes used to disseminate political literature. Pamphlet bombs have been used since 2011; the most recent case occurred in July 2015, targeting a popular newspaper corporate office. All occurred without serious injury to person or property (although one had the potential to be lethal), and none were aimed at businesses or business interests.
Popular protests have contributed to the removal of three elected presidents before the end of their terms. Ecuador may experience an increase in protest activity related to presidential elections scheduled for February 2017.
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 and mining companies. The government has increasingly filed legal charges or opened investigations against protestors who blocked roads or impeded public services. The government charged 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 political activity that starts or promotes civil wars or international conflicts.
During 2015, Ecuador experienced a number of large-scale, anti-government protests following the introduction of new economic legislation. Many protestors and protest groups convened in downtown Guayaquil (also in Quito). Most protests were non-violent; however, some have included the use of anti-riot police forces and the deployment of tear gas. A number of police officers were injured, and few arrests were made. In San Cristobal, the airport was temporarily shut down, and tear gas was used against protestors.
In August 2016, Guayaquil experienced labor-related protests, which were non-violent and included no more than 300 participants.
Political violence in Colombia has a spillover effect in northern Ecuador. Security on the northern border with Colombia, where the majority of Ecuador's oil deposits are located, is particularly tenuous. The area is used as a transshipment point for both precursor chemicals used in illegal drug production and for arms/supplies for Colombian insurgent groups and narco-traffickers. Businesses in the area report being extorted for protection money. The Ecuadorian military and government agencies are increasing efforts to promote development and provide security in this area.
Ecuador has many active and potentially active volcanoes (around Quito and other tourist destinations). Other potential environmental threats include flooding, the effects of El Niño, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
In April 2016, Ecuador experienced a devastating 7.8 earthquake, which killed hundreds and injured and displaced thousands. The region also experienced multiple aftershocks, many 6.0+ in magnitude. 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 flights in/out of airports might be cancelled due to adverse conditions.
Earthquakes sometimes trigger tsunamis, which could strike coastal areas or the Galápagos Islands. The national authorities put out warnings of potential tsunamis, but the response on the local level is uneven, and on one occasion there was no coordinated evacuation when a tsunami struck the Galapagos Islands.
In light of these environmental conditions, it is important that travelers and residents maintain an emergency supply of food and water and establish an emergency plan with their family members or fellow travelers.
The government acknowledged that the number of on-the-job injuries was seriously underreported. According to the Social Security Institute, the Ministry of Labor Relations, and the Ministry of Health, approximately 15,000 on-the-job injuries have been reported each year. Yet, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated the true number at approximately 160,000. Violations were reportedly common in the banana, palm oil, flower, and gold-mining industries, particularly involving exposure to toxic chemicals.
The threat of violence associated with narco-trafficking is well documented in Ecuador . 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. Homicide rates have increased over the last decade, having a direct correlation to the increased flow of drugs over this same period.
Kidnappings have occurred along the northern border with Colombia, and foreigners have been targeted. Kidnappings are more often economically rather than politically motivated. The Sucumbíos region has a high rate of ransom kidnappings. U.S. citizens are not specifically targeted but have been kidnapped there. Traditional Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO), especially those with a propensity for violence, such as the Mexican Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels, are present and operating in Ecuador. At least 13 U.S. citizens are known to have been victims of kidnapping in this region in the past 13 years. In 2014, a U.S. citizen was kidnapped in Vilcabamba, Loja; the perpetrators demanded a $400,000.00 ransom. The victim was released two days later following police investigation.
Police coverage is sparse outside major, urban areas. Ecuador has a less than one percent conviction rate for major crimes. The threshold for petty crime is US$600, meaning that little is done for victims whose loss is less . Response times vary, but police response to emergencies can commonly take at least 45-60 minutes. After a criminal complaint, or denuncia, is filed, little is done to recover belongings or investigate.
While in Ecuador, you are subject to Ecuadorian laws. If you break laws in Ecuador, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not in Ecuador. The U.S. government has no authority to intervene in Ecuadorian legal matters.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
If you are arrested in Ecuador, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and customary international law, you have the option to 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 you are arrested, request that the authorities do this on your behalf. If you feel that you are a victim of police corruption, bribery, or harassment, contact American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General.
Crime Victim Assistance
Dial 911 for all emergencies; however, operators typically speak Spanish. English speakers are sometimes available (one per shift) to handle emergency calls from other English speakers.
Investigation and prosecution of perpetrators is the responsibility of the Ecuadorian government, and they do not proceed with the speed and thoroughness that we are accustomed to in the U.S. Although the U.S. Embassy and Consulate monitor and encourage these investigations, our ability to intervene is extremely limited.
If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, you should immediately contact the local police to file a crime report (a denuncia) and inform the U.S. Embassy/Consulate General, which can:
- Help you find appropriate medical care for violent crimes.
- Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities and contact family/friends on your behalf.
- Replace your stolen passport.
- Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to Ecuadorian attorneys or law enforcement officials.
You may call the U.S. Embassy Quito American Citizen Services at: (02) 398-5000 or the U.S. Consulate General Guayaquil at: (04)-371-7000.
Dial 911 for all emergencies. Operators typically speak Spanish, although an English speaker may be available to handle calls from English speakers.
Medical care is very limited outside Guayaquil (and Quito). Basic medical services are available in Quito, Guayaquil, and many small towns and villages. Treatment for serious medical issues is often unavailable or limited to facilities in Quito. Emergency ambulance services, as well as certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments, are not widely available. Ambulances are privately-run, expensive, and seldom respond within an appropriate amount of time. Physicians and hospital personnel frequently do not speak English, and medical reports are written in Spanish. Patients must have good Spanish language skills to utilize local medical resources.
In an emergency, patients must drive or ask somebody to take them to the nearest hospital that will accept a patient. This is usually a public hospital, unless the patient or someone acting on their behalf indicates that they can pay for a private hospital. Most payments for medical services require cash at the time of service or prior to treatment, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards. U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted.
Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Ecuador. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
In Guayaquil, the U.S. Consulate General advises using the Clinica Kennedy and the Clinica Alcivar. These facilities are modern and often technologically advanced, but they may not meet all U.S. standards. Ambulance services in Ecuador are poor and do not meet U.S. standards. .
Local hospitals and clinics in Guayaquil
Clinica Kennedy, Av. San Jorge entre la Novena y la Decima (close to Polycentro Mall)
+593-4-228-6963 / 2289-666 and Fax: +593-4-228-4051
Clinica Kennedy (Alborada area)
Clinica Kennedy (Samborondon area)
Clinica Alcivar (Trauma specialty)
Doctora Ma del Carmen Escolano, cell phone +593-9-948-0305
Doctor Marlon Alarcon, cell phone +593-9-961-5960
Available Air Ambulance Services
Tel: +593-2-246-8216 or +593-2-246-9902
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses (medical evacuation).
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Travelers should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. A yellow fever vaccination is only required if the traveler has recently visited a country where yellow fever is endemic.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Ecuador.
OSAC Country Council
OSAC Guayaquil re-established an active Country Council in early 2015. All U.S. private sector organizations and affiliates operating in the area are encouraged to participate. Parties interested in joining the Country Council should contact RSO Robert Gousie at +593-99-428207 or Carlos O. Guerra, OSAC Coordinator Guayaquil Ecuador, +593-4-371-7155. Please contact OSAC’s WHA team with any questions.
U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
Calle Santa Ana y Av. José Rodriguez Bonin
EC090603 – Guayaquil, Guayas, Ecuador
Consulate Contact Numbers
Regional Security Officer: +593-4-371-7034
Consular Affairs and American Citizens Services: +593-4-371-7000
For the latest security and threat information, U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's travel website and U.S. Consulate General’s website. These sites contain country-specific consular information, current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, and the Department’s Worldwide Caution.