Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy 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.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED QUITO 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 is a severe problem in Ecuador. In 2016, crimes against U.S. citizens ranged from petty theft to violent offenses. Limited police and judicial resources contribute to very low rates of apprehension and conviction of criminals and to Ecuador’s overall high crime rate. Pickpocketing, purse snatching, robbery, and theft of travel documents are the most common types of 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 and travelers carrying laptop computer bags are frequently targeted for robbery.
Violent crime has increased over the last few years, with U.S. citizens being victims of crimes to include, but not limited to, armed assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, home invasions, and, on rare occasions, homicide. Since September 2009, at least four U.S. citizens have been murdered. In most cases, the victims and alleged perpetrators knew each other. The government has established an emergency hotline (1-800-DELITO (1800 335486)) to inform police about murders or contract killings.
Armed or violent robberies can occur anywhere in Ecuador. Many travelers have been robbed after using ATMs or when exiting banks. In some cases, robbers used motorcycles to approach their victims and flee the scene. Tourists have also been robbed at gunpoint on beaches and along hiking trails. Many robberies take place on/around public transportation, particularly buses.
Robberies and assaults against taxi passengers (secuestro express) present a significant safety concern, especially in Guayaquil and Manta, but they have occurred in Quito as well. Shortly after the passenger enters a taxi, the vehicle is typically intercepted by armed accomplices who threaten passengers with weapons, rob them of their belongings, and force victims to withdraw money from ATMs. Victims have also been beaten or raped.
Carjacking or theft 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. The family member of an official American posted in Quito was the victim of a smash-and-grab while waiting in her vehicle immediately outside the Embassy in 2016.
Incidents of sexual assault and rape continue to occur with frequency, including in well-traveled tourist areas. Criminals generally target lone women and use alcohol/incapacitating drugs to rob and/or sexually assault them. These so-called date-rape drugs (rohypnol, scopolamine) disorient the victim and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems. To lower risk of falling victim to sexual assault, travel in groups, do not leave food/drink unattended in public places, and never accept a drink from a stranger. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”
If one falls victim to express kidnapping and/or robbery, 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. No item is worth risking serious injury/death. Be unpredictable in your movements so that you will not be an easy target.
Travelers should avoid withdrawing large amounts of cash at one time from banks and ATMs and should use ATMs in protected indoor areas (well-guarded shopping malls). Pay for items in cash when possible and only use credit cards at larger establishments (hotels). To avoid skimming, visitors should take the credit/debit card to the register and never let the card out of his/her sight. Avoid paying for delivery with your credit/debit card. Also, be sure to monitor bank accounts and credit card statements frequently.
Other Areas of Concern
The U.S. Embassy advises against travel to the northern border region (provinces of Sucumbíos, Carchi, and parts of Esmeraldas) due to the presence of organized crime, drug- and small-arms trafficking, and incursions by terrorist organizations near Ecuador’s porous border with Colombia. Military and government agencies are continuing their efforts to promote development and provide security, but the risks remain significantly higher than to other parts of Ecuador.
Within Quito, persons should 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. Reported incidents in recent years range from petty theft and sexual assault to shootings. In the Mariscal area surrounding Plaza Foch, travel in groups when possible, avoid hailing taxis off the street or using unofficial taxis, and exercise caution in the early morning.
- In late 2015, an official American on temporary duty to the Embassy was assaulted and robbed as he walked alone at 2130 hours in Mariscal, a few blocks from his hotel.
Outside the city, stay alert if hiking to the summit of Pichincha, as violent crime has been known to occur there.
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/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, not illuminated, and do not have road signage. 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. Lacking sidewalks, many roads are also used by pedestrians. Motorists should carry a cellular phone and first aid kit in case of an emergency.
Protestors often block city streets and rural highways, and public transportation tends to be disrupted during protests.
Driving practices differ from U.S. standards, and 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, though the chances of a drunk-driving accident are higher on weekends and local holidays. On the coast in particular, many vehicles are poorly maintained, and breakdowns are common. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
If you are the driver involved in an 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.
Public Transportation Conditions
Intra- and inter-city bus passengers are often targets of crime (robbery, sexual assault). Luggage stowed below the bus, in overhead racks, or at the traveler’s feet can be, and often is, stolen. Numerous bus accidents occur every year, and many buses are overcrowded, poorly maintained, and lack seat belts or other safety features. Armed criminals have boarded local city buses and robbed passengers. There have been instances in which routes between cities are blocked by criminals, who force the bus to stop, board it, and rob passengers. For these reasons, Embassy Quito strongly recommends against travel by bus.
Because of secuestro express, U.S. officials are strongly advised against hailing street taxis but are permitted to use taxis from a cooperativa (radio taxi association) or major hotel. When ordering a taxi by phone, get the number of the taxi from the dispatcher and then verify that the number matches the one on the taxi that shows up before entering the vehicle. 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. In addition to the threat of secuestro express, taxi patrons should be aware that many taxis remove seat belts from the back seat. A number of taxi drivers do not use meters, especially at night, and sometimes charge more than the usual fare. Rates should be negotiated prior to departure.
Travel by air is generally the safest mode within Ecuador. However, at the airports in Quito and Guayaquil, arriving passengers have been targeted by armed robbers who follow them from the airport. Cases have been reported involving multiple vehicles that cut off and intercept the victim, as well as a single motorcycle rider who robs the victim while they are getting out of their car. The perpetrators appear to focus on travelers who are returning from overseas trips laden with gifts and large amounts of cash.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED QUITO AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED QUITO AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Ecuador does not have a tradition of frequent violence as a result of demonstrations or political instability; however, political violence in Colombia has a spillover effect in northern Ecuador.
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 have been rare. Pamphlet bombs are sometimes used to disseminate political literature.
- Two incidents of pamphlet bombs occurred in Guayaquil in July 2015.
- Six pamphlet bombs exploded in November-December 2011, all without serious injury to person or property (although one had the potential to be lethal).
It is against the law for foreigners to engage in political activity that starts or promotes civil wars or international conflicts.
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.
- In December 2016, a police officer was killed near San Juan Bosco in southern Morona Santiago province during political protests by indigenous communities.
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 criminalized protest, for obstructing roads and public services.
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.
- In August 2015, the Cotapaxi volcano became quite active, and eruptions distributed light volcanic ash over Quito.
- Baños, a popular tourist destination, is at the base of the Tungurahua volcano, which has erupted explosively several times in the last decade, including several times in 2010, 2011, and 2012 that produced significant ash fall. Travelers to Baños, especially on the western side of town, should be aware that mud/lava flows could pose a significant, immediate threat. If you are in Baños when a volcanic eruption occurs, stay alert to the 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 April 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck just off the coast of Ecuador, devastating many coastal communities from Manta to Pedernales. Aftershocks have been felt in Quito and Guyayaquil.
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 put out warnings of potential tsunamis, but the response on the local level is uneven, and on one occasion in the Galapagos Islands, there was no coordinated evacuation when a tsunami struck.
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 might be cancelled.
Security on the northern border, where the majority of Ecuador's oil deposits are, is particularly tenuous.
The threat of violence associated with narco-trafficking is well documented. 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 12 years, which has a direct correlation to the increased flow of drugs over this same time period. Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO), especially those with a propensity for violence (Mexican Sinaloa, Gulf Cartels) operate in Ecuador.
The Colombian border area is used as 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 being extorted for protection money.
Kidnappings, more often economic than political, have occurred, and foreigners have been targeted.
- Two Canadians tourists were held and assaulted in the Cuyabeno National Park near Lago Agrio and later released.
At least 13 U.S. citizens are known to have been victims of kidnapping since 1998.
- In 2012, two U.S. citizens were held, one by an indigenous group who was later released, and the other was held for ransom by a paramilitary group near the Colombian border in Sucumbíos, who later escaped.
- In October 2009, a U.S. citizen was kidnapped in Tulcan and held for ransom. The victim was rescued 21 days later after an intensive investigation involving Ecuadorian, Colombian, and U.S. law enforcement.
Police coverage is sparse outside major urban areas. Ecuador has a less than 1% conviction rate for major crimes. Investigation and prosecution is the responsibility of the government; they do not proceed with the speed and thoroughness as seen in the U.S. Although the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate General monitor and encourage investigations, our ability to intervene is extremely limited. The threshold for petty crime is U.S.$600, meaning that little is done 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. After a criminal complaint (denuncia) is filed, little is done to recover belongings or to investigate.
If you break local laws, 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.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
If you are 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 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 for assistance.
Crime Victim Assistance
Following a criminal incident, U.S. citizens are encouraged to immediately file a denuncia with the local authorities and to inform the American Citizens Services Unit at the Embassy or Consulate. The U.S. Embassy/Consulate can:
- Help you find appropriate medical care if needed;
- Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities and contact family members/friends on your behalf;
- Replace your lost/stolen passport; and
- Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to Ecuadorian attorneys or law enforcement officials.
911 is the main emergency phone number. Authorities advise that at least one English speaker is available. You may also call the U.S. Embassy and ask for American Citizen Services: (02) 398-5000.
The Tourist Security Service has opened a number of service centers throughout Quito to provide general information and as a location to file denuncia.
Medical care is very limited, particularly outside Quito. Basic medical services are available in Quito and many small towns and villages. However, treatment for serious medical issues is often unavailable or available only in Quito. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.” Physicians and hospital personnel frequently do not speak English, and medical reports are written in Spanish.
Ambulance services do not meet U.S. standards. Ambulances are privately-run, expensive, and seldom respond within an appropriate amount of time. Emergency ambulance services and certain types of medical equipment, medications, and treatments are not widely available. 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.
Dial 911 for all emergencies. You may also follow up with U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services Unit by calling (02) 398-5000.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
The Embassy advises that medical emergencies in Quito be treated at Hospital Metropolitano and Hospital De los Valles in Cumbaya. In Guayaquil, the Consulate recommends using the Clinica Kennedy and the Clinica Alcivar. Travelers are reminded that although the facilities at these hospitals are modern and often technologically advanced, they may not meet all U.S. standards.
Metropolitano Hospital +593-2-399-8000 Ext.2193
De Los Valles Cumbaya +593-2-600-0911
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) +593-4-224-7900
Clinica Kennedy (Samborondon area) +593-4-209-0039
Clinica Alcivar(Trauma specialty)
Doctora Ma del Carmen Escolano, cell phone +593-9-948-0305 Doctor Marlon Alarcon, cell phone +593-9-961-5960
Clinica Guayquil – 24 hr Emergency, trauma & diagnostics+593-4-2563555 / 2302825
Dr. Enrique Bolona, cell 0999515127
Available Air Ambulance Services
AIR MED: tel: +593-2-246-8216 or +593-2-246-9902
The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens 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). Many travel insurance companies have policies that include medical services and evacuation. Travelers should be prepared to pay medical practitioners and hospitals at the time of service or even before treatment is given. Payment for medical services is typically done on a cash basis, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment. U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted in Ecuador.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Individuals should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. Yellow fever vaccination is not required for entry into Ecuador, unless the traveler has recently visited a country where yellow fever is endemic.
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Ecuador.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Quito Country Council currently meets once a year and has approximately 21 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
E12-170 Avigiras Ave. and Eloy Alfaro Ave.
Embassy Contact Numbers
Main Switchboard: +593-2-398-5000
Marine Security Guard Post One: +593-2-398-5200
Regional Security Officer: +593-2-398-5475
Embassy Duty Officer: +593-997-883-222 (0997-883-222 from within Ecuador)
Consular coverage for multi-post countries
The U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil is also responsible for coverage of the Galapagos Islands.
Consulate Guayaquil: http://guayaquil.usconsulate.gov
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. Embassy Quito’s website. These sites contain country-specific consular information, current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Department’s Worldwide Caution.
Ecuador Country Information Sheet