Ecuador is a diverse country in South America, known for its vast amount of wildlife and the famous Galápagos Islands. With incredible beaches looking out onto the Pacific Ocean and a range of scenery that includes mountains, volcanoes and rainforests, Ecuador is a haven for nature lovers or those wanting a holiday steeped in adventure and exploration.
Many people come to Ecuador to explore its landscape, whether that’s trekking through the Amazon Rainforest, climbing one of the Andes mountains or simply travelling around the different areas of the country to enjoy the wide range of experiences that are on offer. On the whole, Ecuador is a pretty safe place to travel to and is an ideal holiday destination, but there are some things that you should be aware of before you travel.
The good news is that the most dangerous part of Ecuador is one that travellers are highly unlikely to spend any time in; the exclusion zone on the Colombian border. This area is known for its drug problems, criminal groups and kidnapping cases, and tourists are not allowed anywhere near. The only instance you should need to come to the exclusion is if you are crossing the border at the official location, which is protected by the military and should be safe.
Travellers should be warned that there is a moderate threat of natural disaster in Ecuador, as the country is on the equator and can experience earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Although the risks of encountering natural disasters are not very high, you should still make sure that you are aware of the evacuation procedures that Ecuador has in place, and consider downloading an earthquake app on your phone to keep you informed if there is an emergency.
If you are coming to Ecuador then you should remember that the few dangerous risks the country poses are highly unlikely to affect travellers and that the majority of people who come to the country have an entirely safe trip. In case of an emergency, it is always wise to purchase comprehensive travel insurance to protect you if something does go wrong, and provide you with peace of mind so that you can enjoy your holiday.
Health Concerns in Ecuador
6-8 weeks before you travel, you will need to make an appointment to receive the appropriate vaccinations before travelling to Ecuador. All routine vaccinations should be up to date for anyone travelling to the country, and it is also recommended that you receive boosters against Hepatitis A and Typhoid, as there is a risk of coming into contact with both of these whilst in Ecuador.
It may be recommended for some travellers to also receive boosters against Rabies, Tetanus and Hepatitis B, depending on what they will be doing in the country and how long they will be staying there.
Anyone who is taking medication for a long-term condition should check the legality of this medicine in Ecuador before they travel, to make sure that it will not get confiscated on arrival. It is a good idea to bring a surplus of specific medication when travelling to a foreign country in case your journey home gets delayed, but make sure you check if there are limits to the amount you can bring into the country.
Ecuador is a country where malaria is present, but you have a very low risk of contracting the disease. Malaria tablets are not usually advised, but it is strongly recommended that you take precautions against insect bites by covering your skin in the evenings, using insect repellent, and sleeping under a mosquito net.
There is a low risk of yellow fever in Ecuador as well, particularly in certain rural areas of the country. Whilst only required for some travellers who are coming from other countries in South America or Africa, it is strongly recommended if you are visiting some areas of Ecuador. More details can be found online, and your doctor should be able to advise you on the risk.
A health risk that is prevalent in Ecuador is altitude sickness, which you are at risk of when in parts of the country that have an altitude of over 2500 metres. You should research the risks and symptoms of altitude sickness and acute mountain sickness before taking part in any activity that will involve high altitudes, and ensure that you ascend areas above 2500 metres slowly and safely.
Food and Drink Safety in Ecuador
The majority of food that you will find in Ecuador will be safe to eat, as long as you follow common sense when choosing where to buy from. Meals from street vendors will always carry a higher risk as health and safety standards will be lower, but food from most restaurants and cafes will be fine.
As a general rule in any country, avoid eating and meat or eggs that do not appear to have been cooked properly, and do not accept any meat that looks like it has come from a dubious source. Ensure that dairy products are pasteurised and stored in a refrigerated area, and don’t risk consuming anything that looks or smells like it might have gone off.
The water in Ecuador is not safe to drink, and whilst fruit and vegetables from the country are safe to eat they can become contaminated if washed in water that has not been purified. Always check that any fruit or veg has been cleaned properly, or clean it yourself, and never eat salad from a restaurant unless it specifically states that it has been washed in uncontaminated water.
Any tap water in Ecuador is likely to contain bacteria that will make you ill, so you will have to buy bottled water during your stay. You can use iodine tablets to purify water or boil water if you are desperate, but the best thing to do is just purchase purified water in a sealed bottle, so you know it will be safe to drink.
Juices can often be mixed with contaminated water or unpasteurised milk, so avoid buying these when out and about. Ice cubes that are offered in restaurants are often made with tap water, so make sure you order all cold drinks without ice.
Crime in Ecuador
A good idea when travelling to any new country is to research common scams and crimes that affect tourists, and which areas are particularly unsafe. Overall Ecuador is a relatively safe country, and travellers who stick to the populated and tourist-focused areas of Ecuador are very unlikely to fall victim to crime, as long as they are aware of the risks and pay close attention to their belongings and surroundings.
The most common incidences of crime that travellers to Ecuador are likely to encounter are things like mugging, pickpocketing or tourist scams. Staying vigilant and following common sense is the best way to avoid being targeted by criminals, but purchasing travel insurance will protect you and your belongings in the unlikely event you fall victim to local crime.
The best way to avoid falling being targeted by pickpockets is simply not to bring anything valuable with you to Ecuador, as this eradicates your risk of losing it or having it stolen. Always keep expensive items such as phones and cameras out of sight if you are travelling, and never leave your bag or jacket unattended, wherever you are.
Tourists can be targeted whilst withdrawing money from a bank or ATM. It is worth knowing that the Ecuadorian police offer a free escort to and from a bank if you need to withdraw a large amount of money, and travellers are encouraged to use this service to stay safe.
Cases of armed robbery are increasing in Ecuador, especially in Quito, Guayaquil and other remote areas. Tourists are not recommended to spend time in these parts of the country so it is unlikely that you will encounter any armed robbery, but it is safest to travel in a group and always hand over your belongings straight away if you are threatened.
Unfortunately, sexual assault against foreign women does occur in Ecuador, particularly in the eastern city of Montañita. Women, in particular, should make sure that their accommodation is secure and be wary of travelling on their own, but all travellers should remain vigilant and take safety precautions against attacks from strangers.
Drugs are often used by criminals to confuse or subdue their victims, and variations of the drug scopolamine particularly are found in a lot of criminal attacks in Ecuador. Never accept food, drink, or even leaflets from strangers who approach you, and notify someone if you start to feel unwell and fear that you might have been drugged.
Although there is not a high risk of terrorism in Ecuador, the exclusion zone on the border of Colombia and the northern province of Esmeraldas have experienced several bomb explosions in recent years. Travellers are not allowed to enter this area unless for exceptional, essential travel however, so your risk is very low. Any terror attacks that do occur in Ecuador are likely to be the work of small, independent groups that may have come from or been influenced by the activity in the neighbouring countries of Peru and Columbia.
Despite some period of political unrest, Ecuador is considered to be a relatively peaceful country in comparison to other areas of South America, although there is always a small risk of sudden change. It is advised however that you stay away from any political protest or event that may happen in the country, as these are likely to have a higher risk of danger.
There is currently an increased threat of terror attacks against UK citizens wherever you travel, although there is no greater risk of this when visiting Ecuador. Read up on government advice on how to protect yourself, and stay vigilant at all times whilst travelling.
Family Travel Safety
Culture in Ecuador is centred around families, which makes it an excellent place to bring children for a holiday. From the long, sandy beaches to the thrilling Galápagos Islands, the country presents a whole new world of sights and experiences that guarantee a thrilling holiday.
Adventurous children will love visiting Ecuador, with its exciting landscape and plethora of different outdoor activities. The country is best suited to children who can join in with activities such as hiking, cycling and swimming, as these are some of the best ways to explore the different parts of Ecuador.
Ecuador’s position on the equator, and the altitude of some parts of the country, mean that everyone is more at risk of getting sunburn or heatstroke, so make sure to pack adequate sun protection for every member of your family. You should also make sure that all children are up to date on routine vaccinations before travelling.
Some areas of the country are less safe than others, and if you are travelling with children it is advised to stick to the large and busy areas of Ecuador, where serious crime is less likely. Make sure your children do not wander off by themselves and know what to do in an emergency, to ensure that your trip is safe and relaxing for everyone.
Female Travel Safety
Ecuador is no more dangerous for female travellers than most other countries, but women who are travelling alone should take the same safety precautions as they would whilst anywhere else. Unfortunately, women on their own are more at risk of becoming victims of crime or sexual assault, and you should try and stay in a group of people you know as much as possible, to avoid being targeted.
Solo female travellers should travel around the country using private transportation; ordering taxis from reputable companies and never just hailing one from the street. Avoid driving in a car on your own as women tend to be targeted by smash-and-grab thieves if they are thought to be alone in a car.
Any women, alone or with friends, may encounter some level of catcalling when out and about in Ecuador, because of the country’s culture and attitude towards masculinity. The best advice if you encounter some form of minor sexual harassment is to just try and ignore it, and move away from those who are trying to get your attention.
As with any country, women should keep hold of their drinks when out in the evenings, and the use of a drug called scopolamine is commonly used to spike drinks in Ecuador to subdue victims of assault. Stay in a group when moving around at night, and always stick to busy and well-lit areas when you are meeting or talking to somebody new.
Rural areas or towns such as Guayaquil and Quito or more likely to be unsafe for women, and if you are coming to Ecuador on your own and want to explore areas like the Amazon or the Galápagos Islands, it is recommended that you join a group tour.
Tips for Staying Safe in Ecuador
Do Your Research
The best way to stay safe whilst travelling to any new country is to make yourself aware of the potential risks you may encounter so that you can avoid them and know how to keep yourself safe. Most of Ecuador’s safety issues can easily be dealt with if you know what to expect and remember to keep an eye out for any potentially dangerous situations as you travel.
Use Common Sense
Following safety guidelines, remaining alert and being sensible are some of the best ways to stay safe whilst travelling in Ecuador, and should ensure that you have an enjoyable and hassle-free experience of the country. The majority of tourists do not have any problems during their stay, and using your common sense will get you a long way when it comes down to making safe and responsible decisions.
Buy the Right Insurance
Ecuador is generally a safe country, but it is wise to purchase travel insurance before your trip in case anything does go wrong. Health issues, theft, weather or politics can affect a holiday to any country, and it is always reassuring to know that you have insurance in the case of any sudden changes.
Travel insurance should always be chosen carefully, as different people need cover for different things, and it is important to check that you are protected for whatever your holiday involves. If you do decide to travel to Ecuador, choosing comprehensive insurance from Navigator Travel Insurance will ensure that you are covered in the event of an accident or mishap during your trip.