By following these suggestions, I’ve been able to avoid being victimized by criminals here in Ecuador.
1. Hire a secure taxi
I always hire a secure taxi to take me to places I need to go. If I do need to go to a friends home for a dinner party after dark, I hire a taxi driver or company I already know to take me there. Or I call a radio taxi company. I have been advised due to some kidnapping issues with other tourists in places like Quito and Guayaquil to avoid hailing a random taxi on the street. In cities, it’s better to go to a hotel where they will call a cab for you.
Be sure to check the cab that it has the official name plate where you can see it of the taxi driver’s name and official taxi number. I always make a note of the taxi number. The one time I didn’t memorize the taxi number, I left my glasses by accident in the seat. There was no way for me to get them back. Very expensive mistake.
2. Avoid walking the streets at night. Period.
I also don’t ever take public buses after dark.
3. Never use ATMs located on the street.
It’s safer I was told to use banks and ATMs located in malls or shopping centers, although in most of those they have a $100.00 cash limit for withdrawals and charge you an additional $3.00 to take the money out. At Banco Pinchincha, there are no fees and you can withdraw up to $500.00 a day.
But even so, I was told if I ever take money out from a mall ATM, to go have a cup of coffee afterward and wander in and out of a few stores just to be sure no one is following me.
4. Never wear expensive jewelry in public.
This way you avoid drawing attention to yourself and avoid being easy targets for criminals. The only people I have met here on The Coast who have been robbed are people who flaunted their expensive jewelry by wearing it outside. One of them had a necklace ripped off his neck as he was walking and then later he and his wife’s home was robbed. People most likely followed them and found out where they lived and assumed that there was more gold where that necklace came from. Pick pockets are everywhere.
5. Never carry large amounts of cash or your important documents where they are visible.
I bought a small zip up pouch that I carry in my zip up pocket in my shorts or skirt. Whenever I have to take my passport or other national ID documents such as my Cedula card somewhere such as when I was opening a bank account, I carried it in a hidden wallet strapped to my stomach. Some people might think that is a bit of overkill but the amount of time and effort to replace those documents far outweighs a bit of precaution.
People who are long time residents in Ecuador and even the U.S. Embassy advises visitors to carry copies of their passports and to store the originals in a safe place. This is a great idea. In Ecuador, you must have some sort of official ID on you at all times. Once you gain Permanent Residency, you can leave your passport in a safe place at home.
6. Stay aware at all times when in public.
I always try to be aware of the people around me. I especially try to stay aware of anyone who looks suspicious and who may be following me. I have always made this a practice, in other countries besides Ecuador and also even in the USA.
I took some government training for self defense a few years back and they told me that criminals always look for people who are distracted such as people walking on the street while also talking on their cell phones. My trainer and I even walked together on the streets of Seattle and got within an inch of a person talking on their phones before they even noticed us. So stay aware at all times.
7. Don’t use expensive electronics in public places.
When I first got here, it was advised many times that I not call attention to myself by using an iPhone or my iPad or my computer in public places. So I bought. an inexpensive cell phone that did not attract attention and now I hardly ever use my iPad to read in public unless I know it is going to be an extremely long wait somewhere inside a building. I always make sure I put my iPad back inside my backpack before I leave the building and I never use my iPad while riding on the public bus.
People have told me about getting their cell phones picked up right off their table during dinner in a public restaurant. So I only take out my phone when I have to actually use it and then I zip it back into my pocket.
8. Don’t fall for it.
I am always cordial but cautious if someone approaches me inside a store or on the street. Often people will stop and ask for directions or pay a pretty lady a compliment or to borrow a pen. I’ve been warned many times that thieves often work in teams and try to distract an unsuspecting person while their accomplice approaches to grab valuables.
As a result, I try to be polite but always be aware of where I have a hold my purse. In fact, I’ve stopped even using a purse now when I go outside unless I have to go to the airport.
9. Rent in a secure building.
I chose to live in a condo with people living downstairs on the ground floor who watch the building and monitor anyone who comes in or out of the building. If I have a visitor, they accompany the visitor to my door to be sure it is someone I know and have invited to my home. I have a bother friend in Cumbaya, just outside of Quito who was robbed at gunpoint after thieves jumped the wall into her yard. Since then, she and her husband have added additional security measures to her home of several wires high of an electric fence which is on 24/7.
Living on a well lit street and getting to know my neighbors is also good in case of an emergency. Many people here have large, barking dogs. This also seems like a very good way to get the attention of a potential burglar. But I have heard stores that burglars have no qualms about poisoning the dogs before coming into a person’s home.
10. Learn Spanish!
Native Ecuadorians are more than happy to give you a lesson on security and what you may be not thinking about. My first day in Quito, men sitting next to me at a table in a restaurant told me to keep my purse and camera more secure. Then when I thanked them, they quickly demonstrated with their own bags how easy it is for a their to come near the table, hook their shoe or heel on to a purse or camera shoulder strap and take off with your bag or camera before you have even know what happened. But they could never have explained this completely if I had not known what they were saying. So it really helps to know and also understand Spanish.
11. Develop friendships with native Ecuadorians.
If you plan on living in Ecuador for an extended period of time, it is a very good idea to do your very best to leave the “expat bubble” and try to cultivate friendships with natives in Ecuador. I have heard many expats say that they refuse to learn Spanish and that it’s not that important to learn Spanish.
But I tend to side with those who say that if you want to be more fully integrated into the community and also, as a side benefit, be able to keep up with current criminal trends, being able to read and speak Spanish proficiently is extremely important. Having friends here will also give you a sense of the traditions and foods here that you might not see in a local tourist restaurant.
I had the pleasure of being invited to a new Ecuadorian friend’s home to spend Christmas Eve with her family and friends. It was a one of a kind special memory I shall never forget.
There are criminals everywhere and wherever you choose to live in the world
So I think it’s important to remember that there are criminals regardless of where you choose to live, not just here in Ecuador. But it never hurts to be prepared and proactive, both here as well as anywhere else you may travel in the world.
I there any advice you would add to my 11 tips above from your own personal travel experiences? Please feel free to share here!
PS: Would you like more ACCURATE, AUTHENTIC and UP TO DATE INFORMATION about ECUADOR?
WORDS TO THRIVE BY FOR WORLD TRAVELERS: FOOTPRINTS IN ECUADOR by Mary Anne Dorward
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