Crack addicted gangsters want it all
I have my fair share of experience with Latin American violence, having lived as a gringo in some of the most dangerous places like Caracas, Venezuela and San Pedro Soula, Hondouras. I wear a suit to work most of the time and don't like to sit in taxis, Inching through traffic when I could be enjoying an nice walk. Basically I don't usually take any precautions in Quito unless I'm with someone who isn't comfortable being a target. I even carry my iPad, sometimes using it as I walk.
The problem in Quito is that a bunch of poor losers from bad parts of the city get together and act together in muggings and other thievery schemes. I found that crime was not very sophisticated here and criminals rarely acted alone. Unfortunately, residents blame all of the crime on the friendly Colombians.
My one and only experience:
Of all the times I have ever been mugged, the attackers in Quito literally made me start laughing until one bigger guy approached with a knife to my throat. I handed over a few fives and he walked off. Then the other small, malnourished idiot wouldn't leave me alone until I started kicking him. I took off one of his shoes after I told him to tell his sister thanks for letting me put it in her behind. He could hardly breathe and was having trouble standing up and I spat a big wad so snot on his sweater. I cussed a bunch and threw the shoe over a wall and then finally jogged away. I quickly flagged down the first cab I could find. I got away with a hand full of twenties and my favorite debit card. Yea...I'm a dumb ***.
Nonetheless, I never got the flight or fight response that I usually do and the attackers didn't give me an unpredictable vibe. I'm happy to say that I didn't get beaten to a pulp (or murdered), and now realize how stupid I was not to start sprinting from the beginning. I also should have been more cooperative and shouldn't have resisted. For all I know it could have turned very ugly, but it was was a cakewalk.
Bottom line, Quito deserves it's reputation for being the "but hole" of South America. I have heard so many ridiculous stories, usually involving a group of poor hicks willing to make fools out of them selves as they pester unfortunate tourists. The ratio of robberies to visitors here is the highest Ive seen; however, you won't find the roghten sentiment that Peruvians or Bolivians can give to foreigners, especially capitalist Americans like myself. I do still love it here, mostly for the blackberry juice and all of the amazing kinds of soup they eat.
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Quito is safe, when you are not a typical tourist
i was in quito for 3 months and i really had a great time. i experienced 2 or 3 unsafe situations but never ever anything bad happened. i think i know why! first of all i am not a typical tourist. i saw a lot of foreign people in quito and i realized that most of them have a strange style. they even would look strange with their outfits in their own country. i would advise you to just dress normaly and you should not think you are a revolutionary kid on a "making the world better" trip.people in ecuador have their own problems, they dont care about hippy stuff. im saying that because i got the impression that most young tourists see ecuador as a place to satisfy their "green peace" needs. that people have a special style that makes them a good target or even victoms. so my advise is that you better stay close to reality and keep your normal style. just dont look like a typical tourist or hippy foreigner.
another point is that you should walk around with confidence. dont play the hero but just dont look like you are a easy target.
some things are not changeable, do not go to the south of the city, there its very dangerous especialy after 6 pm. and if u go home walking, never use empty streets. keep close to the mainstreets or just take a taxi, its very cheap (if u dont get tricked) and if u take a taxi then be sure that its and official yellow taxi.
keep wide awake and stay cool. i walked around with a chain on my neck and a smartphone. i never got robbed because i just didnt look like a target. but its better to hide your cellphones and chains because there could always be someone who doesnt care about anything. use your master cards to get money from the bank mashines. its the best way not to carry much money wih you.
Careful on the Trolebus in Quito
Spent a month in Quito and had a great time. Used the Trolebus daily which is a great way to get around the city for only 25 cents. Only incident was last Saturday in the late morning which is the busiest time of the week. My wife and I made the mistake of standing by the door of the bus which is the "squeeze zone" of more people getting on the bus than it can hold. A woman in her 20s and a man boarded with a large group of people. It was a sardines squeeze situation. The woman was leaning into my wife in a way she detected as being unusual. My wife moved away from her several times. The woman would wiggle towards her anyway. When we departed the bus at Plaza Independence we noticed that my wife's purse had been cut. The cash and cell phone were still there but it was a good lesson. We finally determined that it was a man/woman pair targeting my wife's purse. One will cut and another will try to go through the hole after your purses contents. Don't stand near the doors of the Trolebus. Stand in the back of the bus or the front near the driver. Pick pockets tend to stay near the door for a quick getaway. Also, wear a loose jacket over your purse so it can't be seen as a target. With these precautions, the Trolebus is still a good way to get around Quito. We also had good experiences with taxis in Quito. We would insist the meter be used or get out of the cab. Its easy to flag down another if the driver refuses to use the meter.
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I have lived 6 months in Quito to fulfill my placement, and travelled around the country in my weekends and free time. I loved my stay, Quito and Ecuador! Nothing dangereous has ever happened to me in Ecuador. Although I would say that you have to be careful at all times.
- Never take your real passport to any place, you only need to have a passport copy with you at all times.
- Always hide your money, preferably in some kind of moneybelt or when you -like me- don't have this, in your underwear. Same for your debit card, and only take your debit card with you when you really need to.
- Always take a regristered legal yellow cab with a number on the car windshield. It is also recommended to text, or pretend to text this number, to a friend. Or calling someone when you enter the cab.
- During the day it is quite possible to walk around Quito, although it is just best to stay on/close to main roads and streets where many people are, or go with someone else when you go slightly off the beaten track. And don't take valuables with you! Just at all times, don't go into slightly more distant neighborhoods. Especially everything South of/and even around the Historical Center is considered as dangerous.
- Mariscal and La Ronda are both very fun places for going out! Just be responsible and watch out. Use common sense: Don't accept any drinks for people you don't know, don't walk around showing your valuables, and just don't get too wasted.(Unless you are in good company and someone takes care of you)
- Never walk alone at dark. Special note to the Carolina Park : Also Ecuadorians do not walk through this park (alone) at dark.
- I would also recommend to not get tipsy or drunk when you need to go home alone, even not by cab.
- Guard your bag with your life whenever you enter any Ecovía metrobus/trolly or other bus, everyone is a target for theft. Keep it always in the front (also Ecuadorians do this), often bags are being cut open. Keep your money/debitcard, whatever is very valuable, in your moneybelt or underwear.
- For other busses to further destinations: Never put your bag with valuables under or above your seat. Keep most important belongings on you, and keep your bag between/around your legs or at least in front of you.
Special warning for Acatames, beachtown in the province of Esmeraldas (north coast of Ecuador). It is a nice town to visit and personally I think you should defenitely go, however we have been warned by local people for dangers. Stay at the very beachfront where many people are, and near streets of the hotels/the village "center" streets.
Camera taken from my hands by a thief
Like in other big cities around the world you should use common sense when visiting Quito. Muggings and pick pocketing do occur. I have done quite a lot of walking around in Quito, but only during daytime. In the evening I stay at a few well lit streets where there are other people too. Even during daytime there are certain areas where you should not walk alone. One place tourists are warned to walk to is El Panecillo, as many muggings have been reported along the stairs from Centro Histórico up to the statue La Virgen de Quito.
The first day in Quito during my visit in 2012 I ended up on Plaza Santa Clara (which is a quite new square). It was very quiet and not many people around. I had a quick look around before taking up the camera to take a photo. I decided to take another photo a few metres away and when I did someone silently came running from behind and grabbed the camera out of my hand. I had heard about this happening to other people but it took a few seconds before I understood what had happened. Then I ran after the thief. He looked around and seemed surprised that I ran after him. When he came to the corner of the square he stopped. I don’t know if it was because I caught up on him or if he saw some police further on (I didn’t see anyone). Anyway I took the camera back and went back to take the photo I had intended to take.
When I ran after the thief I was just thinking of my camera, that I needed it for my holiday. Afterwards I thought that he could have run off to a narrow empty streets were his friends could have waited to rob me of my money too. Well, that didn’t happen.
Quito: High Alert
I would agree with the comments of many of the other travelers that Quito is a very dangerous city. Just about everyone I know who has visited Quito, myself included, has been the victim of a crime here, several on multiple occasions. From what I gather, many Ecuadoreans feel very unsafe in Quito. Most travel in groups. Many refuse to take any form of public transport and some are reluctant to walk the streets at all, even during the daytime.
This is my third trip to Ecuador and by far the longest in duration - I have been here now for almost 5 months. My first two trips, each lasting a few weeks, ended without any sort of incident. However, in the past three weeks, I think I may have been unwittingly drugged on two occasions. A couple of my Spanish language teachers had warned me about a drug that is blown into people's faces while walking the streets or put in their food or drinks, rendering them helpless, although still conscious. The drug is called scopolamine, or "devils breath" and, from what I am able to gather on the internet, is native to Colombia.
In any event, in the first instance, a few weeks ago, I was at a dance club in the Mariscal district in Quito - before midnight. I was dancing when suddenly I could not move my legs, even though I could still move other parts of my body. I knew something was seriously wrong but I could not do anything. To the best of my knowledge the sensation lasted a minute or more. I thought I might be having a stroke. Once I regained control of my legs, I quickly exited the club and took a taxi home. There was no opportunity that I know of for anyone to have slipped anything into my drink.
The second time was a few days ago and also happened shortly before midnight and also in the Mariscal. I had been in a club and had walked out to the street and hailed a cab to my apartment. I remember the cab driver kept staring at me in the rear view mirror. I also remember paying the driver $4.00 for the 5 minute cab ride. I was able to enter my apartment. The next several hours are a blur. I woke up the following morning and saw that during the night I had written all sorts of numbers on a piece of paper. Again, I took every precaution to prevent anyone from slipping anything into my drink. However, apparently scopolamine, at least, can be administered in a variety of ways, all unbeknownst to the victim.
While these incidents have been enough for me to want to consider leaving Ecuador, or at least Quito, permanently, I have also been the victim in two pickpocketing incidences in Quito. The first time I was in a crowd and felt a hand in my back pocket and I turned quickly. The second time, I was on a public transport and a man tried to empty the pockets of my knapsack just as I was exiting the trolley. Fortunately, in both attempts, the pickpockets did not get anything of value.
I have traveled all over the country and do not feel unsafe in Cuenca, Ibarra, Riobamba or most areas of the coast (with the exception of Guayaquil). However, in Quito, I have been, and will continue to be, on high alert. I feel tense and very uncomfortable.
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Be ready to be robbed. Expect it!
I'm your standard white guy--one couldn't look more American than me.
I lived in Quito for a year as a student, and I've seen everything. I traveled everywhere. I'm super vigilant, take great caution, and I made every attempt to not look like a guy you'd want to mess with.
Still, I was almost robbed a variety of times.
My friends however--wholy lord. Every week was a new story. I saw people getting mugged all the time. If you are in the Mariscal district, which is a really nice little area--outdoorsy with great places to eat---and you step outside even slightly, the zone where people heavily travel: you WILL be mugged. I'm talking 100% chance.
The guys with their trenchcoats will literally sit at the edge of the zone and wait for someone--you can look into those areas and you'll see them waiting for you. The public parks? Lord--don't ever go there near sunset. You, again, can see them hiding behind trees.
I took several hundred taxis over my time: (probably 500?) I never had a problem. Not to say you won't. I made sure I talked to each one, that I was friendly and conversational. If you get a ghetto taxi--it's your butt on the line.
Here's the thing: if you look REMOTELY vulnerable., you will be prey. If you are female, if you are old, and if you are alone. Stay very very alert to people following you.
One of my secrets--and I was followed a dozen times by shady people, is to walk really fast. Seriously---you're not going to get mugged by someone who can't keep up with you. It's true!
The daytime is safe almost everywhere. The night time is not, anywhere.
I traveled all over Ecuador--the most dangerous part by far, was Quito. All the thugs from the south come up to the north to rob people.
The good news---is that you will rarely be injured, stabbed, or shot. That was almost unheard of--in fact, I never once heard about someone getting stabbed. Several people got beat up, others threatened with guns (very few)---but TONS were stuck up at knife-point and told to provide their money. And then they run away.
The good news--they're not crack heads. They're just poor. They want your stuff, and then you're on your way.
The dean of the college I went to said "this year, 75% of you will be held up". Nice arrival message right? hah---well, it was true.
If you're a guy, and you're not a wussy guy--and if you don't know what I mean by that, then you're prolly a wussy guy, --then you won't have issues provided you stay alert.
Anyway! Ecuador is amazing and beautiful--don't let Quito cloud your judgement about the entire place :)
How safe is Quito?
Before we came to Quito I had read plenty of warnings about crime levels in the city, the need to be vigilant and guard your belongings, and so on. On our first day here I was super-careful – looking round each time I stopped to take a photo and eyeing passers-by with suspicion. After a while, though, I started to relax. We had not (and never did) encounter any problems, had never felt threatened or unsafe. I came to realise that these days Quito is probably no less safe, nor safer, than many other large cities. The city authorities have made huge efforts to reduce crime on the streets, especially in the colonial area, where you will see tourist police on almost every corner. Of course, you must be sensible. I continued to keep half an eye open for possible trouble, just as I would at home in London. I made sure to close my bag properly, not to carry all my money out with me, and not to wear ostentatious jewellery (not that I have a lot of this!) We didn’t go to any area that we had been warned to avoid (for instance, it isn’t recommended for tourists to walk through the area on the slope of El Panecillo ), and we avoided totally deserted streets on the whole. And as I said, we had no problems at all.
Maybe we were just lucky, maybe we are more streetwise than some other travellers who have run into difficulties here (as we do live in a large city) or maybe Quito isn’t as unsafe as it is sometimes said to be. Whatever the reason, please don’t let such warnings deter you from visiting this lovely city!
Next tip: a look at the unpredictable weather in Quito
Taxis in Ecuador
Taxis can be dangerous in Ecuador. Guayaquil has the worst reputation. My dentist was kidnapped there. I don't know how much they got, but he closed his practice there and moved to Cuenca. I know of a tourist who landed in Cuenca, was immediately robbed in a taxi there. When he flew to Quito, he was robbed in his first taxi there, too. Danger levels go: Guayaquil/Quito/Cuenca.
An Arab working in Quito, dressed in suit and tie, was believed likely to have been picked up by a taxi when his body was found by the side of the road. Dead. Strangled with his tie.
Anyone staying at a hostel will not avoid stories of fellow travelers being robbed. I've heard stories of everything being stolen from petty cash to ipods, cameras and computers–and hiking boots. (The last, likely from a fellow traveler.) It no longer surprises me to hear stories of multiple street thefts of travelers who spend any length of time here. You can hear as many stories from locals being robbed. Thieves are non-discriminatory.
For comic relief, I tell my story of being on an inter-provincial bus, being distracted for a moment, one of my bags lifted off the seat, rifled through and returned. I noticed the bag had been opened. When I saw my cell phone missing, I stood up and turned to the seat behind me. Without time to say anything, the man behind me reached up, handing my phone back to me. I sat back down. No case. Damn! I looked under the seat, seeing it under his. Stood up again and pointed under his seat. He reached under and handed it back. I sat down again. No doubt they will be more careful next time.
If safety is a strong priority for visiting Ecuador for you, about the only way to avoid much of this is to stay at hotels where you have arranged taxis for transportation any place you go, to and from, and go only on "gringo" supported tours in private transportation. This advice applies particularly during the evening hours in the metropolitan areas. Especially, La Mariscal, where it is not uncommon to see photos posted on light poles of people missing. Surprisingly, all of these photos have been of locals.
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Thefts in Quito and on buses
It's been about a year since any updates on the thefts issue in Quito and on buses. You should be aware of how dangerous Quito is, particularly La Mariscal. And this extends to Ecuador in general. Things have not changed. I live in La Mariscal. I've been robbed. Friends have been robbed. One Ecuadorian friend and her gringo friend were kidnapped and robbed from a taxi. I've seen several postings on telephone poles of people kidnapped and missing. When people here tell their stories of theft, most people will respond saying how lucky you've been if you weren't injured or killed. "It could have been much worse. You were lucky," commonly concludes the discussion.
If you want an idea of how ridiculous locals see the situation, one of my friends lives in a small community not far from Quito. He claimed he had never been robbed, but he follows that telling the story of coming home, his house being broken into, and shot at by the thieves. But no, he wasn't robbed.
The odds of getting assistance from security police is laughable. (I was robbed with two security guards not more than 40 feet away. They did nothing.) You will see police standing in groups of 4 or 5. Not doing anything more than standing and watching. One recent Sunday, in Plaza Foch, the center of La Mariscal, I counted fifteen, 5 on 3 corners of the intersection. Are they too afraid to leave each other's side?
The crime here is so bad, the government has a policy where they will not prosecute thefts of less than $600. Well, who walks around with $600? What message does that send to street thieves? In one of my recent experiences, a small bag was gone through on an inter-province bus, no money in it. When I checked my bag and my phone was missing, I just stood up and turned to the seat behind me. The man was already reaching up to give me my phone back.
One final note, while tourist are easily targeted, I have lived in Ecuador for 2.5 years. The stories I've referred to are of gringos who have lived here for up to 25 years. The Ecuadorian friend, kidnapped, was in her 50s. She will no longer ride taxis unless she personally knows the driver.
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You WILL get robbed
Having traveled extensively through Central and South America, here is my summation of Quito:
In many Latin American cities, including busy capitals, it is POSSIBLE that you CAN get robbed. In Quito, it is PROBABLE that you WILL be robbed, within your first three days.
I am by no means a naive or inexperienced traveler and I understand there is danger all over the world, but Quito is the capital of robbery scams and teams working together. It will happen THAT fast no matter how careful you are and I guarantee if you ask 6 people who have been to Quito, 5 of them would have first hand accounts of theft. Not rumors or hearsay, but first hand experience.
This post is not mean to incite fear, but to call for action. As a tourist, your most powerful tool is to decide where you spend your money. In my opinion, there is nothing worth seeing enough in Quito to risk the 99 percent chance of being robbed. The only way to voice your need for security is to stop spending money in places that don't take safety seriously.
I have been in many big cities all over the world and have never felt as constantly paranoid about being robbed, and I have been robbed in Quito despite all the warnings and despite taking every precaution. The thieves here are good. A minor bump, a small distraction and it's all gone. You live like a caged bird as it is unsafe to take your laptop, phone, camera outside----not even to walk from your hotel to a coffee shop.
Go spend your money elsewhere and maybe the drain of tourism dollars will eventually hurt enough for people to do something about the theft problem here.
Crime and robberies have increased so much on this city that it's impossible to even walk peacefully without constantly keeping an eye on every single thing around you, especially in the Mariscal area. This is one of Quito's most dangerous districts.
Try to avoid this area, if you ever visit Quito!
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Moment of Truth
What really made my day was a tragedy with a comical tint to it. While staying at the favourite cafe at the” foothills” of the monstrous convent, suddenly a crowd gathered at an ambulance and police vehicle right in the middle of the square. Than Franciscan friars pulled mobile phones and started talking in grave terms to somebody. More and more indigenous people surrounded the police and even the shawl sellers took a break from selling their product to the weary customers of the cafe. Eventually, the truth leaked through the crowd to reveal that a man had died of heart condition during mass in the convent. Then everything came into place – the police and doctors were helpless in preventing the poor soul from leaving its earthly dwelling and they rushed to the local clergymen and their representative to the Holy See for help. So, the friar picked up the phone and phoned GOD straight, probably asking what he has done to deserve such a punishment. After all, it is more than discouraging to be praying to a deity that not only does not listen but even allows people to die in its presence. Disgusting! What is going to be the topic of the next sermon?
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Quito is at approx 2,800 meters, so if you are susceptible to altitude sickness, be sure to allow some extra time to adapt and take it very slowly at first. I was knocked out by it for two full days when we flew in from Lima (out of breathe just walking across the room), while my husband was fine and was able to go sightseeing. It doesn't help matters that it is a very hilly city and many hostels have stairs galore - we were on the 5th floor of course in our hostel and I nearly died from not being able to breathe.
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Demonstrations and Protests
After the election of Rafael Correa as President of the Republic in 2007, Ecuador’s politics took a sharp swerve to the left, as the country realigned itself with ALBA (Alianza bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América) and the régime of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. This was a bit of a divisive move on the part of the President, and opinions of the country’s direction can sometimes be rather strong. I came across this “spontaneous” demonstration in Plaza de la Independencia in the centre of the city, right after the end of an official display, in which women sang and chanted that “Revolution was not only permitted, but obligatory”. Political graffiti and demonstrations are not uncommon in the city and in the country, and it would be a good idea to keep aware of the situation, lest you get caught in a display of a bit too much local colour.
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