If you are thinking of visiting Ecuador you probably already heard about the very frequent pickpocketing and mugging incidents. I am pleased to say that my stay in Ecuador proved to be trouble free in this regards - but obviously I took precautions, so I will share them.
- I put most of my money as well as passport and a visa in a leg pouch. It is pretty tough to get pickpocketed from a leg pouch.
- Never walked in the street at dark. Wondering in the streets at dark, even for a very short distance is asking for danger. Either avoid going out at night or else take a cab.
- Did not take any troles (trams). Trams are THE place to get pickpocketed from, take a bus or taxi instead
- Always be aware of your surroundings, walk confidently and don't stand out. It is not the point of not getting mugged/pickpocketed. It is the point to look less 'desirable' or 'stupid' than others. For heaven's sake don't walk with a camera around your neck or jewelry or totally engrossed in a conversation or window shopping! If you can wear your pack in front of you.
- Keep a decoy wallet. I always kept a decoy wallet quite accessible in my pack - with some $1 dollar bills and a couple of papers. The pickpockets will not have time to rummage in your pack so the first thing of value they will see they will probably take.
- In buses keep an eye on your luggage. If you have a day pack put it on your lap and not anywhere else.
- Don't be paranoid!! Just enjoy yourself and practice some common sense.
Unfortunately it is true that Ecuador is not really safe and it is true that muggings and pickpockets are frequent. Still it should not be a reason to deter you from visiting such a wonderful country. Just take it as extra colour and adventure ...
respect the altitude
Yes, Ecuador has all types of terrains and you could spend much of your trip at sea level if you so desire. You could even fly into Guayaquil and avoid high altitude altogether if that is your goal. But if you are flying into Quito you will have to deal with 2800 meters, over 10,000 feet and an altitude that many have never experienced. Take it easy the first few days and you should be fine. Sure, you’ll huff and puff a bit and no it’s not that the streets are THAT steep (though they are that too!). If you venture further into the Andes you’ll likely reach much greater heights and again have to acclimatize. In Cotopaxi National Park we were generally over 4000 meters and as you can see from D’s backpack, carrying everything we owned. Yes, I do love her and no she does not hate me now…though at the time she might have just a little until we saw Cotopaxi’s mirror in Laguna Limpiapunga and stared a herd of wild horses in the eyes.
Anyway, take your time, drink lots of water, and stop and take a deep breath every now and then.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Hiking and Walking
Ecuador is a small country but a very varied one. Its mainland is usually regarded as consisting of three very distinct regions – to the east the Amazon and surrounding rainforest, down the centre the highlands of the Andes, and to the west the coastal plain. Most of our time here was spent in the highlands, where many of the main draws for visitors are to be found – the capital Quito, the interesting indigenous villages, the mountain scenery of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, and beautiful colonial Cuenca. But if travelling in this region you need to be aware of the impact of altitude. Quito itself is at 2,800 metres, and that can be high enough to cause shortness of breath and making climbing its many hills a challenge (altitude sickness is generally thought to be possible anywhere above 2,400 metres). We found that we didn’t really notice the altitude here as much as we’d expected, except on the evening of the day we returned from the Galápagos Islands. But then, we didn’t try to do anything very strenuous!
But the higher altitude of the Cotopaxi National Park did trouble me a bit, making a slight headache into a pounding one, and the local remedy of coca tea, which we bought at a little café and gift-shop inside the park ($1.50 per cup) made no difference, unfortunately. I had expected to be OK after nearly a week in the country at this point, all of it spent in Quito or (higher) Papallacta, so the effect took me rather by surprise and somewhat spoiled what would have been a super day. There’s not much you can do to counter it though, so best to be prepared to have to suffer a little to get these magnificent views! And if you’re planning to hike here, do allow extra time to acclimatise and maybe not plan to do too much the first day. On our second day in this area, when we went nearly as high, I had no problems other than a slight breathlessness when climbing even a short flight of steps.
You also need to be aware of the signs of more serious altitude sickness such as fever, coughing, permanent shortness of breath (even when resting) and even loss of consciousness. Altitude sickness of this magnitude can lead to potentially fatal complications and the only cure is to descend, so if you should experience any of these symptoms don’t try to struggle through – just get down that mountain. No view, or sense of achievement, is worth dying for!
Next tip: the ever-present Ecuadorean road-works!Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
Buses are the main (if not the only one) way of transportation in Ecuador, except for a few expensive liaisons between the most important cities of the country.
The network is well done and works quite normally.
But it may hairraising to take the bus, especially in the Andes. And the only thing you may do (ask the bus rider to go slowly is totally useless) is... pray!
We saw a fair few sets of road-works in Ecuador, especially over the couple of days we spent in and around the Cotopaxi National Park and Quilotoa. According to Jose Luiz, the president of the country took a camping holiday in the former last year and was so horrified by the state of the main road into and through the park that he declared it should be tarred. The result being that what was a rough but perfectly passable gravel road is now (November 2012) in a total mess. But that was nothing compared with the road to Quilotoa. It seemed that every couple of miles along this road, part of it was being dug up. I’m sure it’s going to be lovely when it’s finished!
The worst road-works, or at least for anyone in a hurry, involved a narrow stretch of road on a tight bend on a steep hill. To widen the road they were using dynamite, which seems to be a popular “tool” here, and this involved closing the road totally (in both directions) for lengthy periods while they set off a blast and then cleared the resulting rubble. We were stuck in the waiting queue here twice, when passing through in both directions, too and from the lake. It’s a good job that we weren’t in too much of a hurry, and that we were able to use the time to enjoy the views of the surrounding countryside and the drama of a storm in the mountains.
Later in the trip we were in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island in the Galápagos, where the whole of the main street is being dug up for the laying of pipes and resurfacing. Fully half of its length was either holes or rubble, with narrow boards laid down for pedestrians and no vehicles permitted at all. And again, dynamite was the favoured tool, so there were periodic warnings, halting of pedestrians, and the boom of a blast before we could pass through. It seems that when Ecuador does road-works, it does them on a grand scale!
This is my final tip on Ecuador; please click here to return to my intro page.Related to:
- Road Trip
Just use common sense...
The story of my lost luggage triggered off a lot of different narrations from other travelers. Everybody had some bad experienced to tell. Some had been robbed of their bags during a bus ride others had lost things left in the room, and a little more... scary but very common, unfortunately, many had been robbed of their necklace, or cameras in the street while they were walking. They just snatch them from your neck as you are walking even during daylight, and even among thousands of other passers by. They are so quick and so bold that they give you no time to realize what has happened. Most victims seemed a little freaked out. But, I have a question to ask them. Why on earth do they come to such a poor country, with a notorious reputation of theft and robbery wearing this provocative gold chains around their neck?? I don't get it. People are so poor that they have no scruples about it. They take it as a perfectly justified reaction. Why do we have to torture them more or tempt them? What they do is absolutely wrong but is what we do right, after all?
But the worst is the kidnappings. There are notorious places in Quito, such as the climb to Panencito or to the closest volcano Pinchicha. Seven tourists were abducted and disappeared while I was in Quito. One was found dead...Take care my friends. Take a taxi to Panencito and avoid Pinchicha or I don't know what. I just didn't do it. There are more volcanoes to climb and they are all safe. Separate with your valuables on this trip. Don't wear shiny expensive things. Plaza de la Independencia and the busy streets in the historical center, such as Chile, Venezuela, Sucre, are all notorious for daylight attacks. Keep your cameras in a bag and take it out with caution when you need to shoot. If you take notice of someone following closely rush into a shop or cross the street immediately. Put your money in a hidden pouch and never take out a whole bunch of them. There are signs with these rules in many shops and public places in Quito!!! Even the locals stopped me in the street and warned me about my camera. And not only once. So be careful!!! Don't panic, just pretend you have nothing valuable to hide...
In the country side things are not so bad but it is not so safe,either. Take special care with your luggage when you are transporting on buses. Never leave it alone wihtout keeping one eye and ..both hands on it. But don't stop smiling to people because of that! Ecuadorians are very nice and helpful!Related to:
- Business Travel
- Family Travel
How do you feel about it? Losing your luggage upon arriving. Well, I'll tell you ..It's a bit of a shock. Especially because you can't buy all the things you need until your luggage is declared lost for ever. So you have to wait for 21 before you get compensated. The worst is that Avianca wouldn't pay me even then, using some unacceptable excuses, such as having lost a lot of luggage. Is this an excuse? On the contrary it shows how badly organised they are. And why didn't they do something about that? I have heard this unhappy incident is just very common with this company. A couple of weeks after my loss I saw it on the news...All the luggage of the flights from Madrid had been lost or found torn open and robbed!
Finally after too many calls and a lot of harassment from my side, and after I had found a nice lady working for them in another town who tried her best, did I get my money. It was 45 days later!
What can we do about it? Since Quito and Colombia are notorious for losing luggage, according to many local and foreign travelers I have spoken to, we should at least carry all our valuables in our day pack! And a change for the first nights!!(ha ha ha)
Between you and me, they gave me all the money I asked for, quite a reasonable sum of course, and they were all very polite. At least!
Avianca is a Colombian airline company operating in Quito, too, other parts of South America and Miami...Related to:
- Family Travel
- Business Travel
Seasickness on the Galapagos Islands
If you are going to the Galapagos and you have a tendency to seasickness/motion sickness, you probably will experience it especially if on a small boat (12-16 people). The ocean around the Galapagos can be quite rough especially if traveling for 2-3 hours. Dramamine has little effect on me so I definitely used the (Transderm-Scop) Scopalomine patches and used them several times. You need a Rx for this medicine.
Coming from Peru
by bus or plane:
Be sure You got rid of Your Coca leaves before entering Ecuador. They are legal in Peru (and are quite helpful against altitude sickness without having any drug-like effects) but illegal in Ecuador and a few hunderd meters behind the border police and/or military with dogs will check bags!
The demonstrations here usually involve burning tires and tying up traffic for some reason. One afternoon I saw the movie "Casino" in the theater, and then shaken from the violence that I had just seen on screen, I found myself in the middle of a violent demonstration against the removal of the government subsidy on natural gas (which had caused the price to soar and the quanity to diminish). Even young children were involved in the tire burning, forcing bus drivers to allow them to ciphon gas from their tanks to use as a fire accelerant. Scary stuff!
Sometimes, indigenous people will burn tires to block the main highways as a form of protest. This is not dangerous per se, but it can cause your trip to be delayed.
Slow and savor the oxygen
A lot of Ecuador is at a high elevation. Quito is close to 2800 m (~9000 ft), which is far above the elevation which most people are used to living. If you head to the highlands of Ecuador, even Quito, give yourself some time to adjust. Don't rush out to hike right away; you might find climbing stairs a bit winding. But don't worry, your body will adapt. In the meantime, go a little slower, and enjoy the scenery until you acclimate to the oxygen in the air. And have a great trip.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- Adventure Travel
Be Careful with the insects - Les insectes
They're everywhere and have very strange shapes...
Also, it would be wrong to say that, at 2500 meters above the sea level, they are no mosquitos or beetles...
Indeed, they are rare, but you can find some very interesting species, as the one I found, very late at night, on the wall of our bathroom (the body is about 10 centimeters large)...
Ils sont partout et ont des formes etranges. Et il serait faux de dire qu'il n'y en a pas en altitude !! Ils s'y font certes rares, mais l'on peut trouver des especes interessantes, comme celle qui se baladait sur le mur de notre salle de bain (le corps mesurait environ 10 centimetres de long)...Related to:
How to deal with the Banks (1) - Les Banques (1)
The first branch of the State is the Bank. When you know this, you better understand the external debt of the country ! Bankers tend to go away with the cash in their saves, put there by the State, public companies or honnest citizens. Here, the bankrupty law often works for the banks... And notwithstanding the fact that the State, taking some incredible economic decisions, may freeze the current accounts....
La succursale premiere de l'Etat, c'est la Banque. Et on comprend mieux pourquoi le pays est crible de dettes ! Les banquiers ont une facheuse tendance a se casser avec tout le fric que l'Etat, les societes publiques ou les braves citoyens ont bien voulu deposer au sein de leur futur-ex etablissement. Ici, les faillites de banques, c'est courant, sans compter que l'Etat, par des mesures economiques hallucinantes, peut forcer les banques a ne plus exercer leur metier aupres des petits particuliers, qui voient leurs avoirs geles pendant un an !!Related to:
How to deal with the Banks (2) - Les Banques (2)
Except from managing the museums, banks also receive the tax declarations and are the managers of the social security system. Each month, hundreds of women wait in front of the banks' offices, exchanging babies before entering the office and begging for the monthly ammount givent to unemployed women with children (about 10 to 12 USD a month). This is a real show, in which elderly people play also their part, coming for their retirement pension (15 USD a month !!). The queues are not prioritary and can last 8 days or so...
Hormis leur role de gestionnaire de musees, les banques recoivent aussi les declarations d'impots et gerent le systeme d'allocations sociales, et ceci, dans des conditions douteuses. Chaque debut de mois, des centaines de femmes se pretent leurs enfants (ou petits freres), avant de penetrer dans les banques, afin de faire valoir leur statut de mere inactive pour recuperer un pecule de 10 a 12 USD. Il faut voir ces files d'attentes spectaculaires, dans lesquelles on trouve egalement des personnes agees (pension de vieillesse : 15 USD par mois !), files d'attentes non prioritaires qui durent en moyenne 8 jours.
How to deal with the Banks (3) - Les Banques (3)
The tip is there, in this third part... If you see big queues in front of the banks' offices, do not hesitate to ignore them, if you want to withdraw cash money. Sometimes, these queues occure in front of the ATM... but, there is nothing to do but waiting, in this case !!
On doit donc passer devant ces files d'attente quand on vient juste retirer de l'argent. Parfois, ces files ont lieu devant les distributeurs (le montant etant directement credite sur les comptes) et la, c'est la meme galere !!
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