Big Bad Quito

“You’ll get robbed” they said.
“Quito is a hell hole full of mugs, low life’s and degenerates.”
“You’ll be lucky to leave with both kidneys intact, let alone your laptop.”

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Quito, and it’s generally not pleasant. ‘The most dangerous place in South America’ had been bandied about while I was in Ecuador, and based on what I had heard, I was pleasantly surprised to get out alive.

I was working at a hostel in Quito last year, and it seemed that every second day a backpacker would return distressed after being mugged while sightseeing. Laptops, iPhones and Cameras were the most thieved items, but it wasn’t unheard of for someone to be held up for their money or passport.

What did most of those victims have in common? They flouted their (comparative) wealth; Camera’s dangling around their necks; they wore expensive jewellery and designer clothes; they explored unsafe areas by themselves (despite being warned not to). They didn’t use common sense.

There’s a fair chance we’ll all run into a bit of strife on the road. You can be the most cautious traveller, but if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, or just dead out of luck, even the most fastidious of us can get caught out. But it was astounding the amount of backpackers that were bewildered about their mugging after so blatantly advertising their wealth.

Let’s face it – quite a few Ecuadorian’s are considered ‘poor’ by western standards. In fact 35% of the 14,791,000 people in Ecuador live below the poverty line. That’s over 5 million people. So yeah, sometimes people will try to mug you, but that’s going to happen in many developing countries.

It’s frustrating when a country is written off because of someone’s bad experience being on the ugly side of a mugging. Bad news travels a lot faster than good news, and while you would hope people take many factors into consideration when deciding where to visit, word of mouth can be a massive persuasion. It would be a shame for travellers to miss out Quito due to the bad experiences of others.

I found Ecuador to be once of the most fascinating countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. The locals I met where so welcoming and engaging, and it does seem a little bit forgotten when it comes to South America; Peru has Machu Picchu, Bolivia the Salar de Uyuni and death road, Columbia is the new ‘must visit’ destination and I don’t need to go into Brazils draw cards. But Ecuador has the goods; The Andean highlands and the Cotopaxi volcano; the beautiful spa’s of Baños, the vibrant university town of Cuenca and the chilled out Pacific coast beach towns like Montañita are all worthy of a spot on any itinerary, not to mention the Galapagos Islands. Also, don’t forget that you can stand right on the Mitad del Mundo (that’s the middle of the world… also known as the equator) -not an hours drive out of Quito (which itself is a vibrant bustling city full of history and culture). There’s so much going for Ecuador, it would be a shame to miss out, which is why I’ve put together the following tips for a visit to the capital of this underestimated country.

The standard traveller musts apply, but are worth mentioning again;

  • Leave the valuables and money you don’t need at your hostel. There’s probably a safe you can use, at the very least padlock your locker.
  • Know and avoid the most dangerous areas (In Quito these are; El Panecillo, and for that matter anywhere in the old town after dark, especially near the market).
  • Be alert, especially in crowded spaces or when people invade your personal space.
  • Dress inconspicuously so as not draw attention to yourself as a ‘gringo con dinero’. Leave the Ed Hardy shirts at home (if only to keep the respect of your fellow travellers).
  • Leave whatever money you don’t need back at the hostel, and split up into different pockets whatever you have on you.

What to do if you’ve been robbed in Quito

  • Head straight to for the estación de la policía . Explain to someone what happened and they’ll more than likely take you right to the station. You might be hard pressed getting the police to fill out a report but persevere, you’ll need it for your insurance.
  • I needn’t go into the necessity of having travel insurance. So assuming you already would have taken this out (which of course you would have) give them a call as soon as possible and let them know what’s happened. World Nomads has an online claim system, which means you don’t have to spend half an hour on Skype trying to get through to someone only to have the call drop out halfway through.
  • If you stay at a well-known and recommended hostel, like The Secret Garden in Quito, speak to one of the many Ecuadorian staff and they’ll be more than happy to help you out with getting in touch with your embassy or insurance. Tell you’re sob story to one of the foreign gringo volunteers and they might even poor you a cerveza gratis so you can down your sorrows.
  • Once you’ve reporting your loss to the police and contacted your insurance head for the black market (mercado negro) and see if you can spot your stolen goods. A guy from my hostel found his camera there, the thief forgot to take out the memory card so all his photos we’re still in the camera. He just showed the photos to the nearby Police officer, who allowed him to take the camera back and be on his merry way.

Above all, don’t freak out about a trip to Quito. It’s an amazing city full of history, lots to see and do, plenty to great clubs and bars, and full of friendly people. Just take care when out and about, don’t flash your iPhone about, and enjoy what this amazing city has to offer.

Follow Shane on Twitter or read more on his travels at sanchezjalapeno.com

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Comments

  1. Anil says:

    Quito does get a very bad rap – not showing off electronics or jewelry and avoiding certain parts of town (especially at night) can really help cut down on the risk. It’s such an amazing city, really I was quite impressed with it. Not going due to concerns over pickpockets and robbery would be a shame.

  2. charlie says:

    I spent two months living in Quito when I was 18 volunteer teaching in Lucha de Los pobres and had a 2hour commute everyone morning through Quito and the old town. I was pretty naive at the time – I was young – but I think as long as you respect where you are and are sensible… not obviously flashing cameras, money and stuff about when you’re on your own – then it’s ok. I had an amazing time in Quito and thought it was a brilliant and beautiful city I’d definitely recommend a visit. You could get mugged at home – obviously the chances are lower but if you think about the dangers of things too much you’ll never end up doing anything.

    • Shane Brown says:

      Thanks for your comment Charlie. I agree, it’s an amazing city and definitely worth a visit. Just, as always while travelling, have your wits about you and leave anything you can’t afford to loose locked up back at the hostel.

  3. Ron says:

    Crime is an industry in Ecuador. If you haven’t gotten mugged yet, please be patient, someone will attend to you soon. Take it from one who was recently “served”. Luckily, I didn’t get beaten, stabbed, or shot; it happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to resist and receive the full service package. Will I go back? NO! Why are you going there? DON’T!

    • LC says:

      Hace you been to NYC and bits subway? Have you been in Hialeah in Miami or in Lima, Peru? Let me tell you THAT is The real crime industry. If you git robbed in Quito you aré just too stupid to put yourself in danger, like every city in the world. If there would be a perfect city in the world you should live there, otherwise keep yourself at home to avoid any kind of crime.

    • mike says:

      in case you werent aware its not common at all that civillians will have guns unless stolen directly from the policia. let me elaborate that does not happen to often, if you have been ^served^ thats just unfortunate luck… my deal is, im american, i live in quito with my wife who is ecuatoriana, and since she is studying all day and all day im alone all the time… most common sense dictates, dont flash your cash. dont talk like your better then anyone else. have respect… and dont go into the south late at night… if you in plaza forch i have never had a serious problem there… there are a few drug dealers and crazy people. but thats why you stick to the main square… learn the culture a lil, a lil bit of the language, and learn how to speak with respect. people enjoy that. and i get charged regular ecuatoriano precios instead of gringo prices in taxis… as for the taxi aspect, they see gringos with a lot more money so they try to swindle a lil if they dont have a taxi meter then just dont take it. most of the time at night if your going out try to find out the prices for certain places, for example.
      condado shopping a plaza forch= 6 .50 maximo.
      catholica a el jardin= 1.43
      catholica a quicentro= 2.50 o 3 maximo
      aeropuerto a el jardin maximo 5
      el bosque a catholica, 2.50 o 3 maximo.
      for the people with the registered cabs (the number on the front windshield right hand side) it is mandatory they turn on the taxi meter, if you feel as thou your getting ripped off feel free to speak with a transito officer, the taxi guy will try to make a lil extra how ever if you work it right it wont be a long conversation, if anyone else has any questions ill do my best to answer with more detail…

  4. rebecca says:

    I do get your drift about not ruling out a place because of it’s bad rap. But would you ever go to Iraq? Iran? Yemen? Afghanistan? SERIOUSLY. I’m a solo female traveller looking into going to Quito. The US Department of State’s consular page for Ecuador has a crime section that is 8,327,473,218 pages long. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take.

    I don’t get why people pass judgement on others who DON’T want to travel to get mugged at gun-point, kidnapped, or raped.

    • Shane Brown says:

      Not passing judgement at all on other travellers that don’t want to travel to a place out of a security concern. That wouldn’t be fair.
      This post was just to help make people aware that Quito isn’t as bad as you might have heard and to give a few tips of what to expect.

    • stu says:

      The chances of it actually happening are very slim. Thailand is probably just as dangerous, but if you’re stupid, display wealth and go to dodgy parts of the town then your odds of being robbed increase significantly. You shouldn’t avoid a country just because some other travellers have been robbed.

  5. Bernie Arias says:

    here’s the thing.. there’s a “news boom” about crime in ecuador, which is high compared to the country’s past history. however this is still way below latin american standarts..

    like mexico, for example.. millions of americans visit this country every year. now crime in mexico is HORRIBLE, but travelers still go there..
    and none of them are stupid enough to go to the dangerous areas.. !

    few points

    - don’t show off.. not only will you get robbed bocause you got good stuff but because the thieves will know that if you’re stupid enough to go around showing off you’re an easy target. let’s just say this..

    -in quito, if you’re going around with your camera iphone laptop and loaded wallet, you are screaming “I WANT TO GET ROBBED”

    -thieves in Quito won’t stab or shoot you. they just want your camera, so unless you’re a trully big problem, they wont hurt you (maybe if they’re colombian)

    and finally Quito is just one of the most wonderful cities in latin america, it’s colonial and modern, it’s big and small

    and believe it or not, it’s way safer then all other big cities in the region like Sao Paulo, Rio, Mexico DF, Caracas Bogota Lima or even Buenos Aires.

  6. Harriieee says:

    I was in Quito for five months last year. The only time I got mugged was outside a house party, when myself and a friend were sitting in the street at 3am, with no-one around, in Gran Colombia – a notoriously dangerous area. If you are sensible, stay alert and know where and where not to go, the overwhelming likelihood is that nothing bad will happen to you in Quito.

    To illustrate how low the odds are, towards the end of my time there, I used to walk around, on my own…. not quite anywhere in the city, but without fretting which barrio I was wandering into, as well as walking out of town and into small settlements on the slopes of Pichincha. I couldn’t stick out much more, I look Scandinavian, though I may be helped by the fact that I’m 5’10 and muscular, and a man. But in all my time round the city, both in groups and alone, I rarely ever even felt threatened. People saying that Quito is one of the most dangerous South American cities can’t have much experience of it – while petty tourist crime is probably high, from a safety point of view I’d far rather be on the streets of Quito, day or night, than the vast majority of other South American cities I’ve visited.

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  9. Leonard Ledoux says:

    I don’t know that much about Quito, more familiar with Guayaquil and Cuenca. I’ve never had a problem with mugging and really no problem with “crime” outside of the propensity of Ecuadorians to steal. In fact the two predominant characteristics of Ecuadorians are 1) Lying, 2) Stealing. These are followed closely by 3) Rude, 4) Inconsiderate. The sanctity of life in Ecuador holds a very low value if considered at all. They are a backward, uneducated, lazy group of morons. Think of the dumbest Mexican you have ever encountered and he is a rocket scientist compared to the majority of Ecuadorians. This intelligence is pervasive throughout society. From customer service, to product preparation it seems the challenge is to find the dumbest, worst way to do anything and then perfect that effort. There are only three reasons to live in Cuenca, Ecuador. Climate, climate, climate. Beyond that you just grin and bear it. If you can’t handle reducing your brain to a pile of mashed potatoes, you probably won’t like it here.

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  11. John says:

    What a terrible advertisement for such a beautiful city. Not a quite city that is for sure. After living 20 years there, 5 years in New York City and 15 years in Charlotte NC I can say Quito is not what this article is describing AT ALL! This is a third world country capital with a lot of dysfunctions I have to admit, but now in days what city is safe after dark? very few. The way the author express his toughs about Quito are too rough. Thinking in going backpacking? anywhere you go. backpacking will be the most dangerous thing to do. Having no one to rely on and or guide you, is bad decision. My first time in NY I got robbed in the JFK airport, It could happen to anyone, anywhere. Quito had changed a lot during the last 15 years, getting safer and more touristic than ever. Actually I take my family there at least once a year and I am setting up a small tourist business, bringing small groups there, yes Quito. Need more info about this city, go to official sites or consult to travel agencies and travel specialist. In other words, Quito is not what this web article describe.

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