“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.