On 3 March, the Government of Ecuador imposed a 60-day State of Emergency in the province of Esmeraldas. This is in response to the high levels of crime and homicides. During the State of Emergency, the police and military have powers to:
- restrict freedom of movement and the right to assembly
- monitor correspondence and communications
- enter private properties to conduct searches
A daily curfew is in place between 9pm and 5am in Esmeraldas province. If you need to travel to or from an airport during the curfew times, you must have a copy of your flight details to show police if requested.
If you're in Esmeraldas province, follow the instructions of local authorities and monitor media for updates. Keep your passport with you at all times and let your family or friends know where you are.
Violent crime and theft are common. This includes:
Travellers have reported serious assaults and theft in Quito at:
- El Panecillo
- La Mariscal
- the old town
- southern Quito
Outside Quito, thieves target travellers at:
- Guayaquil's downtown, waterfront and market areas
- Cerro Mandango near Vilcabamba Loja
- the Antennas of Pichincha
- Lower Rio Napo's jungle lodges
- Cuyabeno National Reserve areas
Some riverboat tours have been robbed at gunpoint, with passengers left stranded.
Thieves target backpackers and foreigners for bag-snatching and pickpocketing, even in large tour groups. Travellers have been injured when they resist.
Petty crime is common around Quito at:
- La Mariscal
- La Marin
- La Carolina and El Ejido parks
Theft also occurs:
- after using an ATM or leaving a bank
- through credit card fraud and card skimming
Thieves working in pairs or groups use distraction methods, such as:
- staged fights
- asking for help
- pushing or shoving
To protect yourself from petty crime:
- don't leave your luggage, food or drinks unattended
- be alert when using ATM and credit cards
- don't let your credit or debit card out of your sight
Travellers have been robbed and sexually assaulted after accepting 'spiked' drinks and food, as well as chewing gum and cigarettes.
Spikers use drugs, such as scopolamine, including through aerosol sprays and paper handouts, to incapacitate, rob and assault their victims.
Never accept things from strangers or people you have just met.
Risk of violent crime increases when you travel alone or after dark.
Violent crime and theft occur in:
- city, long-distance and international buses
- transport terminals
- internet cafes
- public markets and crowded streets
Armed criminals have boarded buses to rob passengers.
North of Quito, high risk security situations can develop quickly. Dangerous areas include Ecuador's borders with Colombia and Peru in:
- Sucumbios province
- Esmeraldas province
Armed groups and other criminals engage in kidnapping and other violent criminal activity. Foreigners have been kidnapped in these regions, including in Cuyabeno wildlife reserve.
If you plan to travel there, check warnings issued by local authorities.
The official border crossing town of Tulcán in Carchi province is in a high-risk area, but is usually safer than its surrounds.
To protect yourself from crime:
- pay attention to your safety and security
- keep doors locked and windows up, even when moving
- secure your accommodation against intruders
- avoid going out alone, especially at night
- if camping, only stay at authorised campsites
Kidnappings for ransom happen, including in:
- major cities, such as Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca
- places frequented by foreigners
'Express kidnappings' have increased in recent years. Victims are forced to withdraw funds from ATMs to secure their release. These often involve unofficial taxis.
Kidnappings occur around:
- Esmeraldas, including San Lorenzo
- Cuyabeno wildlife reserve
- areas within 20km of the border with Colombia
If, despite our advice, you decide to travel an area where there's a threat of kidnapping:
- seek professional security advice
- have effective personal security measures in place
- pay close attention to warnings issued by local authorities
The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it doesn't make payments or concessions to kidnappers.
Scams and fraud
Ayahuasca tourism is a growing industry in Ecuador and Peru. It involves shamans guiding visitors through psychedelic rituals, often referred to as 'spiritual cleansing'.
It's not illegal, but serious assaults and robbery can occur. Victims report a range of experiences, from being alert but unable to maintain control of their surroundings, to total amnesia.
Credit card fraud and debit card scams are increasing.
To reduce your risk of scams:
- research ayahuasca tour operators before you sign up
- avoid participating in ayahuasca rituals without a trusted friend present
- always keep your debit and credit cards in sight