If this is your first time on the colorful continent of South America then it takes time to adjust to the different cultures and the safety issues that come with it. Quito is a safe city to live in providing you’re smart about it. You just need to take care of your belongings, be aware of your surroundings and avoid certain areas at nighttime. Here are a few things to remember when staying safe in Quito.
Have your wits about you on public transport
Photo credits: Yakovlev.alexey, Flickr
Public transport in Quito is very cheap. A bus ticket only costs around 25 cents, which makes it an appealing way to get around the city, especially if you’re on a student budget. However, during peak hours, the buses are always packed with people, which make it easy for pickpockets to pounce without anyone noticing (and they’re surprisingly good at it – even the locals get robbed). We’re not suggesting you avoid public transport altogether but be on your guard at all times and keep a tight hold of your bag. Avoid putting your phone in the back pocket of your jeans, don’t wave your money around and don’t let anyone touch your bag (keeping your valuables hidden in inner pockets). Be particularly wary of pickpockets towards the end of the month, as that’s when people are out of money.
Don’t talk on your cellphone on the street
Be careful when talking on your cellphone in the street, as thieves can snatch your phone from your hand, even if you’re holding it tight. People waiting at the bus stop are also prime targets. It’s always better to go into a shop or restaurant if you need to use your phone, or just wait until you get home. Same goes for waving around your other expensive possessions in public, such as cameras or watches.
Avoid certain places after dark
Be aware of walking around Quito after dark, whether on your own or in a group, and particularly if you’re a woman. You don’t have to stay home on a Saturday night, but try to get from A to B without walking and take an Uber or Cabify instead. Quito´s Old Town in particular can be unsafe after dark and steer clear of Av. de Los Shyris. If you stay around the busy, well-lit areas of La Ronda, República de El Salvador, and Plaza Foch at nighttime, you should be fine. Just don’t accept invitations from any strangers to a party or house. In the unfortunate event that you do get held up at knife or gunpoint, they’ll most likely want your money and phone. Don’t put up a fight: just hand over whatever you have and call the police immediately afterwards on 911 (or the tourist police on 02 2543 983).
Look extra carefully before crossing the road
This may sound obvious but Ecuadorians are pretty reckless on the roads and don’t always stop for a red light so be extra careful when crossing the road, even if you’re at a pedestrian crossing. This includes taxi drivers and bus drivers.
Watch for Taxi scams
By law, yellow cabs are required to use the meter in Quito but drivers will often try to avoid using it, especially with gullible foreigners, so that they can charge a higher price. If your taxi driver refuses to put on the meter when you get in, get out immediately. Always take an official taxi (look for the green sticker), sit in the back seat and never allow any strangers to get into the taxi with you. If you do run into any sticky situations, you´ll find that most taxis are fitted with a red panic button.
Be alert on the streets
While it’s perfectly safe to wander the streets of Quito during the day, particularly around the picturesque Old Town, be street smart. Wear your backpack on the front of your body in crowded places, avoid wearing expensive jewelry or flashy watches and only take out as much cash as you need (being aware of what’s happening around you when withdrawing money from the ATM). There are a few telltale signs of a potential mugging to be aware of too, such as a sudden request for assistance by a passerby, staged fights and people “accidentally” pushing you or knocking into you. If a situation feels dodgy, always go with your gut instinct.
If you do run into any trouble…
Quito has a tourist police force that is easily identifiable on the streets by their hi-vis yellow vests and gray uniforms. They’ll be able to assist you with any problems you might encounter. Otherwise, go straight to your nearest police station or call 911.
Got any other tips for staying safe in Quito? Share them with us in the comments section below.