Being Cautious and Aware of Your Surroundings Here


Be cautious and aware of your surroundings while traveling around Ecuador. Before you say well I have half a brain, or I’m from Chicago do you think it’s safe there, or repeat the realtorspeak about how they don’t feel uncomfortable day or night walking anywhere and that you just have to use common sense etc. This is a very important message and a lesson in risk/reward. This is our take!

Please do yourself a favor and leave all your good jewelry, fancy expensive clothing, watches, fancy purses, backpacks, laptops and camera equipment at home. Bring items of lesser value; a small inexpensive computer, a camera you picked up at Wal-Mart, a well-worn backpack and other items that if taken would not necessarily ruin your trip. If wearing a backpack, have it hanging across your chest or under your armpit not on your back and do not put anything under your seat or above your head while riding on a bus. Keep all your belonging in your lap so that you can control them. Make copies of your passport and other important documents and lock the originals in the hotel safe. Do not bring a wallet full of debit or credit cards, only big stores and upscale hotels accept credit cards anyway. In Panama, we remember trying to use a US Visa card at a place that said Visa accepted only to learn they meant only National cards (cards issued within the country) not international. Be sure that your bank in your home country knows that you will be traveling in Ecuador and that your ATM cards work in Ecuador. Have the list of contact numbers in a separate place for these cards so if they are taken you can cancel them immediately. Do not carry large sums of money on your person, only take what money you will be needing for the time you will be out that day. Keep money in different pockets, a few dollars here, a $10 bill there, DO NOT pull a wad of cash out in public and wave it around. You are just looking for someone to follow you and knock you over the head. If you have an old wallet put a few expired credit cards and a small amount of cash in it and use it as a throw away wallet. If confronted, throw the wallet down and run in the opposite direction.

Recently a traveler we met had a bad experience when taking an unmarked taxi in Guayaquil and lost her luggage. In my personal opinion it was the bus services unprofessional handling of a situation that led to this women being left off the bus at the bus companies office instead of the bus terminal. The only taxis available to her were unmarked instead of the yellow licensed taxi. This kind of theft happens regularly. Never walk away from your luggage, do not use unmarked cars or taxis that do not have the drivers identification located either on the headrest or displayed on the dashboard. I have a friend who sits in the front seat and writes down the driver’s name and ID number on a pad right in front of the taxi driver or pretend to use you cell phone to call and give a friend this information. Not that all theft can be avoided but you should make an attempt to show that you are a smart traveler. Some folks just don’t have anything and see foreigners with things that they could sell and feed their families for weeks.  Busy areas like bus stations, airports and now even shopping malls seem to be prime places for theft. One scenario that I have heard about is a fine-looking gentleman approaches and while he is distracting you his accomplice is taking your packages. This has been done with beautiful young women, old ladies asking for directions to a bank and guys dressed in suits distracting you for a split second.  These folks do this for a living and are very good at it. I am not telling you to be rude to people but be extremely cautious. Do not place your handbag or packages on a separate seat or hang you purse on the back of the chair while in the food court, instead place these items on your lap or between your feet so that you are always in control of your belongings.

Keep things like laptops in a small store bag, do not carry it in its little pouch for all to see. It costs nothing to find a Super Maxi bag. Not many folks are going to try to take a shopping bag from your hand. Keep your camera in a pocket or a small handicraft bag worn across your chest DO NOT hang your bag on one shoulder or dangle your camera from your wrist. If walking with another person put your bag between the two of you not on the exposed side..

For safety reasons don’t bring your fancy high heeled strappy sandals. Between the pot holes, missing chunks of sidewalk, missing water covers, uneven or non-existent sidewalks and roads a turned ankle will ruin your day. Instead bring a good pair of flat sandals with straps, a nice pair of worn sneakers or comfortable walking shoes. And don’t leave your shoes, sandals or anything of value on the sand away from you because again they will be gone when you turn around to find them.  We had friends in Salinas who took their footwear off and left two pair of nice sneakers on a rock in Chipipe while they took a swim in the ocean. You guessed it – they walked back to their Salinas condo barefoot.  Bring a ball cap or buy a hat when you get here as the sun is harsh. Even when it is hidden behind clouds you can get a nasty burn. Wear sunblock, we wear 50 or higher block when sitting on the beach, you can burn in just a matter of minutes so be kind to your skin and maybe save a ruined vacation by using a good block.

You cannot drink the tap water on the coast but bottled water can be cheap. We get a 5 gal container of water delivered to our home for $1 and he brings it right into my kitchen. Small bottles of water are available for as little as .30 cents in most stores a bit more in restaurants and you have a choice non carbonated (sin gas)  or carbonated (con gas). Place a bottle of water in your bathroom for brushing your teeth as well.  Toilet paper should not be flushed anywhere in Ecuador. There will be a small trash can in each cubical for this purpose, please be respectful of the customs here and do not leave some hotel or restaurant stuck repairing a toilet issue that you caused!  That awful sewage overflow you see on a nearby sidewalk may be yours! BE AWARE all places do not provide toilet paper, please carry a small flattened roll and be sure to have it with you when using a restroom. Some places like malls have one paper dispenser outside of the stalls for toilet paper.

Dogs are allowed to run free as far as I have seen on the coast, I have never been afraid or approached in a threatening manner by a dog in all these years but folks I know have had some problems so just be aware. Most are not family dogs, what I mean by that is they do not know about being petted and will only approach if you are offering food. I would not give food to them unless you want them to follow you home. These dogs may look homeless and uncared for but I assure you their owners lock them on their property at night and allow them to roam free during the day.  A dog’s life in South American is harsh but it is the way it is.

Jellyfish in the water can be a very painful experience. If the winds are high or it is several days after a full moon the chances are good that jellyfish will be floating around in the water. If stung do not wash with salt water, do not rub because you can be pushing the little stingers into your skin. Instead use vinegar or lemon juice to wash the area.

Fly season on the coast can be unbelievable. We found that Salinas had some issues with flies but Playas was terrible for several months with a great deal of flies all around town. We found a strange and unusual remedy of filling clear plastic bags with water and dropping a penny into each and hanging them around our porch in Playas. We even would take a bag to our favorite restaurants and put it in the middle of our table while we were eating. It was a very big problem and the thought of them landing on my food really turned me off. I’m talking 20 or 30 on your table, arms, food……We put on repellent on our arms and hats (which we leave on the tables).

Mosquitoes are another issue at certain times of the year on the coast. We have made it a habit to use Detan liquid each morning after our showers and Joe uses it again before retiring. Palo Santo is a wood that is sold for chasing away mosquitoes, along with these electrified plastic rackets and the small cones and coils that you light. Using a mosquito net to cover your bed is also practical.

Mosquitoes here or anywhere in South America are not playing around. If you are bit by one you may well get dengue. The locals call it Breakbone Fever, it is extremely painful and there is nothing that you can take to ease the pain only for fever. DO NOT take ibuprofen or any anti-inflammatory as it can cause an escalation to hemorrhagic fever (now called severe dengue). Also, if you have gotten dengue the chances on getting Hemorrhagic Fever with the next infected mosquito bite are greatly increased. And hemorrhagic fever can be fatal.  Buy repellent and use it often. This is one of those risk/reward things you don’t have to think about.

Weather related issues. Rough weather happens on the coast, with unusual high tides and rip tides you need to be aware of the warnings that are posted in the newspapers. The Portoviejo paper is , the Guayaquil paper is these are the two main papers for coast news.  Each coastal area has its own ocean idiosyncracies ask the locals about the swimming conditions and if you don’t see anyone in the water there is probably a good reason.

When traveling around Ecuador you can find yourself at elevations over 9,000 feet. If you have health issues that can be exasperated by high elevations you should be cautious and consult your doctor before traveling to these high elevation cities. Here are a few articles that my help before you decide on your itinerary: as well as

Malaria, yellow fever and the like. If you are going into very rural areas or the jungle you should read the precautions that the CDC has listed on their website and this other article  We have not heard of any issues related to these illnesses in the cities on the coast. If you are not going into rural or jungle areas we feel that the use of these medication could be more harmful that beneficial.  We know folks who suffered for months taking unneeded precautions. The only caveat would be Esmeraldas has had some reports of malaria.

Please do your research before making a trip to Ecuador. It is so much better to be prepared. There will be enough surprises and hopefully many of them will be good ones. And, as they say, this ain’t Kansas.


13 thoughts on “Being Cautious and Aware of Your Surroundings Here

  1. Nancy,
    What a great post with very sensible advice for travelers to Ecuador. From what I have experienced there myself, every precaution you discussed is right on the money. I was never personally robbed in Ecuador but I will tell you something funny that occurred at my house in Salinas.

    My in-laws who are Ecuadorian are obsessed with locking up everything with many locks. They have a house in Guayaquil and I think that is where they got their paranoia. In my ground floor apartment in Salinas, my father-in-law put heavy-duty locks on the two entry doors. With these locks you need the key to open from the outside, as well as from the inside to get out. If you happen to misplace your key when inside, you will NOT be able to get out because the windows have iron bars.

    This is a fire hazard and I told him that we needed to change the lock to one that does not require the key from the inside. But he insisted that this was the more secure way to go. I was not pleased at his defiance to this reasonable request.

    About one week after our discussion, thieves broke through the fancy glass brick in the same apartment. The aperture was so small that only a small body frame could have passed through the hole since I did not use too many of those glass bricks. Apparently, when they got in they realized that they were trapped inside also because they could not open the heavy doors without the key, nor go through the barred windows. Looks like they tried to slip the microwave through the aperture, but it was too big. They left without being able to take anything.

    My father-in-law reminds me it is time to change the locks because our maintenance man has retired and he had possession of the keys.


    • Hi Leon, I am happy that you felt the post worthwhile. And I must say I have to agree with your father-in-law, I know about feeling like you are in prison, I hear it all the time when folks see the bars, or the safety issues regarding a fire but as you can see from your own personal experience if those locks were not on your doors you would have come home to a very empty house. I learned in Panama to lock the outside gate and keep it locked 24-7. I wore the key on a lanyard around my neck. I have started doing that here keeping the gate locked and a key on a lanyard. And one more precaution that we did before we moved into this house I had already replace the gate lock and the door knob and added an additional security lock to the front door. Now during the festival when there are so many strangers (to us) in town Joe suggested that we keep the shutter that faces the street shut and locked so that no one would get any ideas when looking around. We do try to fit in and to blend but we are North Americanos and no matter how much sun I get or how great my Spanish becomes I will always stick out…I must tell you that the best thing I did was to stop dying my hair blond, talk about sticking out, ha ha Have a wonderful weekend. N

  2. Nancy, what a wonderful thought out post. Do you mind if I link this post to our blog? It has much needed information for people coming here. Thanks for taking your time to share this information.

    • Hi Nancy & Chuck, I am humbled by your request. Yes, I would be pleased to have you link this post to your blog. Thank you for asking.

      It was a labor of love, so many folks come here and have no idea how things are done in Ecuador. I myself was not prepared when we moved from the US for all the differences in culture and I wished back then that there were more blogs like ours out there to make the transition easier. Today there are so many folks writing about their experiences it is a vast database of personal knowledge to gain confidence in moving to Ecuador, before it was very limited.

      Have been viewing your blog, you both look great, so when are you making a trip to the coast and up the coast to visit us???? N

  3. Pingback: Morning Update – Friday, September 7, 2012 « South of Zero

  4. Great post, Nancy. I was pick-pocketed in Otavalo and never felt a thing as was my friend with me. Didn’t get much money, but I stupidly was carrying my original cedula and had to go thru the aggravation and expense of getting a new one. I carry my money in my pocket, only a bit in my purse, never take my camera with me unless with a group, and have laminated copies of my cedula now. Also had my i-pod lifted by a window-washer — was on the second floor and didn’t realize my sliding glass window was not locked. Otherwise, all is well. Most friends do not even carry a purse any more. Most people are honest, hard-working and pleasant people — just the few apples in the barrel. Also do not wear my hoop earrings any more as I hear they run up behind you, grab them and leave you with bloody lobes needing stitches. As the long-time residents say, dress down when going out. Just part of the culture — a good robbery, well done is admired here, even by the victim!!!

    • Oh Patricia, I have heard how difficult and expensive it is to get a new cedula, so we have laminated copies as well that we carry except when banking, then we take the original. It is hard to be here either visiting or as a resident and have things taken. Being aware of these things can make the difference in having a nice vacation or a nightmare! Kisses to you, N & J

  5. Nancy,
    When my wife and son and I, arrived in Quito a couple of years ago we scheduled a taxi from inside the airport. We had too many bags and so the driver offered to carry one. As we stepped outside the building some “helpers” came and my son gave them one of his bags to carry. I was tired and didn’t notice but refused their help. Then they helped load the car. I watched them load my stuff but didn’t pay attention to everything else. They were quite persistent as they asked for tips.

    After we got to the hotel (and the taxi had left) we realized that my son’s small case was missing. It was about the size of a laptop case (I carried my laptop in a backpack). I guess they were surprised when all they got was his change of underwear and his retainer. And a nice small case. It could have been much worse. But it did put a damper on the trip. I’m sure the driver was in on it. And he worked with the desk inside the airport! They actually called him.

    Moral of the story don’t bring more bags than you can carry, carry them yourself and keep an eye on them.

    I got the impression from the hotel staff that in the Latin American culture you don’t expect people to return things if you lose them. Also it is kind of your own fault if things are stolen since that means you didn’t take good enough care of them.

    • Hi Sue, well the restaurant owner did not think we were in our right minds, we even left him one to try for himself but when we came back it was no where to be seen. Some folks can’t imagine something so odd working but it did and I would hang them all around here at the first sign of flies in Clemente!!! Hope it works for you. N

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