How to Avoid Getting Robbed in Quito, Ecuador

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The one thing I was most worried about with my family visiting was getting robbed in Quito Ecuador.

They haven’t traveled as much as I have and I remembered how traumatic it was the first time I was robbed in Saigon two years ago.

But I was serious about my trip and booked flights, my mother announced that she and my sister wanted to come visit me.
 

ALSO READ:  Cuy in Ecuador

 
This may seem normal for some families but this was an extraordinary gesture for mine – my sister had only been to the Dominican Republic on an all inclusive vacation and my mother had been to a resort in Spain and Florida.

Oh and she hates flying.

What made it an even grander gesture was that they wanted to travel like I did and backpack for two weeks.

After looking at my tentative itinerary we decided on Ecuador; it sounded like a quaint country that would be easy to travel.

So they booked the tickets months in advance and we began to make plans.

But as I made my way through Central America I started hearing stories about Ecuador, particularly about theft in Quito.

 
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Common Scams in Ecuador

1) A fake bus employee insists that you put your day bag up in the overhead compartment. But when you leave you realize all your electronics are gone.

2) Someone throws ketchup or another liquid on you. Then a kind woman offers tissues and says she’ll watch your bag if you put it down. The bag is taken as you are preoccupied with the mess.

3) You wake up in an unknown place, robbed, after a night out with a beautiful woman at a bar – okay not applicable to us.

So as their departure approached I tried to delicately balance informing my family that they should be aware of theft without scaring them.

I constantly reaffirmed that while theft was common, violence was not.

 

They arrived they wearing their money belts I had bought for them in Canada.

The next day they carried only $5 each, as instructed, and we had a free walking tour of the city and our guide warned us about pickpocketing, particularly at night.

We had a nice lunch at a local restaurant and made our way back to the Secret Garden hostel through the colonial streets of Old Quito.

So far it was a perfect first day.

As we turned the corner to the hostel my sister screamed as a man pushed her.

I pushed him back and he ran off with her camera that she had been gingerly holding under her arm, knowing that she needed to be careful.

It was that quick.

 

We saw him run off down the street and around the corner.

Although shaken up, she was fine.

There was nothing to do but walk the remaining 20 feet to the hostel.

We later found out that the corner was particularly bad for this as it’s next to the black market.

A lot of people get robbed in Quito Ecuador – it’s common but preventable if you know how to ward off thieves.
 

 
The good news was that if we wanted to we could probably go buy it back. But her camera was 5 years old.

She had only taken 3 photos that day so we just cut our losses.

A bad start to the trip, having also been robbed I wanted to minimize the damage so within hours we went back out on the street.

We were all a bit jumpy but we needed to shake off the disappointment that people will rob you.

I asked my sister how she was doing and she said she wasn’t scared because now she had nothing left to steal.

 
My sister was robbed her first day, learn tips and tricks to avoid getting robbed in Quito, Ecuador.

Looking back I realized I had given my family such specific instructions on what to bring to Ecuador.

But I forgot the most important tip to avoid getting robbed in Quito – bring clothing with pockets so you can put your camera and money it it.

She didn’t have pockets in her pants or sweater so she had to carry it.

The thief could have been watching us for blocks.

Such a simple tip and yet easily overlook. 

 

Tips to Avoid Getting Robbed in Quito Ecuador

While Quito is known for pickpocketing you need to avoid the entire country or wonder is Ecuador safe?

You should always be careful no matter where you go, but certainly keep this in mind in the capital city. 

1. Clothing with pockets, we learned this one the hard way.

2. Never let anyone touch your bag on a bus. If you have valuables keep them on your lap at all times.

Don’t even think of putting them at your feet as even the most experienced traveler realized the hard way.

3. If anyone other than a policeman stops you to ask a question, help you with something, wipe a stain keep walking!

4. In transit keep your bag close to you and in front of you. On the streetcar thieves work in groups to pickpocket. They pass it onto someone so when you question them they have nothing on hand.

5. When you arrive to a town people will approach you to take you to a hostel. But there have been cases where they take them to isolated places to rob them.

It’s better to be safe than worry about being rude, don’t go with anyone you don’t know.

Join the Conversation

  1. Sorry to hear about this – Glad she’s okay! Must be nice having some close family with you after a while on the road!

  2. Nick Laborde says:

    That sucks, not exactly a great way to kick off your sisters trip. At least she’ll have a great story to tell.

  3. That’s too bad that this happened while they were visiting you. I’m sure it made your mom worry about you a lot more. I got robbed when I was on a school trip to Paris when I was 16. It’s amazing how quick it happens.

  4. You’re freaking me out, I’m gonna be there the 1st week of September. Glad it was nothing serious & you guys are ok. I hope the rest of the trip goes well!

  5. ann wellwood says:

    Hi Ayngelina
    Sorry your weeks with your mom and sister had to start out so bad!I hope the rest of the trip was wonderful!!I was surprised to read that they weren’t travellers!!So I’m wondering if the police in these countries do ANYTHING about these thefts!!!

    1. They do but the process to formaly accuse them and take them to jail is long and I am sure nobody wants to take a day in a police station while on vacation. I have a friend who got robbed the same way and the policeman caught the guy, held him and let my friend punch him, he got his stuff back and everyone went on their way.
      The best way is to avoide being robbed, hide your stuff. Violence is not common, specially for travelers.

  6. ann wellwood says:

    Hi Ayngelina
    Sorry your weeks with your mom and sister had to start out so bad!I hope the rest of the trip was wonderful!!I was surprised to read that they weren’t

    travellers!!So I’m wondering if the

    police in these countries do ANYTHING

    about these thefts!!!

  7. So sorry that your mum and sister had to start their trip like that! 🙁 But at least she is taking it well; crossing my fingers for you guys that all goes well from here on out!

  8. I am leaving Ecuador tonite and heading to Peru!!! Hope u and me will be fine during our trip!!!no more robbed!!

  9. Quito sketched us out too. We had heard mixed reviews before visiting, but when 2 different people from our hostel got mugged in the square, we elected to push on to the Galpagos instead. It’s a shame too, because since returning we’ve read about some great experiences in the capital.

  10. Chris O'Hara says:

    I don’t think I could come visit you. If anybody tried to rob me, the fight would be on and then I’d be on the 6 o’clock news about a tourist being killed.

  11. Glad to hear your sister didn’t let it beat her. Many experienced backpackers would have been a lot less chilled about it. When we were mugged in Rio (although we didn’t lose anything) I figured the chances of it happeneing again were low, so hopefully this applies here too.

  12. So sorry that this happened on your family’s first day with you! Definitely would shake anybody up, I think.

    I had a friend who studied in Ecuador for a semester, and he got mugged once at knife-point in broad daylight. Lost his camera and money, but luckily got to keep his passport. I think I’d probably think twice about visiting there. Or at least be super suspicious of everybody.

  13. Wow, scary story. So sorry that happened but I am so glad no one got hurt. All you and your family can do now is enjoy the time yall have there. Looks like yall will so thats good.

  14. Wow, scary story. So sorry that happened but I am so glad no one got hurt. All you and your family can do now is enjoy the time yall have there. Looks like yall will so thats goo

  15. Yikes, that sucks 🙁 Thank goodness it was only an old camera and no one was hurt!! Your sister is right not to be scared – what you were worried about has already happened!

    Thanks to stories from some local friends, my younger sister was paranoid she’d be pickpocketed when we were in Kowloon, in Hong Kong – she walked around the entire time clutching her bag to her chest looking terrified. Was pretty amusing, actually 😀 Happily, we made it out alive with all belongings where they were supposed to be!

  16. Oh gosh, I’d rather have anything else stolen than my camera!!! At least it was old though and only had 3 pics. I had my camera stolen in South Africa AND Spain. 🙁

  17. What a bummer! Like you said though, at least it’s not violent crime. I hope the rest of the trip more than made up for it for your mom and sister 🙂

  18. Claire (Travel Funny Travel Light) says:

    so crazy! glad you guys are OK. oh-the ketchup scam is common all over Latin America. It happened to us in Costa Rica! They got my friend’s bag with her camera, passport, and $200. It happened exactly how you described it above. In this instance, just thank the person for pointing it out and the deal with it later.

  19. Argh! I hate when thieves do that. It’s especially annoying when travelers are well informed and generally cognizant of their surroundings.

  20. Well that’s an unfortunate start. Of course, as your sister already realized, now she doesn’t have to spend much energy keeping her guard if there’s nothing left to be stolen.

    It’s always disappointing when it happens, but rarely should a theft ruin an entire trip. Glad to see your sister dealt with it so well and is ready to carry on with her visit!

  21. sorry to hear that.. good thing she only took 3 photos from it. if i was your sister and i have so many pics in it, i would have felt bad. But on the bright side, she has a story to tell back home 🙂

    hope this incident wouldn’t ruin the rest of your future trips. 🙂

  22. Sorry you and your family had this experience and glad no one was hurt.

    I would emphasize what Earl said. It’s bound to happen during long term travels to less developed countries. Aracely and I consider ourselves lucky it never happened to us during 1 year in Central and South America. We realized we were in a lot of places that had high risks and it could have happened at any time. I know Quito probably left a bad taste in your mouth now that this terrible experience occurred. But, know that it could have occurred anywhere, even in another place you may have enjoyed most. I always wondered how we would label and describe a place to our friends if we had this experience. Luckily it hasn’t happened yet.

    We stayed in Quito for over a month and really enjoyed our time there, but again, we didn’t have the experience you encountered either.

    Let’s hope the remainder of your trip is perfect!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      @Jason

      Thanks so much for the comment. My sister was fairly well prepared, basically I told them not to bring anything they weren’t willing to part with and because she only had 3 photos she handled it well.

      I was robbed in my favorite country thus far – Nicaragua – and it didn’t change my impression of the country one bit.

  23. DTravelsRound says:

    Whew! Hopefully that was the worst of it. What scams they run!

  24. I guess losing a camera is better than waking up in a strange place after a night out with someone…

    That thought is scary… it sounds like an urban legend… sans the kidney missing part…

  25. Ayngelina Author says:

    @Angela

    You mean like waking up in a bathtub full of ice cubes?

  26. This exact thing just happened to me on a bus from the new city to the old city in Quito. It is also our first day-I look for a brighter tomorrow. I’m glad you were able to look on the bright side!!

  27. Lisa E @chickybus says:

    Sorry to read this. Must have been traumatic for your sister. Sounds like you handled it well, though. Smart to get right back out there…

  28. Dave and Deb says:

    Bummer. We’ve had a camera stolen and it feels awful. You replay it over in your head and think about all the different things you could have done to prevent it. At least you guys went back out right away to shake it off.

  29. I think I would have flipped out about my camera. I guess I’ll just have to keep remembering to change out the cards so I don’t lose everything. :X

  30. Bummer! Your sister hasn’t traveled much and has this experience in her first backpacking trip. It is bad luck though…I heard all these bad stories about Quito too but didn’t find any problems despite walking at night in shady areas. It should all go well from now on!

  31. Reminds me of when I got robbed my first day in Quito, also the start of my one-year sabbatical traveling in Latin America. I luckily also had advice from my Spanish school on not carrying anything of value, so all they got was my backpack, a raincoat, a Nalgene bottle, and a Spanish pocket dictionary. Not even a dollar.

    In case you are wondering, I fell for scam #2.

  32. That kind of robbery is the most violating. I know you’ve learned so much about protecting yourself on this trip. You’re so strong!

  33. What an unfortunate indoctrination! UGH… I hate it that this kind of things happens… As silly susie sunshine as it may sound though, I like to think that maybe having this happen right out of the gate made your collective mojo ward off something that – gulp – might have been worse. Oh! And I love it that you pushed him back after he pushed your sister 😉

  34. Seattle Dredge says:

    aww, that’s too bad. I’d be heartbroken if someone stole my camera 🙁
    Glad she only took three photos with it though!

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  36. I see this is an older thread but I’m going to comment anyway. I was robbed five times in seven months in Quito, and to answer your question above, no the police don’t care. Could have been worse though–a young Canadian who was staying at the hostel at a bar I used to frequent was robbed violently three times in three days. The third time he was hit on the head in the middle of a busy street on a Saturday night. Nobody did a thing other than to step over his unconscious body. I finally helped him into the bar, where they gave him some ice for the bump on his head. That’s as good as it gets in Quito.

  37. Candy Treft says:

    Do you remember the name of the tour company that you used for the free tour? I am in Quito now and looking for one.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It was the tour company that operates out of the Secret Garden Hostel. I have also heard that Urban Adventures is in Quito and they would be pretty reasonably priced.

  38. Hi Ayngelina, I just discovered your blog as I prepare for a two-month South America trip as a solo female. You’re super helpful, thanks so much!! I just read this post about your sister’s robbery and I wanted to ask: is Quito really worth it? I’m not really a city person so I’m thinking about spending one night in Quito but then immediately going out to smaller towns. I would hate to lose my new camera before I even got to the highlights of my trip.

  39. Thanks for the post. Heading to Quite for a few week stay. I’m going to do a bit more research about areas to avoid after running across your post.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It is VERY common for tourists to be robbed in Quito, even in “safe” areas of the tourist district. You don’t need to be afraid, they won’t hurt you, it’s usually either a grab and go or a pickpocket. Just be careful what you carry on you and you may want to leave your expensive camera or phone at home.

  40. I agree with your above comment, although I understand that the city of Quito is making efforts to change this. I felt safer and enjoyed other cities in Ecuador more, such as Cuenca. We never felt unsafe walking there any time of day.

  41. I am reading your post after being offered a trip with my college to Ecuador! Now I am not quite sure if we would be attending the capital but is Ecuador an awesome place to visit? The robbery incidents freak me out because I feel like Id have my GoPro on me 24/7! Not sure if people stealing should scare me from the entire trip!!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      You need to be smart but not afraid. I often equate danger in South America to Barcelona, yes there is a chance you may be robbed but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting either location.
      A lot of the robberies are grab and gos, if you have your go pro out in the wrong neighborhood people could grab it but it’s unlikely they would hurt you.

  42. We also were almost robbed in Quito. Luckily the 2 people who were trying to take my husband’s bag were scared away when I screamed. Not a fun experience. We were just on the outskirts of the tourist area. No fun but it can really happen anywhere.

  43. I’m so sorry to hear about your bad experience. A lot of people told us about this problems before we travel to Quito last summer. Some friends had a similar experience, so on the second week of their trip they hired a private driver who showed them all the city and he even took them to Mitad del Mundo. We did exactly the same. It felt much safer to go around the city with a local driver to show us around, he also let us know about certain insecure areas of the city . I highly recommend this service. The driver was very kind with us and it wasn’t expensive at all! http://servantrip.com/

  44. Is there any chance you could recall where the “black market” was located? I am studying in Quito and my iPhone was stolen off me today. I would love to see if there is a way i could get it back.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s in the city centre, go to the Secret Garden hostel, they know where it is.

  45. People are robbing earthquake victims in Manabi who lost everything and are living in shelters. You really have to wonder. The police dont do anything unless you have a video of the robbery. Almost everyone I know who has stayed in Ecuador more than a month has been robbed. If you have any electronics they will be eventually taken. It is only a matter of time…..

    . As the poster sisters said once you have noting left to steal there is nothing to fear. My best advice is not to bring your regular mobile phone to Ecuador but buy a cheap unlocked travel phone or two /in case the first is swiped/ and use that on the trip. Then you can sell it when you leave for more than you purchased it for back home as electronics are so expensive in Ecuador. Same for laptops if you have to have one. Buy a very cheap or refurbished model you can part worth. Keep all your important data or files on a flash drive or uploaded. Then sell it on your way out. You will come out ahead.

  46. I am sorry to hear that the camera was robbed the first day, but at least until this point she still had not taken so many fotos from quito (Ecuador), because I once was robbed at the end of a trip and all the fotos were gone . I hope you will be able to enjoy the rest of the trip, because it is a beatifull country.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh that is really terrible. I always try to back-up my photos every day so if I get robbed all I lose is the camera.

  47. There is no way. Every single person here has been stolen . Specially extranjeros, all the people i know here have been stolen many times.
    It is Ecuador.

  48. Daphna Avnon-Amit says:

    The best thing when traveling anywhere is to wear a ScotteVest.
    When you wear it, one cannot see bulges, it is lightweight or heavy (depends on what you order!). It has tons of pockets… it is perfect!

    1. Scott Jordan says:

      Thanks.
      Scott of SCOTTeVEST.com

  49. Ian McAllister says:

    I too have been robbed, but I don’t want you to be left with the idea that Ecuador is a terrible third-world place. London is the pickpocket capital of the world, and it is not a third-world place.
    I was caught out by the trick of an official telling me to put my backpack in the overhead rack. Never do that.
    But I’ve been in Ecuador for a year now, and I’ve been told that only cities are bad. That is a good thing, because I don’t like cities, and I’m happy in a tiny community above a pueblo with about seven thousand people in the pueblo.
    GOOD ADVICE. When you travel by bus, pay for two people. It’s not expensive and it means that you can have your suitcase and backpack on the seat beside you, and if you get restless leg syndrome like me, you can spread your legs into the next seat. If an official told me to put my luggage into the rack now, I would simply explain that I would have it in the seat beside me, with one arm draped over it.
    I was in Quito for a month, taking photos all the time. My camera strap goes over my right shoulder to my left waist, with my left hand holding it all the time except when I take a photo.

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