March 01, 2016

Women Travelling Alone in Ecuador and Personal Safety UPDATED 2016

Bringing you another important update about women traveling alone and personal safety. This article was first published November 2011 and we have updates to share with you from our experiences and observations of living here and traveling to other Latin American countries. All new updates are in red text. 
River Yanuncay
Readers Asks: I just found your blog and am enjoying it very much. I do have a couple of questions though regarding family values: could you go into greater detail for me about how it would be for a divorced woman and her 13 year old daughter to visit and/or live in Cuenca? I have been extremely interested in possibly relocating to Ecuador but understand the cultural differences may cause a problem...I read in an earlier post of y'all's that women should never walk alone. That would certainly pose an issue. Any insight you could give would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your kind comments. We’re glad you are enjoying Discover Cuenca blog. We appreciate your question and it is a very important question. 

Update 2016 - Anyone who moves to Latin America, without the understanding of the culture and how it works, will not know how to behave and react to certain situations that happen to come their way.  Most people that come here have certain expectations of how its going to be for them, and those expectations can be taken from you in a twinkle of an eye. 

What is boy/girl scout motto?  "be prepared".  Be prepared for what?  We would say: be prepared for anything.  Knowing this, then, shines additional light on the subject, we believe.

The people of Ecuador are VERY friendly and will welcome you here as a visitor and as an expat even though you are single woman/mom with a teenage daughter. The most important thing to remember when moving to Ecuador is to be respectful. The culture here is more conservative than liberal when it comes to family values. 

Dress conservatively, meaning do not give any of the local women any reason to be jealous of you. And the men any reason to single you out.  Greet people appropriately and with a smile. You will be a happier person for it. Unfortunately if you're a woman alone or in pairs you are already singling yourself out to the lower "unsociables" as they're called here.
Please do not take this commentary to be directed to you personally.  This post is directed to all readers and is only meant to be for informative/learning post for all the people who are thinking of moving to Ecuador or anywhere in Latin America.  You will be visiting a totally different culture than what is known in North America.  

We don’t think you will have any problems fitting in. Cuenca is a nice smallish city to live in. If you know some Spanish it won’t be long before you both meet some nice people here, if you don’t just stick around the expat hangouts. 

Update 2016 - We do think (some) single women alone will have a problem fitting in and that is because of all we've said so far. The single and divorced women that have the most difficulties here are those that come with the culture of the USA on their back and they can't let go of it.  The bottom line is, "woman alone" (this includes women in pairs) really is addressing women without a male covering, is it not?
We realize that more and more single women are traveling/moving to South America, particularly Ecuador because of the popularity that Cuenca is receiving lately.  We have heard of single young backpackers hiking throughout the country in pairs and groups together and so there are women here alone, but they are usually with other friends and groups of people. This is the safest bet when traveling.

Update 2016 - On February 28, 2016 two Argentine young women found dead on the beach in Montanita, Ecuador. In 2014 two Dutch young women found dead in Chiriqui, Panama. (Google it)

It is of our opinion that women should not walk around (off the beaten paths) alone in Latin American cultures. But this is our opinion. There are several obvious reasons for this. Number one reason is for personal safety of your person and your valuables. Bad things have happened to solo travelers and retirees because they are alone. 

It's not so much that you are alone but that the bad guys find out that "you are living alone".  There have been more home invasions lately of men and women living alone. It is not unheard of for older retirees to be raped; in fact a 65 year old retiree was recently raped in Chiriqui Panama. Perhaps had she been with someone else or a group of people this would not have happened. 

We think younger women alone in a Latin American country will be more vulnerable to having unwanted attention, which could lead to something worse than just some disrespectful hissing and cat calling, especially if they find out you "live alone".  

By the way, this is not how a real (macho means male) gentle(man) behaves towards a woman..this is how a disrespectful man behaves...

Here in Cuenca a youngish woman was walking in broad daylight on the river walk in Cuenca and got stabbed for her cell phone. We're not trying to scare you, but show you reality of crime in South and Central America. 

Update 2016 - It's funny, but foreigners all over in Latin America sweep crime under the rug instead of talking about it and maybe helping people to understand who becomes a target and who is less likely to become a target. And then of course, there are those people who have something to gain from keeping any amount of crime from the public.  

Here's the thing, what good does it do to minimize crime by comparing and rationalizing?  If you're the target, or your daughter, sister, mother, father, etc.  Does it make one hill of beans what anyone says on a forum or in comments that is contrary? 

Cuenca Crime

Cuenca has the lowest crime in all of Ecuador but that doesn’t mean bad stuff doesn’t happen here. An example of this is about 6 months ago, a woman was walking alone, on a crowded popular gringo street called Calle Larga here in Cuenca and a thief snatched her purse from her in broad daylight! 

 A Christian missionary friend of ours got her apartment/condo broken into in September when she was out for the day and they took her jewelry, television, computer, and even her kitchen pots and pans. And she lives in a good area of Cuenca by Mall Del Rio. So stuff happens here.

In Cuenca violent crime, such as rape, armed robbery, murder, etc are rare. But, we have heard that petty crime is going up because of the new Gringo population. They have reported that thieves coming from Guayaquil are committing a lot of the thievery here. It has also been reported that people in Guayaquil are smartening up as far as personal security, so the thieves are coming to Cuenca where the gringo population is steadily growing. 

Update 2016 - We can't decide for other people what to do. You need to do your own due diligent research and be honest about "what kind of person you are" so then you can make a more informed decision about moving to Ecuador or any Latin American country for that matter. 

People just love to ask Frank and Angie about women traveling and living alone in Ecuador and our answer is sticking. We do not recommend it.  That stance stems from the kind of people we are, i.e. careful and conservative when it comes to our personal safety.  We don't/won't play russian roulette with our safety.  Will you?

There are so many variables and different circumstances for women living alone in Latin America but some women simply make themselves more vulnerable and target-able. It really depends on you and a lot of other things on how safe you will actually be living in South or Central America. 

The first thing we recommend to solo travelers is to get out of La La Land, thinking it will not happen to you. Secondly, if we all just keep sweeping crime under the rug then we will feel too safe and feeling too safe is when bad stuff happens.  Nothing wrong with feeling safe but feeling too safe, there's a lot wrong with that. 

We aren’t the type of family that thinks it “won’t ever happen to us”.  In fact, we know it will happen to us IF we don’t pay attention to how we behave and what we do, and so we take the necessary precautions to not stand out and be a target for thieves and unwanted attention, so it won’t happen to us.   

Well guess what, a petty crime incident did happen to us and you can read all about it here. 

It’s all about smart travel and staying due diligent at all times no matter where in the world you live. The more vulnerable looking you are, the more of a target to petty crime you will be in Cuenca and other Latin cities.

Update 2016 - How do professional thieves think? They watch and study until they see a vulnerability in someone. Older people are vulnerable from the get-go because of their age and then if they don't take certain precautions they can be pick-pocketed, robbed and their home invaded or worse. 

We do not compare Cuenca crime to another city in the USA of the same size; that's like comparing an apple to an orange, very different and not worthy of any real statistical basis. If you want to compare crime levels do it with cities in other Latin American countries of the same size. 
  
Personal Safety

Personal safety precautions are much more dramatic in South America than they are in North America. You always need to be aware of your surroundings and keep a tight rein on your stuff. 

- You should never pull out your wallet with lots of big bills in it and walk around with a purse, or wear lots of jewelry, because these kinds of things are asking for trouble here. 
- You should never use an ATM machine that is outside of a building. If you use an ATM machine you need to watch out and make sure that no one is watching you get money out and then follow you home. In almost every instance where a gringo has gotten something stolen from them it was because they were too relaxed about their surroundings. 

There are a few Ecuadorian women who walk around alone, usually downtown during the day, but they are not the targets for petty crime. I would NEVER allow my teenage daughter to walk around alone anywhere in Cuenca. We still advise our young adult sons to walk in pairs, especially if going out at night. Remember. You’re in their country and you stand out just by being a gringo. If you encounter a thief, don't try and defend yourself, give them what you have...it's safer that way.
 
Update 2016 - When it comes to your safety, it is not someone else's opinion that matters so much.  What does matter is that you KNOW YOURSELF!  Have you traveled to a developing country before on your own?  If not, then it is probably not a good idea for any woman of any age to travel from her familiar stomping grounds to a Latin American country. We say this for several reasons and from seeing how some expats react to certain behaviors. 
 
NEXT....Moving on....

About 3.5 years ago in July 2012, a expat woman was attacked by three men on the Yanuncay river walk at 10:am in the morning. Being the brave and (naive) woman that she was, she attempted to defend herself against three armed men, she was severely stabbed and was taken to the hospital where she required ten stitches.

River Yanuncay - great hiding spot for an unsociable

This is a violent attack for Cuenca but it happens from time to time. Her first mistake was walking alone in a secluded area and her second mistake was defending herself against multiple armed attackers.

Next...

Young girls go missing all the time in Latin American countries, and many other places.  I can think of several women gone missing, found dead weeks or months later right off the top of my head in both Ecuador and Panama. It is VERY sad for the parents. 

It's odd how many of these young girls that go missing are usually traveling in pairs too. Two girls, walking and hiking in secluded, off the well worn paths is dangerous anywhere in the world!!  But 'well worn paths' can be misleading, as some areas are just dangerous in and of themselves for women alone.

Do your research. Older woman are vulnerable too because they are older. They come to these places thinking they will have a better life, and perhaps many of them will, but for anyone who has slight walking vulnerabilities, can't speak the language, and simply does not know how to behave and react to certain circumstances will be a target while living anywhere in Latin America and that includes Ecuador. 

Many older alone retirees, including men are having their homes invaded and robbed while they are in the home. The thugs will not hesitate to use their weapon or cause bodily harm if they have to. It just boggles our mind how many people want to move to these Latin American countries by themselves and expect everything to be the same as where they just came from. 
If you have never traveled to a Latin American country before you will be in for some cultural surprises. If you don't like change and you have a difficult time adapting to differences then moving to a Latin country is probably not a good fit for you.
 Here is what the Travel.State.Gov website says about women traveling alone to Ecuador

Incidents of sexual assault and rape have increased, including in well-traveled tourist areas. In many instances, criminals targeted women who had become separated from their group. Criminals sometimes use alcohol or incapacitating drugs such as scopolamine on unsuspecting tourists in order to rob and/or sexually assault them.

OUR NOTES: (a friend of ours told us that this happened to her 21-year old son in October in Cuenca)

So-called “date rape drugs” are put into drinks in order to disorient the victim and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems. To lower your risk of being a victim of sexual assault, travel in groups, be aware of alcohol or drugs, never allow a stranger to buy you a drink or leave your drink unattended.

Our friend's son is leaving Cuenca because this incident scared him to death. He told his mother that he woke up in unfamiliar surroundings and did not know what happened to him, but he knew that he’d been robbed.  The mother of this young man now does not go anywhere alone in Cuenca. We’re not telling you this stuff to make your fearful to come here, but to make you more diligent if and when you come here with your daughter.

- It would be best if women alone knew some Spanish before they got here so they could make friends with other local women too, besides just the gringo’s.  

- Keep yourselves aware and diligent when out and about. 

- We also suggest that you rent a secure condo or apartment while here in Cuenca or a house with electric fencing around the parimeter. 

- Do not go out or ride the bus after dark. 

- Keep your apartment locked when you are inside, even during the day. 

- We would not advice travel to Guayaquil or Quito for two women alone.  Two British women took a fake taxi cab and both were robbed and raped by the driver in October 2011 in Guayaquil. This happens in Quito too.  

During the day, here in Cuenca, if you take ALL the necessary security precautions you should be fine. Taxi's are safe to take here in Cuenca, at least for now.

Remember thieves love slackers. Slackers drink too much, they walk around alone after dark, they wear flashy jewelry and they forget to lock their apartment or close a window. And they open their gates to people they do not know! They think having a cell phone is going to save them and they think because they are walking in pairs or taking a taxi in pairs that nothing will happen to them. They think that living in a gringo gated community is safer. They brag about how much money they make and they walk around town with their passports and wallets full of cash…blah, blah, blah...they allow themselves to become the targets of crime.

Until we write again you might like to read these related articles.
We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!

4 comments:

  1. Hi Angie,

    I have been following your blog, videos, etc. on Cuenca. I am seriously considering retiring there in a couple years. I plan on visiting next summer in June. I have a question that I have not really seen addressed anywhere. I am single (divorced) late fifties. I noticed that you warn not to walk "alone" etc. That's kind of harsh for someone who is alone, not married, etc. I am totally independent here in the states. What is your take on someone like me retiring to Cuenca? I already read how to not get attention or be a target. I would like your opinion on a single woman my age moving to Cuenca. I am already studying Spanish. You have a great blog! So informative and honest. Also, what is a good, inexpensive, safe place to stay while visiting for a couple weeks? Thank you so much Phylli

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Phyllis,

    Glad you're enjoying the blog!

    Latin American Culture is much different than living in the U.S. It is of our opinion that women should not walk around alone in Ecuador for the reasons mentioned above.

    But, having said that, if you are single and want to come to Cuenca to live, the best place for a single woman being alone would be downtown Cuenca. Everything you will need is downtown, there is the mercado, shops, stores, apartments, the park calderon, museums, and lots of gringo hangouts where you can meet up and find other single women to make friends with.

    We feel that Downtown are is is the safest for women alone because there is always so many people walking around everywhere. But Cuenca quiets down around 8pm, unless there is a festival and it would be very unwise for you to be out alone after dark. It gets dark here at 6:30. Go out with friends and stay together until you both get in a taxi.

    Even though downtown Cuenca is probably safe during the day, you can still be a target of crime, even during the day...and petty crime is on the rise in Cuenca.

    On Calle Larga in downtown Cuenca there are several inexpensive hostels. We will be listing them with pictures and prices in our upcoming ebook, so we hope you are subscribed to the blog because we'll be posting to our readers when this ebook is published.

    Take care,
    Angie

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  3. My wife and I have resided in Mexico, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Nepal, Guam, Kowloon, HK China as well as many US states and European countries.

    We've NEVER been roughed up/robbed, but have lost items in our LUGGAGE!

    We have not always been in the best parts of towns,etc, but you [hopefully]learn a "sense" that keeps you from doing stupid things and acting foolishly that WILL result in eventual loss/robbery/assault/arrest.

    The traveler/ExPat or even a simple "3 countries in 3 days" tourist can travel "most places" on Earth, relatively safe, that is "IF" you learn to maintain, don't EVER flash $/jewerly[honestly, you're wearing glitter that will get you hurt/killed because of your vanity?].

    Dress moderately in public, don't wear bikinis/swim suits when IN TOWNS/VILLAGES/SHOPS, even in touristy beach towns!

    Always be respectful to ALL, but understand your limitations, the area you are in and the situation[s]that you may "let" get out of control, simply because you're not thinking responsibly.

    ALL areas of the world love "easy pick'ns", "IF" you "carry on" ridiculously in any place on Earth, let alone "most" of the 3rd world, you'll be an EASY target!

    Pickpockets/robberies are COMMON in tourist areas of Europe/USA, please understand that the 3rd world WILL be even more so!

    NEVER show much more than minimal amounts of any currency!

    USE "secret pockets" for passports/$,etc!

    NEVER wear bling, do you really need a ROLEX,etc in an area where the national wage is less than what you're wearing on your arm?

    Lessing changes of easy opportunistic "choices" by the "locals" will make your stay overseas or any where MUCH safer...

    Learn as much of the "local" language[s] and find out how to COUNT to 10 while shopping will instantly earn you respect and never take the first price for anything in the 3rd world, it's a "friendly" game of learning to negotiate.

    No need to ever YELL or show DISPLEASURE with a "local", they'll quickly have you marked and after that you life "there" be as a ..mark!

    A fool and their $ are soon parted..be conscious about your purchasing decisions and NEVER buy real estate in the 3rd world...RENT RENT RENT!

    You may "think" you're gonna live in this "paradise" for ever, but reality shows as soon as your health goes bad, you'll return to where ever you came from for medical care.

    ALL these stories about "Drs trained in USA" etc are find, til you find you have NO insurance to pay even these MUCH lesser 3rd world medical costs!

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  4. btw, I'm 70 and have used a wheelchair/crutches since I was 27..I know I'm a target!

    Life IS what ya make it..

    ReplyDelete

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