10 Years of Blog Archive

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Crime and Safety in Quito Ecuador – How to Avoid Being a Target

We’ve all read about the expats, who are enjoying the beauty of Quito city, taking photographs of the cathedral and other remarkable architecture. They take their eyes off their backpack just for a moment and a thief grabs it and dashes off.

We’ve even heard of horror stories such as expats being knocked down to the ground after thieves snatch off their gold necklace, earrings, etc.

There have also been some really scary stories of young women getting into unmarked unregistered taxi cabs and getting sexually assaulted by the driver.

And then there are the stories of intoxicated expats who leave nightclubs at wee hours of the morning and end up getting pounced on and robbed, and sad to say, worse things have happened to them.

The crime stories mentioned above are all true and real. However acts of thievery and violence we just mentioned can be avoided.

Expats and tourists that have no incidents of thievery to report take the needed precautions to NOT become a target of crime, or they simply were lucky that week. Eventually the most vulnerable folks are going to be a target of crime and have something stolen from them, or worse have something bad happen to them. If you play Russian Roulette enough times eventually you’re going to shoot yourself.

Thieves Look for Vulnerability

Crime that takes place in tourist cities such as Cuenca and Quito Ecuador are 99% indiscriminate and random.  In other words, no one is actually a target until they make themselves be a target. Thieves lie in wait, carefully eyeing out the scene looking for vulnerability in a tourist.  When he sees vulnerability he thinks “Hey there’s an easy target” and he goes for it…or they go for it. Sometimes they don’t even lie in wait, they
just do the mustard trick on any travelers that happen to be walking by.

This is Latin America after all, where the police don’t have the resources or money to do much of anything for common petty thievery. The thieves know this…so as long as they can run away…snatch and grabs are good business for them.

Pick-pocketing tourists and expats is prevalent all over the world and it takes a professional to get away with it. Read our true petty theft crime story about how Frank finally got pick pocketed in Cuenca while riding a bus; by the way, it too could have been avoided.

Avoiding Crime is about Being Watchful and Diligent

Ways that we can be safer is by being watchful and diligent and then making these two behaviors a part of our new retirement lifestyle. When we take the needed precautions to stay safe it starts to be habit-forming.

-We remember to not leave our valuables unattended.
-We always hang onto our packs, purses, etc;
-We remain aware of our surroundings to make sure we are not being followed;
-We do not come out of a night clubs intoxicated and alone no matter what time of day it is;
- We don’t climb into unmarked taxis, no matter how tired we happen to be.
- We do not act tired and vulnerable out in public, even if we are tired.
- And most importantly, we don’t show a flaunty kind of lifestyle where our jewels, clothing, and stuff make others envious; we try to blend in as much as possible.

How to Avoid Home Invasions

Even a blonde person/family can blend in better by living in the same type of home and neighborhood as the locals, and by not showing off material possessions in and around their home that would make it tempting for a thief to want to steal things. If the thieves don’t “see” anything to steal than where’s the target? Don’t think for a minute that your lifestyle won’t get back to the thieves. It is a small world, thieves will find out where you live and they will know when you leave. So then ‘how would you want them to think about you?’  ‘What would you want them to know about you?'

When we become friends with the local people in the neighborhood, speaking Spanish, riding the bus, shopping where they shop, bargaining for items, dressing like they do, and basically doing whatever it takes to blend in, they will see us as just like them and NOT “rich gringo foreigners”,  and guess what? Your house suddenly stops being a target.

At first any gringo / foreigner house will be a target but it is up to you to change that. Staying safe and free from being taken advantage of is really up to you.

It works the other way too. If you happen to have the nicest house in the neighborhood and if you have expensive items in plain view such as automobiles, boats, riding lawn mowers, motorcycles, barbecues, whatever…your home will be a target for crime at the first available chance by thieves.

If you go around talking to people about your finances and behaving as if you are rich…showing off and wearing expensive jewels…well then guess what? You will be a target of crime.

We have to be extra special careful when living in Latin America about “who we allow to come into our home”.  Service workers, repairmen, electricians, and Internet techs have been known to eye out the things in expats homes to see if there is anything worth the effort…if there is…you may be a target of a home invasion / robbery.

We do not want to scare you but this happens even in little Cuenca Ecuador. Be careful and use someone with references and of reputable character. If you have valuables in plain sight you know what you need to do, hide them.

However, with all of this said there are a few acts of crime throughout Ecuador that are well-thought out and definitely planned out where tourists have no idea what’s coming to them.  One such crime is the armed robbery of all the passengers on tour national buses on the Ecuador highways and byways. There is nothing you can do to prevent such crimes and sadly they do happen from time to time, usually at night and out of Guayaquil. The odds of this happening to you go way down by just NOT riding tour buses or city buses after dark.

Crime is everywhere and in cities in North America. However, crime is a bit different in North America than it is here in South America. In SA most of the petty theft crimes and robberies happen to tourists and expats because they are considered to be rich and therefore overflowing with valuables. They don’t go after their own too much because they are not considered rich and having many valuable items in their possession or in their homes. Although it still does happen. 

Yes, Quito has its share of crime, however, if you take precautions of diligence and watchfulness, crime will not come to you.  Remember: being watchful and diligent really works! It is your best protection against crime. Quito is a beautiful city full of beautiful people and wonderful things to see and do. Enjoy yourself but be a diligent expat too.


  1. Thanks so much for this honest review of Quito. People coming from the US are naive to think that they won't be a target if they aren't aware of their surroundings. It should be common sense; don't trust strangers. Don't leave your valuables lying around for someone to steal. When poverty is rampant, doesn't matter where in the world you are, people will do what they have to in order to survive. So sure they will steal, if given the chance.

  2. I am glad that you wrote this! I would love to visit Ecuador and possibly retire in a small town.I am always perplexed at Americans who.go to a foreign Country and expect Little America and or flaunt their Wealth.These very.same People have moved to Costa Rica,Ecuador and many places on the Globe.Prices have risen exponentially because of it.If you cant blend into.a.Culture dont bother movimg there..you could have a rude Awakening.

  3. My wife and I are coming to Quito this Feb. I purchased some items that allow you to hide your valuables on your person; then all you need to do is carry a old debit or credit card and fifty bucks in a belly bag or billfold. If a thief robs you he will most likely go for the simple thing and you still have your GOOD cards, passport and most of your money safe.

  4. I am taking my father to Ecuador (Quito) this week and I am really worried. He wants to retire there because he has heard it's wonderful. He is 78 years old, 6'2, and walks (rather painfully) with a cane. I'm 49, 5'4 and not exactly a bodyguard. We've purchased items so we can carry cash on our persons (under clothes), I'm going to wear skirts (not short ones) and keep a modest profile (leaving my customary jeans, t-shirts and Converse sneakers at home). I'm basically going to try to blend in. I do speak Spanish, which should help, and he knows a little from his days at Valley Forge. But not looking vulnerable? Ha! How am I not going to look vulnerable? Should I try scowling? We are going to be mugger heaven. I wish he'd never read all this stuff from International Living. I swear. I have two kids at home. Wish me luck, all.

    1. Please keep reading both of our blogs on personal safety. The Discover Cuenca Ecuador blog has a lot more on the subject of "crime and safety" as it is 3-years old and we write a lot of articles, On the Cuenca blog type in keywords in the search bar such as "staying safe in Ecuador", "crime and safety", and pickpockets", etc, etc...

      Stay safe!

      Word of advice: Stick to wearing your jeans and sneakers because you'll blend in better than if you wear skirts. And...don't go out after dark unless you are with a group of people.

  5. One must ensure the safety of commercial or residential premises by choosing the right type of security gate that can help protecting the precious property at the very first stage.

  6. I wanna come to Quito to study Spanish but I'm afraid


HMFamilyLife and Discover Cuenca Ecuador Comment Policy
We welcome applicable and respectful comments. Off-topic comments may be removed.