Is Quito safe? The quiet Ecuadorian tries to answer – Update Jan. 2024

In the last post I talked a little bit about Quito and the circumstances of my arrival in the Ecuadorian capital (with a “troubled” first night but…better to forget all that). Now I take a walk with the objective of understanding if Quito is a safe or a dangerous city.

I hate oversimplification so let’s dig a little deeper and see what we find.

After a couple of days of excursions limited to the historic center, neighboring areas, and the most touristic stuff, the third day I decided to take a long walk, with two objectives.

Quito is  a complicated city, like most of modern capitals. Some areas of Quito are safe, others not so much. I must say that walking around was always a pleasure, without any  serious problem. In any cas is better to avoid certain areas, especially in the southern part of the city.
Is Quito safe? Quito is a complicated city, like most modern capitals. Some areas of Quito are safe, others not so much. I must say that walking around was always a pleasure, without any serious problem. In any case is better to avoid certain areas, especially in the southern part of the city.

Is Quito safe or not? Let’s get serious

The first objective of my Quito walk was to reach the Museum/Foundation of Oswaldo Guayasamin and “La Capilla del Hombre”.

The second was to understand what kind of a city the capital of Ecuador really was (ambitious I know). Is Quito a safe city or a dangerous one?

La Capilla was located about 6.2 km from my hotel, in the northern part of Quito. In the middle there was the Mariscal district, where I could easily find a bar and a good coffee. With this plan my mind I thought I could reach the museum in about two hours of urban trekking.

I think that walking around a city, people begin to understand the mechanism that regulates social and economic interactions. You breathe polluted and clean air, you cross poor and rich neighborhoods, you face everyday life, squalor, and beauty. You look around and if you are a good observer, the immaterial fabric of the city slowly reveals itself. It takes experience and time but it’s worth and I love it.

Walking, even with my quick pace, is a perfect way to start understanding how to live (in) a city. Taxis and cars, but also buses and subways, can say something but not all that a 12.5-kilometer walk can say.

Is Quito safe? the differences From north to south

Starting from the city center and going north, there are some popular neighborhoods: Barrio Dorado, Larrea and El Belen, which at night could be considered kind of spooky.

After the public park El Ejido (partly closed for the construction of the subway) begins the affluent Mariscal Sucre district, the one where the famous Plaza Foch is. And Plaza Foch is the “night place” par excellence in Quito (even if things move fast in this field and Republica de El Salvador is an emerging area).

From Mariscal Sucre to the north things change dramatically. Let’s say that neighborhoods look more like an American city if it could be built on the Equator.

Bellavista, the barrio where the Guyasamin Foundation is located, is a middle/upper-middle-class neighborhood. Quiet enough to house the headquarters of the Ecuadorian Agency for Markets control and some other service companies.

The walk, even beyond my attempt to understand something more about the city, certainly deserves the effort and it was a shame to see that the other four tourists of the group that participated in the visit of the museum, came by taxi. Please try to walk, it’s really worth it

Bellavista district.
Is Quito safe? here the Bellavista district.

Guayasamin Foundation and La Capilla del hombre

The museum itself, in which you cannot take photos, is made up of the house of Guayasamin, a famous Ecuadorian painter and artist, and a sort of chapel, absolutely secular despite having something spiritual, where you can find murals and paintings of the artist.

Quito, Capilla del Hombre, one of Guyasamin works. I'm not an expert but it seems to me there's a clear Picasso influence. Foto di Robert Nunn LIcenza creative commons
Quito, Capilla del Hombre, one of Guyasamin works. I’m not an expert but it seems to me there’s a clear Picasso influence. Foto di Robert Nunn Licenza creative commons

Perhaps the name of Guayasamin will not tell you much but I would suggest you look for some of his works: they reflect many foreign influences but have deep roots in 20th century South America.

Guaysamin was then a vital and always smiling character, very famous in South America, where he met, and often made portraits, the greatest political personalities of the continent. From Castro to Allende, from Kennedy to Gabriel Garcia Marquez (yes, he had an understandable predilection for the socialist/communist characters).

A view of the city from the garden of "La capilla del hombre". The squared building is la capilla.
Is Quito safe? A view of the city from the garden of “La Capilla del hombre”. The squared building is la Capilla.

So, is Quito safe? I smell gentrification…

In addition to going up to a nice museum, this 12 km walk allowed me to “touch” the city and to reach a certain conclusion on the alleged danger it presents.

Generally speaking, the center, San Blas and El Belen, the parks of Alameda and El Ejido mark a fluid border between the southern Quito, more dangerous and problematic, and the northern areas. The richer northern part of the city begins with Mariscal and ends (horror :O) with a Country Club and shopping malls that smell of gentrification and bourgeoisie middle-class from 5 miles away.

One of the districts in the northern part of the Ecuadorean capital.
Is Quito safe? One of the districts in the northern part of the Ecuadorean capital.

Right and wrong baby

This does not mean that the few people who said that Quito is not dangerous were right and those who advise moving around by taxi are wrong. Things are a bit more complex. Even with all the precautions, a small robbery could always happen here and there. So travel with an old phone, don’t bring a lot of cash and please, don’t try to be a hero.

When I travel I always rely on my instincts and I advise you to do the same if you have at least a little bit of experience. And always keep in mind that things can change dramatically if you are a woman.

Is Quito safe? Let me tell you a short story

One morning I was sitting in a good cafè at Mariscal and a boy comes to me. He was a calm and non-threatening figure, an ex-FARC guerrilla, who was trying to rebuild his life in Ecuador. After an exchange of a few words, he shows me a white paper printed on the computer.

Above there were his name and a series of personal data, then in a box at the middle of the page a couple of lines … “crimes committed – robbery and attempted murder, 2012”. I never judge a person by the criminal record. I give him a couple of dollars, he thanks me, I hope they are sufficient (but sufficient for what?).

In the end, I think: who is really more dangerous, the tattooed boy with an attempted murder on his back or a banker in a gray suit?

Is Quito safe? Update Jan. 2024

Unfortunately, the situation in the capital Quito, and throughout Ecuador, needs to be updated and for the worse. On January 8, President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency following the deterioration of security.

Two episodes in particular can be considered the classic drops that broke the camel’s back:

  • the escape from prison of Adolfo Macías Villamar, known as Fito, one of the most well-known and feared drug trafficking bosses. Fito managed to escape from prison in Guayaquil, a coastal city, shortly before being transferred to a maximum security facility.
  • The raid of an armed gang in a television studio with journalists forced to the ground with guns pointed at their heads, all live. The gang was then neutralized by the police.

Ecuador’s problems are mainly linked to drug trafficking and the gangs that control it. These gangs also effectively organize life inside prisons, or at least many of the Ecuadorian prisons. For this reason, criminals effectively remain unpunished.

Ecuador, army patrolling the streets of the capital
Is Quito safe? Ecuador, army patrolling the streets of the capital. From AP website

Ecuador is located between two large cocaine-producing states, Peru and Colombia. The demobilization of the FARC in Colombia and the joint work of the police of the two states has made Ecuador the weak link in the drug trafficking chain and many gangs, allying themselves with large international groups such as the Mexican cartels, have decided to exploit the port of Guayaquil to export cocaine.

At the moment the army can support the police on the streets, in prisons and there is also a curfew throughout the nation from 11pm to 5am. It goes without saying that I would advise you to change your travel plans, if possible.

In this post I tried to answer the question Is Quito safe? if you want to raed something else, down here you have a bunch of links:

Going to the Ecuador – Colombia border? you can have a look here.

Interested in the current situation in Nicaragua? Have a look here!

A bit worried and you want to talk about travel insurance?

Or a bit worried about traveling to Bogotà?

My 5 reasons to travel to the Caucasus.

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