Safety and Security
Natural Disasters: Ecuador has many active and potentially active volcanoes, including around the capital of Quito and other popular tourist destinations. Other potential environmental threats include flooding, earthquakes, and tsunamis. In the event of a natural disaster, transportation, water, communications, and power systems may fail due to damaged infrastructure or heavy ash fall. Roads may close and flights in or out of Ecuadorian airports might be cancelled due to adverse conditions.
Three active volcanoes within 100 kilometers of Quito threaten the city primarily with ash fall. Baños, a popular tourist destination, is located at the base of the Tungurahua volcano. Tungurahua has erupted explosively several times in the last decade, including several eruptions throughout 2010 and 2011 that produced significant ash fall. Travelers to Baños, especially on the western side of town, should be aware that mud or lava flows could pose a significant and immediate threat. If you are in Baños when a volcanic eruption occurs, stay alert to the sirens and instructions from local authorities, and follow the arrows on the street to reach the evacuation shelters in the Santa Ana neighborhood on the main road on the east side of town, towards Puyo.
Earthquakes sometimes trigger deadly tsunamis, which could strike coastal areas of Ecuador or the Galápagos Islands. Ecuadorian national authorities put out warnings of potential tsunamis, but the response on the local level is uneven, and on one recent occasion in the Galapagos Islands, there was no coordinated evacuation when a tsunami struck.
Ecuador’s National Risk Management Secretariat and the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute monitor Ecuadorian volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis in Ecuador, issuing regular reports on their activity. In the event of a natural disaster, pay close attention to the news media for updates.
Civil Unrest: Political demonstrations occur frequently throughout Ecuador. During demonstrations, protesters often block city streets and rural highways, including major arteries such as the Pan American Highway, disrupting public and private transportation. Protesters sometimes burn tires, throw rocks, damage cars and other personal property, and on occasion detonate small improvised explosive devices. Police response to demonstrations varies, but may include water cannons and tear gas. U.S. citizens and U.S.-affiliated interests are not usually targeted, but you should avoid areas where demonstrations are in progress and be prepared with back-up transportation plans. Peaceful demonstrations can turn violent with little or no warning, and you could become a target.
Northern Border Region: Due to the spread of organized crime, drug and small-arms trafficking, and incursions by terrorist organizations near Ecuador’s border with Colombia, the U.S. Embassy in Quito advises caution when traveling to northern Ecuador, including the provinces of Sucumbios, northern Orellana (including the city of Coca), Carchi, and northern Esmeraldas (including the city of Esmeraldas). U.S. government personnel are prohibited from traveling to the northern border unless case-specific permission is granted. Embassy personnel are not permitted to go to this region on personal travel of any kind. At least 11 U.S. citizens are known to have been kidnapped in this region during the past 11 years.
Safety in the Galapagos Islands: The Galápagos archipelago is located more than 600 miles to the west of continental Ecuador. Geographic isolation and the lack of local resources may present challenges to travelers there. Dangers posed by lax enforcement of marine safety laws and rudimentary medical facilities are exacerbated by the difficulty of performing evacuations from the islands. A significant number of Ecuadorian tour vessels operating in the Galápagos do not meet international safety standards. The Government of Ecuador requires that vessels carrying more than 16 passengers comply with the International Safety Management Code established by the International Maritime Organization. However, the quality of oversight, crewmember proficiency, and other requisites for safe vessel operation may vary substantially. Travelers should inquire about safety features when boarding vessels. Be sure to look for life boats, flotation devices and, if possible, take a moment to inspect the life vest you would be using if there were an accident.
Medical resources in the Galápagos Islands are severely limited. Acute surgical, cardiac, and other types of specialty medicine are not available. There are two hospitals, located on the Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands. These facilities have limited personnel and resources, and often do not have basic medical supplies. Some cruise ships have on-board physicians available, who charge a fee for their services. Scuba divers in the Galápagos Islands should be aware of limited facilities for decompression. Serious injury or illness in the Galápagos typically requires costly medical evacuation to the Ecuadorian mainland or the United States for treatment. Medical evacuations by air ambulance can run upwards of $50,000 and take significant time to arrange. For that reason, the purchase of traveler’s health insurance that includes air evacuation is strongly recommended.