Safety issues in Quito, Ecuador
December 26, 2012 5:59 AM   Subscribe

My son is applying to a Junior Semester Abroad program in Ecuador for next fall semester. I am reading that Quito has become more dangerous than it was when we went there on a family vacation 6 years ago, and I am nervous for his safety. I'm looking for first-hand information and advice about how to stay as safe as possible.

I'm quite alarmed at reports of people getting into taxis and finding out that the driver is in cahoots with a gang, who then stops the taxi and demands a ransom from the passenger.

There also seems to be a lot of street crime.

My son will be staying with a host family and then getting to and from classes and anywhere else alone most of the time, I would imagine.

He really wants to go to this program, sponsored by an excellent college (but not his college). Although he himself is a bit concerned about these safety issues, he says that he really wants to go to Ecuador (he loved it when we went there when he was younger, but he was with us (his parents) and nobody told us then that people were hauled out of taxis and robbed (this was in 2006)).

He is about to take his fourth semester of college Spanish and, although he is certainly not fluent, I think his facility with the language will be good enough to get by in most situations. Ethnically he does not resemble any native Ecuadorian I've ever seen. On the other hand, we are from New York City, and not the safest area, either. He's grown up knowing how to navigate subways and "scope out" people who might not have his best interests in mind. But Manhattan is not Ecuador.

Has anyone had experience living in Quito or visiting recently? What were the safety issues? Do you regret going? Is this program a bad idea at this time? (I have suggested a Madrid alternative, sponsored by his college, but this does not interest him.)

I've told him he can ask the program to get him in contact with students who have completed the program so that he can get first-hand reports and ask questions, but is this realistic?

What can he do to make his semester as safe as possible?
posted by DMelanogaster to Travel & Transportation around Quito, Ecuador (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The family he is staying with will know far more about safety problems than anyone here is.

Is he just going there for spanish immersion? If that's the case, then maybe stay somewhere in Ecuador other than the capital? Capital cities in most central american countries are far more dangerous than the countryside.

Other options for studying spanish abroad besides Ecuador and Madrid: Antigua, Xela or Lake Atitlan in Guatemala (I took spanish classes in Lake Atitlan). Costa Rica has a lot of spanish schools, but is fairly expensive. Granada or Esteli in Nicaragua (Granada is a more expensive city, but Esteli is fairly rural and isolated).

What can he do to make his semester as safe as possible?

I haven't been in Quito, but I went through some pretty dangerous places in Central America. It's the same as in any big city, I imagine. Be alert. Stay in populated areas. If locals tell you someplace is dangerous, believe them. Don't ever travel alone at night, and try not to do it during the day. Don't carry around a lot of money or an expensive camera or phone. Keep your stuff locked up. If you're not sure about a situation, it's better to leave. Don't get plastered if you go out drinking. Don't buy drugs. If you get robbed, just give up your stuff.
posted by empath at 6:26 AM on December 26, 2012

Response by poster: (He does not want to investigate an alternative program and that's not what we're looking for here.)

This is not Spanish immersion. It is a full semester abroad, with four different courses.

I don't see how he can not travel alone when he is a student going back and forth between a host family and the campus. Unless "travel" means something more than going to and from school every day.
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:32 AM on December 26, 2012

Ah. Well, I assume classes are during the day, so that should be okay. Especially once he knows the neighborhood. It's really more of an issue of wandering into a neighborhood you don't know and that you shouldn't be in.
posted by empath at 6:35 AM on December 26, 2012

Best answer: I lived in Quito for about two and a half months last year and attended a Spanish language school there. I absolutely loved it and had a wonderful experience, and would definitely go back again.

Quito can be dangerous, but if your son follows basic safety tips and is aware of his surroundings he should be fine. I also read about the taxi robberies before I went but nothing like that ever happened to me - I did my best not to get into taxis alone, always took an official taxi (they're yellow with a serial number, from what I recall, but his host family should be able to point them out to him or call him one if necessary), and set the price before I got in.

I never had a problem with anyone mugging me on the street in Quito, but I always made sure to stick to well-populated areas and not walk alone late at night. My friend who decided to take a late-night stroll in a dangerous neighborhood did get mugged at knifepoint, so it can happen, but that is definitely not the norm if you're careful. The thing to worry about in Quito, more than street violence, is pickpocketing, which is definitely ubiquitous.

There are also certain neighborhoods that are more dangerous than others - I lived close to the Mariscal, which they call Gringolandia because it's where all the tourists go to go out, and the locals will always tell you to be careful there. I'm sure his host family will tell him this, but your son should not walk up the hill to the Panecillo (where the monument to the Virgin Mary is) even with friends - lots of robberies happen there, even in the day. Really, though, you have to be careful everywhere.

I have no regrets about going, and would go back in a second! Ecuador is SUCH a gorgeous country and the people are really warm. He will also learn beautiful Spanish - Ecuadorians speak very clearly. Just to compare, when I was in college I studied abroad in Toledo, close to Madrid. I enjoyed that experience too, but it's really about what your son is looking for - does he want to experience Europe, which is decidedly more modern and maybe more like home, or Quito, which is definitely less developed and probably more unfamiliar? Quito does take getting used to, but it's an incredibly eye-opening experience and one that I think would have benefitted me in college.

If you have any more questions about Quito or places to travel within Ecuador, please memail me!! I had such a great time there and would love to share more.
posted by luciernaga at 7:08 AM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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