Quito's reputation as an unsafe city is becoming more apparent and as in every big city tourists should take special care in certain areas.
Do not travel up El Panecillo on foot; use a taxi even during the day. Not only is the neighborhood bad, but the road leading up the hill has very narrow sidewalks, and sometimes no sidewalks at all. This presents a risk of being, at best, overwhelmed with diesel fumes as busses chub by, at worst, getting run over.
It is probably best to avoid "Gringolandia" alone at night, as there is quite a bit of assault even during the day. Drunk foreigners are easy targets in this neighborhood full of bars and clubs, so stick with a group. This is not, however, a reason to miss out on all this lively area has to offer.
As the Old City becomes quite dead after dark, it is best to avoid walking around alone. However, much of the central squares of the Old Town are patrolled by police and well-lit, so it is fine for a stroll in a group at night. During the day, it is perfectly fine, bustling with locals, shopkeepers, hawkers and tourists, and well patrolled by police, especially at the main tourist attractions. Nevertheless, pickpocketing and pursesnatching can be a problem, so take normal precautions. The plaza and doors of the San Francisco church, and the main trolley station near Plaza Domingo are particularly notorious areas for this. Pickpocketing is done by highly skilled groups of 3 or 4 people. You are best off not bringing a wallet at all—just some bills split between various pockets. Also, watch out for the busses and trollies while in old town. On many streets, sidewalks can be very narrow, so it is best to pay attention at all times so you can flatten against the wall and cover your face (diesel fumes!) if you need to let one pass, especially when the sidewalk is crowded.
Mariscal Sucre and all parks among other areas can be unsafe at night so taxis are advised for even short distances. Keep your belongings as close and as secure as possible, and if you feel in danger, duck into a bar or shop, and then hail a taxi. Beware of credit card fraud, which is an increasingly serious problem in Quito as tourists are being targeted in the Mariscal area.
The area near Hospital Militar is quite dangerous, even in the late morning. The road "Solano" where Casa Bambu Hostel is situated is especially dangerous. Armed robberies have become more common. Men have been known to jump out of cars to target and physically threaten foreigners in order to steal their belongings. Although its views are amazing, exercise caution when walking to and from your accommodation. Taxis travel up and down this road frequently so if you can spare $1.50 to get into Mariscal Sucre, do so. Parks nearby are also dangerous. Perhaps walk around the parks instead of going through them.
The main bus station is an area known to target travelers (foreigners or locals alike). You need to watch your bags closely, before departure, during departure, even once on the bus. It is best not even to put your luggage in the overhead shelving or under your own seat, as you can be easily distracted and have all your key possessions stolen before realizing it. Unfortunately you need to watch your bags on top of, or under the bus, at every stop until you arrive at your destination. There are two important sorts of scams that you may encounter on buses:
One common one scam involves a thief impersonating bus staff (this can be easy because those of many companies have no uniforms) who will direct you to a seat and finding some excuse to ask you to put your bag in the overhead compartment or directly under your own seat where you cannot see it; an accomplice seated directly behind you will then slash open your bag and steal the belongings. Having the bag between your legs is not safe either as children are commonly used to climb down under the seat (from behind you), slash the bag, and remove belongings without you ever feeling a thing. Always have your bag on your lap.
Another scam will often have an accomplice who will provide a distraction such as pretending to sell sweets before spilling them all over you, giving their friend the chance to steal your belongings. This can't be emphasised enough: never let your belongings out of sight. If something suspicious is happening like this on a bus, just refuse to co-operate and hold your belongings close to you. Robberies of this kind are common, particularly on buses leaving Quito. It is worth considering paying $3 or $4 more for a trip on a more high-class bus as these often have additional security measures, which can prevent robberies of tourists and locals alike. On city buses, it is best not bring a backpack. If you absolutely have to bring one, wear it on your chest, not your back.
Finally, several neighborhoods located to the very north and south of the city are infamous among locals for having gang/delinquent trouble. "La Bota" to the north is specially notorious as it even locals try to avoid passing through it as much as possible.
Wearing "gringo" clothes (fishing vests, travelers pants, bright colored t-shirts, dirty sandals) will make you a target. Ecuadorians in Quito generally dress conservatively; a pair of nice black pants or dark jeans and a non-descript white/off-white t-shirt will make you look a business person who knows his way around and not just another tourist posing as a Haight-Ashbury hippie.
Travelers in Quito are likely to be approached at some point or another by con artists or persons with "sob stories". Ignore such persons and be wary of anyone asking for money under any pretext, including children begging. If you feel charitable, Ecuador has lots of legitimate charities you can support.
Avoid associating at all with the drug trade in Ecuador. Ecuador has strict laws against possession, transportation and use of illegal drugs and foreigners caught transporting drugs at the airports have been sentenced to long prison terms. Unfortunately, any foreigner with a "alternative" or "hippie" appearance (such as men with long hair) may be assumed by some Ecuadorians to be looking for drugs. If you are approached about drugs in any context, it safe to assume the person approaching you is up to no good.
One exception is use of entheogens by indigenous people. Interest in ayahuasca is prompting increasing numbers of Americans and Europeans to travel to South America in order to partake in traditional ceremonies, and Ecuador is one such place. It is advisable to plan such a trip with a reliable guide before you travel there.
All Ecuadorian citizens and visitors are required to carry ID at all times. If your stay in Ecuador is for a few months or longer, sooner or later, you will encounter a roadside police check and be requested to show ID. You can show your passport; however, carrying your passport around all the time is not advised due to the risk of loss of theft. A better option is to have a copy of your passport certified by your embassy and carry that. Students and long-term residents will be issued an Ecuadorian "censo" card that can also be carried in place of a passport for ID purposes.
If you are the victim of a crime it is suggested you report it to the Ecuadorian National Police (by law, you must report within 72 hours of the incident), as well as to your home country embassy and to the South American Explorers Club.
In 2009, two Visitor Safety Service offices were opened or revamped. Their job is to help with filling out forms, embassies and passports, etc. They have two vehicles for further assistance. Some staff speak English or other languages:
Corner of Roca y Reina Victoria, Edif. Relaciones Exteriores (Pasaportes)
Opening Times: 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Tel: (+593 2) 254-3983
Be prepared to offer English lessons as a "bribe."
Plaza Grande (north side of the square on calle Chile, between Venezuela and García Moreno), Edif. Casa de los Alcaldes.
Opening Times: 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Tel: (+593 2) 295-5785
This office is known for its slow responses to crimes that are taking place; it is not uncommon to see locals yelling at these officers for not doing their jobs.
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