If you rock up into Ecuador’s capital city having just travelled from Cali to Quito by bus, you will already appreciate that this part of the world doesn’t have the best safety record. There are stories of muggings, hijackings and plenty of opportunistic crime, but I would argue that this shouldn’t put you off travelling around Ecuador. Is Quito safe for solo travellers? I would say ‘yes’, as long as you keep your wits about you and make sure you’re not out on the streets alone after dark.
FREE WALKING TOURS
If you’re wondering ‘Is Quito safe?’, a great way to take in the sights is on a free guided city tour. Many hostels offer this, or you might be able to sign up for one online instead. It’s also a great way to meet people. Here are some of the highlights of Quito.
Our guide, Danielle, led us a couple of blocks to the nearby Basilica del Voto Nacional. She pointed out the many different animal species depicted as gargoyles and suggested we return later to climb the steps in the bell tower. This recommendation should have come with a warning for vertigo sufferers, as we found out later.
We wandered down the street to check out Independence Square, and on the way, a man made a grab for Danielle’s iPod Nano, which she’d forgotten to leave at the hostel. It was broad daylight and she’s a local Ecuadorian, which goes to show how important it is to keep your guard up and protect your belongings, whether or not you’re a tourist.
IGLESIA DE LA COMPANIA DE JESUS
The Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus is a very beautiful church adorned inside with gold plating. In my opinion they went over the top, but it’s definitely worth peeking your head round the door and snapping a couple of photos (‘sin flash’) before heading on your way.
VIRGEN MARY MONUMENT
As you walk around the old town, a constant landmark you can use to orientate yourself is the Virgin Mary monument, which sits on the top of El Panecillo hill. It’s possible to visit the top, but unadvisable to do so on foot. This is a very poor area, and with that comes serious crime. There have even been kidnappings.
My advice would be to enjoy this hill from below and grab a better view of the city from the top of the TeleferiQo later in the day.
Our tour culminated with a free fruit juice in a small café on the intersection of a number of streets where you could play table football and boules.
It’s a great chance to experiment with a fruit you’ve never tried before, and I’d recommend the empanadas too.
BASILICA DEL VOTO NACIONAL VISIT
When the tour finished, a group of us headed back to the Basilica del Voto Nacional and paid a couple of dollars to check out its interior.
The steps were easy going stone slabs at first, but as we came level with the ceiling of the nave we realised we would have to navigate a narrow wooden bridge inside the church’s roof. My wobbly legs carried me over and up the tiny steel ladder at the end. And then I came face to face with the dodgiest looking structure I’ve ever felt compelled to climb.
For reasons that escape me, the only way to reach the main viewing platform was to balance carefully up a very thin steel ladder outside the walls of the church, while clinging to a maze of thin metal bars either side. To make matters worse, the wire mesh that had been attached between each step to prevent your feet from slipping through was missing in places. I hate to think who had the misfortune of testing its strength and realising it didn’t fulfil its intended function.
Following the cathedral, our group decided to make the most of the ‘safety in numbers’ mentality and took the TeleferiQo to the top of one of the hills for an even better panoramic view of the city. It’s a cable car that reaches 4100 metres altitude. Had I known in advance it would cost $8 plus the taxi fare, I’m not sure I would have bothered, but we had some fun taking jumping shots by the edge. We also met a lovely couple from Hong Kong and the man bought us each a hot chocolate to warm us up from the surprisingly icy breeze.
DAY TRIPS AND ONWARD TRAVEL
Whether you like it or not, Quito is a central point in Ecuador and you’ll probably find yourself passing through it on more than one occasion. After my initial arrival, I left for a day trip to Otavalo Market and another to the Mitad del Mundo. I also took a multi-day trip to the forests of Mindo, which brought me back to Quito.
SO, IS QUITO SAFE?
Is Quito safe? No, not compared with a lot of places. There are opportunistic thieves around and if you stand out as a rich foreigner they might try to target you. However, if you keep your valuables hidden or locked away, come home before nightfall and stay sober you should be fine, and with it being such a central location, you learn the ropes soon enough.
I highly recommend the Secret Garden hostel as a place to stay. It’s very comfortable and sociable, and the guided tour was a great way to get our bearings without having to wander the streets alone. The staff will also help you to book tours to many of the region’s surrounding attractions.