In an article titled Five Destinations That Call For Caution, New York Time’s author Shivani Vora highlights a supposedly unsafe Quito, Ecuador. She places this UNESCO World Heritage Site with four other cities in developing nations: Karachi, Pakistan; Caracas, Venezuela; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and Yangon, Myanmar. For those of us who have walked Quito’s city streets, this advisory seems over the top.
The City Cathedral, Plaza de Independencia, Quito, Ecuador | © Angela Drake
An evening crowd in La Ronda, Historic Quito, Ecuador | © Angela Drake

The Safe City Index

Vora uses the Safe City Index to make her claim. Compiled by the Economist for the past two years, the list relies on funding from the NEC, a company that claims to create “safer and more secure urban communities through digital communication.” They have reason to want us to be afraid.

Quito is listed as 53 of 60 cities on a list that progresses from relatively safe to most dangerous. But the list takes more than crime into account. The rating combines metrics that include health and infrastructure as well as digital and personal security. Therefore, cities in developing nations with limited access to digital security measures like CCTV, with older city centers full of historic buildings, and with limited access to top-of-the-line health care are penalized in the safety index.

Only one city in a developing nation shows in the safest half: Buenos Aires, Argentina.

My family has lived in both Buenos Aires and Quito. We were robbed in one of these two cities. We were pick-pocketed in one of these two cities. Ironically, neither crime was committed in Quito.

Our own experience in these cities makes me question the huge disparity in ratings. Tourists in both cities need to take precautions but those in Buenos Aires, in my opinion, face a higher chance of pickpockets and armed robbers in popular tourism districts than those in Quito.


Looking towards the Plaza de Independencia and Cathedral, Quito, Ecuador | © Angela Drake

The City of Quito Responds

It should come as no surprise that the municipality of Quito is angry that their city should appear on this list of cautionary tales. Their spokesperson for tourism, Verónica Sevilla, reminded a local newspaper that the US State Department provides safety rankings for countries throughout the world. Ecuador maintains a Level 1 on their new and updated website. In fact, the report from the Safe City Index might as well have been compiled from the State Department website as they warn of the same dangers without the hyperbole.

Since 2016, there have been fewer than 250 reported acts of theft against tourists each year. Considering Quito is a city with more than 2.5 million people, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of tourists will never be robbed.

Even the warnings of express kidnappings seem overblown. A decade or so ago, it was fairly common to read in the newspapers of Guayaquil or Quito that someone had been kidnapped by taxi and taken to an ATM to remove money from their accounts. Both cities have taken steps to prevent these types of kidnappings. Today, express kidnappings are not only rare but avoidable. Taking simple precautions, like using established taxi networks like EasyTaxi, or flagging a taxi near a police check point, or hiring local drivers through your hotel or host, can make you a less-likely target.


Police meet up near La Ronda, Quito, Ecuador | © Angela Drake

Not Your Average American Recommendations

In my opinion, the NY Times extrapolated information from a report without considering the bigger picture. Yes, Quito is a city with crime. Yes, its residents must find ways to improve safety and security. But Quito is not more dangerous than Buenos Aires, a city ranked in the upper half of that same report.

If a tourist follows basic precautions recommended for travel in most big cities, they will avoid even petty thefts like cellphone robberies. On our pages, we believe in presenting destinations honestly and will give you a heads up if robbery or petty theft is a problem. When we make recommendations on places to stay, we have frank conversations with our customers about the pros and cons of each neighborhood. We want you to enjoy your trip without being scared or worried.

Readers of our blog will know that safety and security are top on our list of concerns. We’ve written about safety in the backcountry and for basic travel in South America. We also offer specific suggestions for staying safe while touring Quito. We are not blind to the problems. We just don’t think Quito deserves to be listed as one of the most 5 dangerous cities for tourists.

Doorway of the City Cathedral, Historic Quito, Ecuador | © Angela Drake