Be cautious and aware of your surroundings while traveling around Ecuador. Before you say well I have half a brain, or I’m from Chicago do you think it’s safe there, or repeat the realtorspeak about how they don’t feel uncomfortable day or night walking anywhere and that you just have to use common sense etc. This is a very important message and a lesson in risk/reward. This is our take!
Please do yourself a favor and leave all your good jewelry, fancy expensive clothing, watches, fancy purses, backpacks, laptops and camera equipment at home. Bring items of lesser value; a small inexpensive computer, a camera you picked up at Wal-Mart, a well-worn backpack and other items that if taken would not necessarily ruin your trip. If wearing a backpack, have it hanging across your chest or under your armpit not on your back and do not put anything under your seat or above your head while riding on a bus. Keep all your belonging in your lap so that you can control them. Make copies of your passport and other important documents and lock the originals in the hotel safe. Do not bring a wallet full of debit or credit cards, only big stores and upscale hotels accept credit cards anyway. In Panama, we remember trying to use a US Visa card at a place that said Visa accepted only to learn they meant only National cards (cards issued within the country) not international. Be sure that your bank in your home country knows that you will be traveling in Ecuador and that your ATM cards work in Ecuador. Have the list of contact numbers in a separate place for these cards so if they are taken you can cancel them immediately. Do not carry large sums of money on your person, only take what money you will be needing for the time you will be out that day. Keep money in different pockets, a few dollars here, a $10 bill there, DO NOT pull a wad of cash out in public and wave it around. You are just looking for someone to follow you and knock you over the head. If you have an old wallet put a few expired credit cards and a small amount of cash in it and use it as a throw away wallet. If confronted, throw the wallet down and run in the opposite direction.
Recently a traveler we met had a bad experience when taking an unmarked taxi in Guayaquil and lost her luggage. In my personal opinion it was the bus services unprofessional handling of a situation that led to this women being left off the bus at the bus companies office instead of the bus terminal. The only taxis available to her were unmarked instead of the yellow licensed taxi. This kind of theft happens regularly. Never walk away from your luggage, do not use unmarked cars or taxis that do not have the drivers identification located either on the headrest or displayed on the dashboard. I have a friend who sits in the front seat and writes down the driver’s name and ID number on a pad right in front of the taxi driver or pretend to use you cell phone to call and give a friend this information. Not that all theft can be avoided but you should make an attempt to show that you are a smart traveler. Some folks just don’t have anything and see foreigners with things that they could sell and feed their families for weeks. Busy areas like bus stations, airports and now even shopping malls seem to be prime places for theft. One scenario that I have heard about is a fine-looking gentleman approaches and while he is distracting you his accomplice is taking your packages. This has been done with beautiful young women, old ladies asking for directions to a bank and guys dressed in suits distracting you for a split second. These folks do this for a living and are very good at it. I am not telling you to be rude to people but be extremely cautious. Do not place your handbag or packages on a separate seat or hang you purse on the back of the chair while in the food court, instead place these items on your lap or between your feet so that you are always in control of your belongings.
Keep things like laptops in a small store bag, do not carry it in its little pouch for all to see. It costs nothing to find a Super Maxi bag. Not many folks are going to try to take a shopping bag from your hand. Keep your camera in a pocket or a small handicraft bag worn across your chest DO NOT hang your bag on one shoulder or dangle your camera from your wrist. If walking with another person put your bag between the two of you not on the exposed side..
For safety reasons don’t bring your fancy high heeled strappy sandals. Between the pot holes, missing chunks of sidewalk, missing water covers, uneven or non-existent sidewalks and roads a turned ankle will ruin your day. Instead bring a good pair of flat sandals with straps, a nice pair of worn sneakers or comfortable walking shoes. And don’t leave your shoes, sandals or anything of value on the sand away from you because again they will be gone when you turn around to find them. We had friends in Salinas who took their footwear off and left two pair of nice sneakers on a rock in Chipipe while they took a swim in the ocean. You guessed it – they walked back to their Salinas condo barefoot. Bring a ball cap or buy a hat when you get here as the sun is harsh. Even when it is hidden behind clouds you can get a nasty burn. Wear sunblock, we wear 50 or higher block when sitting on the beach, you can burn in just a matter of minutes so be kind to your skin and maybe save a ruined vacation by using a good block.
You cannot drink the tap water on the coast but bottled water can be cheap. We get a 5 gal container of water delivered to our home for $1 and he brings it right into my kitchen. Small bottles of water are available for as little as .30 cents in most stores a bit more in restaurants and you have a choice non carbonated (sin gas) or carbonated (con gas). Place a bottle of water in your bathroom for brushing your teeth as well. Toilet paper should not be flushed anywhere in Ecuador. There will be a small trash can in each cubical for this purpose, please be respectful of the customs here and do not leave some hotel or restaurant stuck repairing a toilet issue that you caused! That awful sewage overflow you see on a nearby sidewalk may be yours! BE AWARE all places do not provide toilet paper, please carry a small flattened roll and be sure to have it with you when using a restroom. Some places like malls have one paper dispenser outside of the stalls for toilet paper.
Dogs are allowed to run free as far as I have seen on the coast, I have never been afraid or approached in a threatening manner by a dog in all these years but folks I know have had some problems so just be aware. Most are not family dogs, what I mean by that is they do not know about being petted and will only approach if you are offering food. I would not give food to them unless you want them to follow you home. These dogs may look homeless and uncared for but I assure you their owners lock them on their property at night and allow them to roam free during the day. A dog’s life in South American is harsh but it is the way it is.
Jellyfish in the water can be a very painful experience. If the winds are high or it is several days after a full moon the chances are good that jellyfish will be floating around in the water. If stung do not wash with salt water, do not rub because you can be pushing the little stingers into your skin. Instead use vinegar or lemon juice to wash the area.
Fly season on the coast can be unbelievable. We found that Salinas had some issues with flies but Playas was terrible for several months with a great deal of flies all around town. We found a strange and unusual remedy of filling clear plastic bags with water and dropping a penny into each and hanging them around our porch in Playas. We even would take a bag to our favorite restaurants and put it in the middle of our table while we were eating. It was a very big problem and the thought of them landing on my food really turned me off. I’m talking 20 or 30 on your table, arms, food……We put on repellent on our arms and hats (which we leave on the tables).
Mosquitoes are another issue at certain times of the year on the coast. We have made it a habit to use Detan liquid each morning after our showers and Joe uses it again before retiring. Palo Santo is a wood that is sold for chasing away mosquitoes, along with these electrified plastic rackets and the small cones and coils that you light. Using a mosquito net to cover your bed is also practical.
Mosquitoes here or anywhere in South America are not playing around. If you are bit by one you may well get dengue. The locals call it Breakbone Fever http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dengue_fever, it is extremely painful and there is nothing that you can take to ease the pain only for fever. DO NOT take ibuprofen or any anti-inflammatory as it can cause an escalation to hemorrhagic fever (now called severe dengue). Also, if you have gotten dengue the chances on getting Hemorrhagic Fever with the next infected mosquito bite are greatly increased. And hemorrhagic fever can be fatal. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001373.htm Buy repellent and use it often. This is one of those risk/reward things you don’t have to think about.
Weather related issues. Rough weather happens on the coast, with unusual high tides and rip tides you need to be aware of the warnings that are posted in the newspapers. The Portoviejo paper is http://www.eldiario.com.ec , the Guayaquil paper is http://www.eluniverso.com these are the two main papers for coast news. Each coastal area has its own ocean idiosyncracies ask the locals about the swimming conditions and if you don’t see anyone in the water there is probably a good reason.
When traveling around Ecuador you can find yourself at elevations over 9,000 feet. If you have health issues that can be exasperated by high elevations you should be cautious and consult your doctor before traveling to these high elevation cities. Here are a few articles that my help before you decide on your itinerary: http://www.eso.org/public/outreach/pressmedia/high_alt_fact.pdf as well as http://voices.yahoo.com/the-health-benefits-risks-high-altitude-living-4171887.html?cat=5
Malaria, yellow fever and the like. If you are going into very rural areas or the jungle you should read the precautions that the CDC has listed on their website http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/ecuador.htm and this other article http://www.travmed.com/guide/country.php?c=Ecuador We have not heard of any issues related to these illnesses in the cities on the coast. If you are not going into rural or jungle areas we feel that the use of these medication could be more harmful that beneficial. We know folks who suffered for months taking unneeded precautions. The only caveat would be Esmeraldas has had some reports of malaria.
Please do your research before making a trip to Ecuador. It is so much better to be prepared. There will be enough surprises and hopefully many of them will be good ones. And, as they say, this ain’t Kansas.