“You’re travelling alone? Aren’t you scared??” The friendly woman on the cramped Colombian minibus looked shocked. She shuddered. “I would never do that.”

Having been a solo female traveller for 7.5 months in Ecuador and Colombia, I got such questions a lot, especially from friends and family. It’s particularly disconcerting coming from a local, though – is there something I should know??

In an increasingly unpredictable world, safety is high on our priority list. Friends heading that way often ask if it’s safe. I always say: I felt safe enough, but you do need to take basic common-sense precautions.

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Two big caveats

  1. You can’t control being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The terror attacks in Spain’s Catalonia region, one of which was in the popular Las Ramblas locale, is regrettable proof of that. Not to mention the recent attacks in other European cities that have never been considered unsafe. But short of locking yourself indoors for the rest of your life, it’s a risk we have to bear.
  2. All the precautions in the world can’t prevent brain farts, carelessness, or forgetfulness. Unless you tie your valuables to you! Which is not a bad idea actually. Some of the things I’ve lost in this way include a pair of jeans I left at my host family’s house, a battery pack when I had to evacuate my room in the middle of the night, and (what hurts the most) my phone which I left on a bench in Bogota.

phone

Now let’s look at what you can do!

20 simple ways to maintain your safety in Ecuador and Colombia

Money

  • Keep your cash in various places. I have an amazing travel jacket (you might remember it from Kickstarter) that has approximately a bazillion pockets. Super useful for stashing cash, cards, phone, and a ton of other stuff. I also have a small anti-theft travel sling bag from Pacsafe (it’s a pain to open and close, but that’s kinda the idea, right?).

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  • Don’t bring your cards out and only take enough cash for the day. I drew money in broad daylight from the ATM nearest to the hotel/hostel and then headed back immediately.
  • In the beach context, consider a beach safe/wallet which my friend Anisa from Two Traveling Texans discusses here. I like the dummy can of Arizona Ice Tea!
  • There are myriad options for safe travel wallets, as Sally from Tips 4 Trips discusses here.

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Bags

  • My backpacks are also anti-theft bags from Pacsafe.
  • If you have a sling bag, keep it in front of you, not to the side or behind.
  • Try not to have loose items, and if you do, secure them to your bag.
  • When taking public transport, wear your bag on your front. (I avoided peak hour travel and, therefore, the super crowded buses, but I heard that pickpockets are a real issue then.)
  • On buses, put your luggage either in the hold or on your lap for the entire trip. It’s not safe at your feet – I met a girl in Quito who lost her passport and wallet that was in her bag by her feet.

backpack train

Accommodation

  • Find a safe place to stay. If something feels wrong, don’t stay there. Better safe than sorry! Check reviews before booking so you know what others are saying. (Many thanks to Ruth from Tanama Tales for this tip!)
  • Use a door-stopper in your room especially at night. That way, if someone manages to open the door / break in, you’ll at least have an extra second to react.

Out & about

  • Avoid areas known to be unsafe. Ask your hotel/hostel/local friends about this. E.g. in Quito, the area south of El Panecillo is known to be a bit seedy. Trust your gut. If it feels dodgy to you, get out of there.

El Panecillo Quito

  • Avoid going out alone at night. I’m not much of a partier (am I showing my age yet?) – so this wasn’t hard for me. If you do go out at night, try to stick with people you know and don’t venture into deserted areas.
  • If you need to take a taxi, it’s preferable to call for one rather than hailing one on the street – at least there will be a record. I used Uber once for an early morning departure, and it was fine, but you do need an internet connection for that.

night car

  • Don’t wear showy jewellery. The only jewellery I wore was tiny ear studs. I’ve heard horror stories about people getting their earrings ripped right out of their ears!
  • Avoid taking your phone out in public. If I want to take a picture, I’ll step to one side and try to keep my back against a wall. And if I need to check directions, I’ll step into a shop or at least to one side. (The more familiar I got with a city, the more lax I got about this rule. That’s how I lost my phone! So learn from my mistakes and just don’t do it.)
  • When walking along the streets, look behind you periodically – both so that you don’t get lost and to see if anyone’s following you. You can use reflective surfaces to check if you don’t want to look paranoid.

La Mariscal Quito

  • Memorise your route so that you don’t have to keep checking your phone/map for directions – it’s a dead giveaway that you’re new to the area! And if you get lost, just keep walking purposefully as if you know where you’re going, until you can subtly check your directions.
  • Let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. (I confess I didn’t do this all the time, but since I hardly went out after dark I figured it was fine.)
  • Don’t touch anything offered by a stranger. My Ecuadorean friends warned me of a very disturbing ruse in Guayaquil involving scopolamine or burandanga, a drug that reportedly robs the victim of the ability to control his/her actions. They pretend to be lost and hand you a map with the powder on it, asking for help. In some cases, the powder is blown on people or slipped into a drink. I guess you can’t really control whether someone blows powder on you, but if you’re in a group, it would be safer. And if you drink, you should of course never leave your drink unattended. That said, in my 9 months in Ecuador I didn’t meet anyone who had first-hand experience of this, so I don’t how how much of a risk it really is.

Guayaquil Ecuador

What safety precautions do you take when travelling? I travel with a point-and-shoot camera, but I’d like to know what you do if you travel with a DSLR!

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Travel-tested safety tips for travelling Ecuador and Colombia

This post is part of The Weekly Postcard hosted byΒ Travel Notes & Beyond, California Globetrotter, Toddlers on Tour, Two Traveling Texans and TravelLatte – check out what’s going on elsewhere!

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34 Comments on "Staying Safe when Travelling: Ecuador & Colombia"

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Anisa & Katherine (@2travelingtxns)
Guest

Great tips and thank you for mentioning my post! I agree there are some things that can’t be helped so it is important we do what we can to stay safe especially if you are a woman traveling by yourself. Sorry to hear about your lost items, I have had that happen to me too. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Yeah I guess it’s almost inevitable that you lose stuff when you travel! I’m just thankful nothing worse happened! Have have friends who were mugged while travelling. It’s so much worse because it makes you really fearful and jumpy after that. Thanks for stopping by, Anisa!

Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
Guest

That drug powder thing sounds really scary because it isn’t something you have much control over. I freely admit though that I should never travel alone. I am just too trusting. I would fall for every con and ruse there is. I have been saved more than once by travelling companions (my husband and sons) who have far better personal radar than I do.

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

That’s definitely one of the advantages of travelling with other people! Two heads are better than one, etc. I think it’s wonderful that you remain so trusting after having travelled and experienced so much, including those cons which you almost fell for!

JetsettingJade
Guest

This is such a useful article. Many of the things you mention can apply when travelling to numerous countries. It’s better to be safe than sorry when travelling.

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Totally agree – I didn’t want to over-generalise though so I stuck to what I knew. And it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry!

California Globetrotter
Guest

Many of these tips are pretty common sense and useful for every day travel that people often overlook. I think the greatest is always wearing your backpack on your front side while on a bus or train. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Yup I agree it’s not rocket science! It’s just that everyone seems to have their own idea of common sense sometimes so thought it’s best to be crystal clear. thanks for stopping by! πŸ™‚

Ruth | Tanama Tales
Guest
So nice you are traveling by yourself in these countries! Thanks for all your safety tips. I enjoy reading how others keep themselves safe. I would say it is important to find a safe place to stay. If something feels wrong, leave or do not stay there. I have traveled with DSLR cameras in Mexico and Central America. I take them out of my purse only when I want to take pictures (which is easier said than done). I do not wear them around my neck when I am in walking from one place to another or in transit (buses,… Read more »
Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks for sharing your DSLR tips, Ruth! It’s so hard to find that balance between keeping it safe and hidden, vs being ready for a great shot. Totally agree that a safe place to stay is key too! Will add that in and credit you πŸ™‚

Anda
Guest

These are very useful tips, Michelle. Unfortunately, like you say, you can control everything and sometimes you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. South America is a fascinating continent. I’d love to travel there more often, but I would never dare go there by myself. So far we’ve only been in Argentina, but I’m hoping to return to see more countries. Thank you for sharing this great advice with us. #TheWeeklyPostcard

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

I’d love to visit Argentina someday, it sounds like a really beautiful country. I met a girl in Colombia who said her favourite country in South America is Argentina. Hope you get to return to South America, Anda! Thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

shere
Guest

totally agree. I used to travel alone too and the only time I was been robbed was in Germany, when I picked up my family at the airport. In the train station, I was too stressed looking after my younger sister and brother (4-5years old at that time) and someone opened my backpack and took my wallet while getting into the train πŸ™

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Sorry to hear about that, Shere. It’s extremely stressful to get your wallet stolen – hope it didn’t ruin your family holiday. And in Germany?! I’ve heard about such things happening in Spain, but I thought Germany was extremely safe. I guess it really goes to show that you can’t be too careful anywhere in the world!

onanothercoast
Guest

beautiful photos! So happy to have found your blog via a mutual blogger’s page! Love your travel adventures and can’t wait to follow along! πŸ™‚

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

thanks so much for your kind comment πŸ™‚

Kathleen
Guest

Great tips, Michelle! A gentle reminder to myself because sometimes I tend to take things for granted when I travel so often but not realising that I could be a brain fart at times , lol! I have had travelled to India 9 times and will be making my 10th trip later this year – many friends have asked me whether it’s safe. Nowhere is 100% safe – we just have to be street-smart and alert. #TheWeeklyPostcard

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

I totally agree, Kathleen! Hope you a wonderful trip in India – having been there so many times I’m guessing you’ll be perfectly fine πŸ™‚ thanks for stopping by!

Agness of aTukTuk
Guest

Ecuador is my dream destination and safety tips are always welcome!When’s the best time of the year to visit it?

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

It depends on where you want to go, really! The Amazon, the Andes, the coast, Galapagos – they all have different seasons (it’s crazy, right?!). In general try to avoid the rainy season for the area you want to visiting, but if you can’t, just make sure you have rain gear and it’ll be fine πŸ™‚

Linda @ As We Saw It
Guest

We used to live in Ecuador, Agness. What Michelle said. Also, we found that June and July were slightly cooler, due to cold air coming up the Andes from Patagonia. If you plan to visit the Andes, it’s not as humid and the bugs are less active then as well. Or at least that’s what we were told when we were there.

Also, if you plan to visit Quito, bring a jacket – even though it’s on the Equator, it gets cold!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks, Linda, this is super helpful. I was there from August- May, so didn’t know about June and July being slightly colder! And yes, in the mountains (including Quito) it gets cold so best to bring warm clothes.

Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats
Guest

I know Columbia has had its safety issues so I can see why people would ask, but as you said, any place can be unsafe at times. We were in London earlier this year during a terrorist attack (Laurence was almost on the bridge!) and have just missed ones in both Egypt and Paris. Being aware of one’s surrounding and being prepared is a great way to avoid issues and you provide some great tips here!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Goodness, you guys have had some really close calls! Glad that nothing happened to you, but it’s a sobering reminder of the reality we live in today. Thanks for stopping by, Jessica!

RobRob @TravelLatte(.net)
Guest

Great advice – and good links to Sally and Anisa’s articles. It’s a great set of posts, and we appreciate everyone’s advice. So unfortunate that it’s needed, but with some thought and advice like yours, that shouldn’t stop anyone from seeing our world! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Totally agree! I wouldn’t recommend going to, say, Yemen right now (although I’ve been dreaming of visiting Socotra for years), but I think safety concerns alone are definitely not a reason to miss Ecuador and Colombia. Thanks for stopping by, Rob πŸ™‚

Sally's Tips 4 Trips (aka Toddlers on Tour)
Guest

Thank you for including my post on Choosing the Safest Travel Wallet.
You have some great travel tips here for staying safe when travelling solo. I backpacked through Europe for 6 months when I was younger and followed I lot of these tips – and have come home safely to tell the tale.

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

No problem, Sally! Glad that you had a safe backpacking experience, which I’m sure was unforgettable. Thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

Kreete | AdventurousTrails
Guest

When I was travelling in Asia, I used a covert clip-it’s a wallet that clips inside your pants with anti skim proof as well. If anyone wants to pickpocket you, they have to physically in your pants! As for the powder being blown on people, well that’s just too scary! But as you say, things can happen where ever you go and whats the point of not doing things just because you are scared!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

The covert clip sounds like a great idea! Thanks for the tip; I’ll definitely have to look into that. Totally agree – many things in life aren’t worth missing out on as long as you can take reasonable precautions. Thanks for stopping by, Kreete πŸ™‚

emilylynnneil
Guest

This is very accurate, I’ve thought and said many of the same things before. There’s still such a negative stereotype surrounding Colombia, which is very unfortunate. It’s a beautiful country with some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met. Obviously you need to be smart and take the necessary precautions to be safe, but this country has come a long way in terms of safety over the past few years. Anyways, I loved this post, thanks for sharing!!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Yes, I’m always surprised whenever people mention Colombia being dangerous. I also found the people extremely friendly – it was actually slightly disconcerting at times. Today I think Venezuela is far more dangerous! It just goes to show how long a negative stereotype can last, doesn’t it? Thanks for stopping by and your kind comment, Emily! πŸ™‚

Lena
Guest

Wow!! Can’t believe you traveled alone for 7.5 months! That’s AMAZING!! These are such great tips! I think there’s something to be said for getting lax with time and it’s important for us to remind ourselves to stay aware even when we start getting comfortable with a city. That map trick sounds insane!

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