Ecuador Has Declared a State of Emergency—Here’s What Travelers Need to Know

The South American country has increased security measures in response to a recent spate of violence following the prison escape of drug kingpin José Adolfo Macías earlier this month. Here’s the latest.

Overhead view of Quito, Ecuador, with tile-roofed buildings, including a building in the foreground with domed architecture and a courtyard full of palm trees

Flights to and from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, continue to operate as normal.

Photo by Kiyoshi/Unsplash

On January 8, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa declared a nationwide state of emergency after notorious drug lord José Adolfo Macías, also known as Fito, escaped from a maximum-security prison. The president put in motion a 60-day mobilization of soldiers throughout the streets of Ecuador in an attempt to search for the cartel leader, as well as a nationwide curfew that is in effect from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

In the days following the declaration, there were reports of explosions, abductions of police officers, and an incident where gunmen stormed a TV station in the city of Guayaquil. On January 17, a prosecutor investigating the television station attack was killed in Guayaquil, the Associated Press reported.

It has been a tumultuous time in Ecuador. However, in recent days it seems that the situation is stabilizing in certain parts of the country. The Ecuadorian government is working to operate as closely to business as usual while maintaining heightened security.

“We are gradually experiencing a return to normality,” read a January 15 statement released by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism. “Stricter security measures are maintained in specific areas, while routine operations are ongoing in the rest of the country.”

On January 22, the General Secretariat of Communication of the Presidency of Ecuador issued a statement that the country’s Armed Forces and the National Police have already carried out nearly 34,000 operations to dismantle narco-terrorist organizations. These operations included the arrest of more than 3,000 people, plus the seizure of more than 1,000 firearms, cash, weapons, and more than 30,000 pounds of drugs.

Given what has been described as a war on drugs and crime in the country, travelers may wonder if they should proceed with their plans to visit Ecuador right now or in the near future. Here’s what to know.

Is it safe to travel to Ecuador right now?

As of January 22, the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador has issued a Level 2 travel advisory for the country, urging increased caution. It also advises travelers to reconsider travel to:

  • Guayaquil, north of Portete de Tarquí Avenue
  • El Oro province outside the cities of Huaquillas and Arenillas
  • Los Rios province outside the cities of Quevedo, Quinsaloma, and Pueblo Viejo
  • All areas south of Esmeraldas city in Esmeraldas province
  • The provinces of Sucumbíos, Manabí, Santa Elena, and Santo Domingo

Due to crime, the embassy advises against travel to:

  • Guayaquil, south of Portete de Tarquí Avenue
  • The cities of Huaquillas and Arenillas in the province of El Oro
  • The cities of Quevedo, Quinsaloma, and Pueblo Viejo in the province of Los Rios
  • Esmeraldas city and all areas north of Esmeraldas city in Esmeraldas province

“Incidents of gang-related violence, as well as increased security measures meant to bring crime under control, are likely across Ecuador through early March,” stated security risk and crisis management firm Crisis24 in a January 19 update about the situation in Ecuador. Crisis24 currently rates Ecuador as a medium risk level.

One area still experiencing instability is the coastal city of Guayaquil. According to a January 12 update from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), a global network of adventure travel leaders, Ecuador-based member tour operators and travel providers noted that Guayaquil has experienced several attacks by illegal armed groups, leading some providers to suspend tours in the area. However, as part of the state of emergency, the government has deployed the army to this part of the country.

What is the current travel situation in Ecuador?

As of press time, Ecuador is under a nationwide curfew. Travelers and locals are instructed to be indoors at their hotel or home between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. During the day, however, it is mostly business as usual in popular cruise and travel destinations, including the Amazon, the Galápagos Islands, and the capital, Quito, according to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism.

Earlier this month, some cruises were canceled, including some Lindblad Expeditions sailings to the Galápagos and a Silversea port of call in Ecuador. But otherwise, cruises appear to be sailing on schedule once again. Flights to the archipelago of Galápagos, Quito, and the Amazon remain in service. Quito’s hotels and tourist attractions, such as the Casa del Alabado museum, the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco, and the El Panecillo monument, haven’t reported interruptions to service or visitor hours.

According to the Ministry of Tourism statement, “The streets and roads of Ecuador remain open and accessible, respecting the curfew hours established from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Security on these routes is guaranteed through effective controls carried out by defense forces at strategic points, ensuring all users’ safety, both during the day and during curfew hours.”

The on-the-ground insights provided by ATTA members note that “hotels, attractions, national parks, airports, roads, and hotel infrastructure are all operating normally.”

What it’s like on the ground in Ecuador

“During the last week, no security incidents have been reported. We are running normal operations in [mainland] Ecuador and the Galápagos, the only exception being the city of Guayaquil, [where] we are not operating” stated ATTA member Maria Eugenia de Aliaga of Tropic Travel in a January 21 post on a blog, where the company is updating travelers about the current situation in Ecuador.

Kevin Daily, a U.S. traveler based in Miami, was traveling in Ecuador earlier this month shortly after the state of emergency was declared.

“It was my first visit, so I’m not entirely sure what the norm is, but Quito seemed quiet,” said Daily. “Cotopaxi National Park was flush with foreign tourists and didn’t seem to be affected by the recent events.”

Ecuador is no stranger to crime in general. A combination of a weakened economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, an ongoing drug-trafficking trade, and a volatile political landscape have all contributed to a recent increase in corruption and crime, reports Reuters. Despite its challenges, Ecuador remains a popular travel destination not least due to the cultural diversity, architecture, indigenous traditions, cuisine, natural beauty, and unique wildlife. People from around the world travel to experience the South American country. Tourism is a vital part of Ecuador’s economy. Prepandemic, tourism revenue generated $2.29 billion for Ecuador’s economy.

“I never felt unsafe as a tourist in Quito or Cotopaxi,” said Daily. “Our tour guide mentioned this is probably one of the safest times to visit Quito because of increased surveillance and police presence.”

Meagan Drillinger is a travel writer and Mexico expert who lives on the road full-time.
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