Health and Safety in Ecuador
Ecuador is a safe country and most travelers enjoy trips here without any major hiccups. Crime, however, does occur in some places and certain diseases are present. For this reason, there are a few strategies that you can adopt to ensure a safe and satisfying trip. We’ll outline these below.
Food & Water
Although Ecuador has some delicious cuisine, you do need to exercise caution when eating in Ecuador. Enjoying local fruits and vegetables is safe, so long as the food has been washed in decontaminated water. Clean the produce you purchase from local markets yourself, and dine at restaurants which explicitly state that they use decontaminated water to prepare foods.
As for drinking the water itself, don't! Rely on bottled water, or purify tap water. This means you will also need to be careful of fruit juices which may be blended with water, and ice cubes. Be wary of the milk as well, as there is a very good chance it is unpasteurized.
Insects & Snakes
Ecuador's tropical climate means the country is home to a wide variety of insects — particularly within its section of the Amazon jungle. You will encounter mosquitos in tropical Ecuador, but they will not be an issue if you are exploring higher elevation areas.
Although there are snakes in Ecuador, they typically prefer to flee than be faced with an interaction which requires them to defend themselves. That being said, stay alert when exploring the wilderness so that you do not accidentally step on or disturb a snake. Also, do not bother any sea snakes which may have washed up on the beach — they are venomous.
As lovely as some of Ecuador's beaches are, swimming in the ocean can be very hit or miss. You'll need to do plenty of research before heading in for a dip, because rocks and prickly sea creatures are a hazard in shallow water; some shorelines have undertows; poisonous sea snakes can wash up on shore, and you cannot rely on the presence of a lifeguard.
Vaccinations and malaria medication are not explicitly required to enter Ecuador, but before traveling to Ecuador, we advise you to visit your doctor’s office or a travel clinic — these providers can recommend and administer the shots you’ll need for your trip. If you do need to get vaccinated, it’s a good idea to get it done promptly, as some shot series take several months to be effective.
Travelers should be up-to-date on routine vaccines including the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, polio vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, and a yearly flu shot.
Other recommended vaccines include hepatitis A and typhoid. Both of these diseases can be acquired through contaminated food or water. A typhoid vaccine is especially recommended for travelers who will be visiting rural areas or plan on eating street food.
Ecuador’s government requires proof of yellow fever vaccination if you’re traveling from a country that has a risk of yellow fever, including Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. A yellow fever vaccine is a good idea even if you aren’t traveling from any of these countries.
Travelers who plan to visit remote areas and have frequent contact with animals or local people should also consider getting vaccines against hepatitis B and rabies. The risk of getting malaria is low, but you may want to take prescription malaria medicine before, during, and after your trip if you plan to spend time in tropical, low-elevation areas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has current information on vaccinations and disease in Ecuador. Visit their website for the most up-to-date travel requirements.
Food, Water, and Insect-Borne Diseases
Your best chance of getting sick in Ecuador is from a food or waterborne disease. To avoid this, take care when eating food and drinking water and other beverages. To prevent traveler’s diarrhea, don’t drink tap water unless it’s been filtered, boiled, or disinfected with iodine tablets. Wash your hands several times a day, especially before meals. Only eat fruits and vegetables that can be cooked or peeled, and be wary of salads, as some restaurants wash their vegetables with tap water.
Most cases of traveler’s diarrhea are mild. If you do come down with traveler’s diarrhea, drink lots of fluids and use an oral rehydration solution with salt and sugar. Serious cases of traveler’s diarrhea may require antibiotics. These can be purchased from a pharmacy. Cholera is an especially bad watery diarrhea. Fortunately, there is a low risk of acquiring this in Ecuador. Dehydration is severe with this disease and any suspected cases should receive medical attention.
To ward off bug bites and their associated illnesses (including malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, leishmaniasis, and Chagas’ disease), use repellents with DEET and wear long-sleeved clothing. You can also buy clothing that’s been sprayed with permethrin, a chemical that repels insects. Take special care when exploring forested areas in Ecuador. If you’re staying in a hotel that has a mosquito net over the bed, use it.
Doctors, Clinics, and Hospitals
You can receive excellent care in Ecuador's medical facilities — especially if they are in major cities. If you develop a life-threatening injury or illness, you’ll need to be evacuated from Ecuador. Having travel insurance is helpful in this scenario.
Obtaining any medications you may need is generally not an issue. Pharmacies (farmacias) are plentiful, and most medications are inexpensive, and may not even require a prescription.
For medical emergencies, you should get to the nearest big city hospital as soon as possible. In the event of a non-medical emergency, consult our article "While In Ecuador, What Should I Do In An Emergency?" to find out whom to call, and how to reach them. Be aware in advance that most operators only speak Spanish — the official language of Ecuador.
Like most nations in the world, Ecuador is not immune to crime, but it is possible to visit the country safely. With a little common sense, most travelers will enjoy a safe and pleasant trip to Ecuador. Taking a few precautions will ensure that you aren’t the victim of petty theft.
Armed robbery is rare — most crimes are opportunistic endeavors that involve a purse, wallet, or camera being snatched. Be alert on city buses and in markets. Carry your wallet in your front pocket, and don’t pack it full of money. Avoid showing off expensive items while in public, including fancy jewelry and electronics. Leave your valuable items (like passports and extra money) in a safety deposit box at your hotel. Print off a few copies of your passport and bring these with you while traveling in Ecuador. When you’re out exploring, walk with purpose, particularly at night or after retrieving money from an ATM.
If you rent a car in Ecuador, make sure to park in well-lit, secure areas and never leave valuables in sight. Also never leave your luggage alone in public places and consider getting small locks to secure the zippers.