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Is Ecuador Safe? If Not, What Does This Mean for Galapagos Cruises? These are very personal questions for us as we have an upcoming trip to the Galapagos Islands on Celebrity Cruises’ Flora in about a month.
We have been monitoring the news as well as the U.S. Department of State’s travel warnings following the news that Fernando Villavicencio, a presidential candidate in Ecuador who campaigned against corruption and gangs was assassinated at a campaign rally in August of this year. This tragic event caught our attention due to our upcoming trip to Quito and the Galapagos Islands.
I’ve now read countless articles about the rampant drug smuggling in Ecuador and the power vacuum that has developed in this small nation of 18 million people sandwiched between Columbia to the north and Peru to the South along the Pacific Coast of South America.
A New York Times Article published on August 17, 2023 entitled “How Narco Traffickers Unleashed Violence and Chaos in Ecuador.“ The story describes the killing of Fernando Villavicencio, the elections taking place later this month, and ultimately discussing why many Ecuadorians are “wondering how their country, once a relatively peaceful oasis in a turbulent region, became a battleground and a place where a politician could be killed in broad daylight.”
More recently the Wall Street Journal published an article, “Ecuador Was a Retirement Paradise for Americans. Then the Drug Gangs Arrived.” With the sub-heading “‘Magical’ beachfront towns have been transformed into violent transit points for cocaine; ‘there is so much grief watching mothers have to bury their sons.’” The article includes a chilling statistic that “This year, Ecuador is on track to top 7,000 killings, seven times the number in 2018…” The article begins by discussing an ocean-front dream home developed by an American who not long after moving in decided to sell due to the rising drug-related crime in and around their home. This story is sad, but it only scratches the surface as the article goes on to tell deeply personal stories of the mothers of young men killed by violent drug cartels and organized crime syndicates.
The crime seems to be running rampant throughout the country among the gangs and cartels but it also spills over into innocent citizens and tourists alike, particularly in the mountainous region abutting the Colombian border, along the “shipping routes” transporting drugs from Colombia to the coast, and in port cities including Manta and Guayaquil. The author Ryan Dubé of the Wall Street Journal noted that “Guayaquil, a city whose port is used to transport cocaine, is ground zero for Ecuador’s violence. Guayas, the province where Guayaquil is located, is on track to top 3,000 killings this year, up from 291 in 2018, government figures show.” That’s an astounding increase in murders in a city with the approximate population of City of Chicago. When Chicago had 804 murders in 2021, it was making that national news.
As I recommended in Which Caribbean Ports are Safe? Are There Ports You Should Stay Onboard? I went and visited the Travel.State.Gov Travel Advisories page. Here are the classifications used by the U.S. Department of State:
Here’s what the US Government is telling travelers about Ecuador:
They have further higher-level warnings for specific cities and even neighborhoods:
Fortunately, the Level 3 and 4 Warnings to not extend to the Galapagos Islands (large circle below) which by all reports is still very safe and the tourist areas of Quito (small circle below) do not seem to be considered especially dangerous for tourists.
Back from a recent trip to Bogota, Colombia a city once synonymous with drug violence, we’re cautious but not concerned over our upcoming trip to Ecuador. Let me explain. We’re aware that violence exists everywhere and there are precautions that can be taken to mitigate risk. Bad things can happen at home and abroad and personal responsibility and caution is essential everywhere. Ultimately it’s up to each of us to determine our own “risk” tolerance as relates to our travel both foreign and domestic. Unfortunately, it’s possible that the situation could get worse in Ecuador and cruises no longer begin with a stop in Quito, Ecuador before getting on a ship. For us, visiting Ecuador is about the capital Quito as well as the fascinating Galapagos Islands.
Our first cruise together was to the Baltic including almost four days in Russia visiting St. Petersburg and Moscow (via train). This is no longer an option on most cruise lines catering to Americans. Similarly, we were fortunate to visit Cuba on a cruise during the window when these were operating, again this is no longer possible for most Americans. We are extremely grateful to have been able to visit both Russia and Cuba on cruises. Over the years certain places are added while others are taken off cruise itineraries typically out of an abundance of caution for the cruise lines; which for us, makes a good reason to visit these places when you can. In this case, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands and Quito is worth an increased level of caution while we’re there experiencing all that both have to offer. – Michael
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