Ecuador is one of the few countries we have encountered with a real risk of bag or item theft on local and long distance buses. During our month in the country, we met countless travelers who had valuables stolen on buses trips or from pick pockets. Use this information to help stay safe while traveling in Ecuador and beyond.
One of the most common stories which we heard while in Ecuador was that a person in the bus seat behind went through the persons bag under the seat in front of them. This was especially common with small carry-on bags and backpacks, which most travelers use to keep their valuables within reach.
We heard of elaborate schemes targeting tourists starting with an overtly friendly man, usually between 25-40 years, greeting the passenger. They dress and act as if they work for the bus company and show the person to their seat. The thief then proceeds to show the traveler how to recline the seat so they can “relax”. The man also explains that it is against regulations to hold a bag in your lap and how it needs to be placed on the floor under the seat or in the overhead compartment.
This is never true! No buses in Ecuador care where you put your bag and we never once had an employee show us to our seat. If this happens, do not, under any circumstance, let go of your bag. It doesn’t matter who tells you where to put it or where they say it should go. Pretend you don’t speak Spanish if you have to or just flat our refuse.
This plan is the perfect setup to have easy access to your bags and valuables. This exact situation happened to several people we met, and always played out the same. The thieves stole phones, camera, cash and sunglasses and the travelers didn’t even realize they were gone until they got to the next destination. As travelers, It would be nice to take all people at face value but our extensive travels have taught us to be optimistic yet cynical.
Help keep your bags and belongings safe in Ecuador by following these steps:
- Always maintain situational awareness. This is common sense, but means knowing who is around you and where your belonging are at all times. It is best to keep them physically touching you.
- Never let anyone direct where you put your bag and never let someone take it out of your possession. Keep bags in your lap, next to you, or wrapped around your legs.
- Never put valuables under the bus, keep them with you. Theft or total loss can occur in the underneath luggage compartments. While we have not heard of this happening in Ecuador, it is relatively common in Asia for a person to hide in these compartments and sift through bags while the bus is moving and the compartment closed.
- Always take your valuables when going to the bathroom or take turns going so someone is always watching.
- Your phone is the most likely thing to be targeted for snatching, especially in big cities like Guayaquil and Quito. Always hold it tightly and use a wrist lanyard for extra security. Use phones discretely on the street and secure in a deep front pocket or a zippered pocket when not in use.
- Place locks on bags or use a locking zippered bag for backpacks when possible. This is not a step we take as we do not carry these items, but it may be your choice. Our preference is towards minimizing bag weight, which allows greater flexibility (discussed below).
- Avoid taking overnight buses when bag theft is more common.
- Watch out for other travelers. Keep a watchful eye on your bags but others as well. Inform other travelers to spread the awareness and prevent these scenarios from occurring.
We never put any bags under the bus. This is possible because we pack light with only one medium sized backpack each (46L and 38L). Everything we carry goes into these bags and they come in the bus with us.
Even on long bus rides we can sit comfortably with these bags in our seats. Larger packs are harder to steal from with a few precautions. We place the larger bag (46L) on the floor under our calves parallel to our legs so we can physically feel it at all times.
We pack this bag with nothing of value (only clothes, shoes, etc.). We ensure the zippered side access into into the bag is facing forward and not towards the seat behind. The same is true with the bottom opening which is arranged so the zipper faces forward. Then we take one of the extra clipped straps from the top and bottom of your bag and wrap it around the foot rest or seat leg in front to secure it in place.
Our second bag (38L) then sits on its side between us which we use as an arm rest. This bag holds everything of value.
Give it a try! This set up makes it very difficult for thieves but will let you feel if someone is attempting to get into your bag. This will give you peace of mind while traveling by bus
For more information on travel security, make sure to understand these four essential areas of travel safety.
Planning a trip in Ecuador? Make sure to look at the best places in the country for hiking and wildlife:
- A Trekkers Guide to the Quilotoa Loop
- An Amazonian Jungle Safari in Cuyabeno
- How to Day Hike Cotopaxi Volcano
- Isla de la Plata: Poor Man’s Galapagos
- Hiking in Pululahua Crater
And make sure to prepare for confusion before crossing the Aguas Verdes border into Peru.