Stacy Sprando graduated from Stanford University in March 2008. Her $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation supported her work providing primary health care services as well as psychological and educational support services to young women in Ecuador over a ten month period beginning in September 2008.
Here are Stacy’s travel safety tips:
Ecuador is a beautiful country, with incredible biodiversity. It is separated into four regions, distinguished not only by their geography but by their culture and rhythm of life. The four regions are: la costa (the coast), la sierra (the sierra, which includes the Andes mountains), la Amazona (the amazon) and las Islas Galapagos (the Galapagos Islands). Traveling throughout Ecuador, as in any developing country, can be a bit of a challenge and often involves long bus travel, but it is well worth it. Most travelers fly into one of the two biggest cities: Quito or Guayaquil and then take a bus to see other parts of the country. It is common for locals (and foreigners) to take overnight buses when traveling long distances (more than 6-8 hours). However, if you are traveling alone it is best to take the bus during the day. It is tempting to travel at night as it keeps you from losing a day to bus travel, but your safety is more important and taking the bus at night, especially alone, simply is not as safe. Regardless of when you travel by bus, be sure to keep your belongings with you (preferably in your lap). If you have any valuables do not put them in the compartment below the bus or in the overhead compartment as you will be at risk of having them stolen. Also, do not travel around with your actual passport. Leave your passport in a safe place and travel with a copy of it. Try not to travel have too much cash on you at any time. When you need to withdraw cash it is safer to find an ATM that is inside and try not to withdrawl money after nightfall.
I spent the majority of my time in the capital city, as I was volunteering at El Centro de La Niña Trabajadora, located in the south of Quito. So here are some tips for staying safe specifically in Quito. It is best not to walk alone in the city after nightfall. Even if you are only going a few blocks, it is safest to take a cab, get on a city bus or take the Trole (public transit that runs on tracks, from the North to the South of the city). The Trole gets very busy and oftentimes you are completely pushed up against other people, especially during peak transit times. When riding on the Trole, always be mindful of your belongings; hold your backpack in front of you and do not leave cash or valuables in your pockets. In terms of traveling in cabs, most of the cabs in Quito are true licensed cabs, but before you get in make sure you see a “licensed cab” sticker on the windshield. Quito has some very beautiful parks which are full of families, couples, travelers, etc. especially on the weekends. Be sure to enjoy the parks during the day, but do not walk through them at night. In general, it is important to never have your cell phone out in public. If you need to make a call, go inside a store. Cell phones are very sought after and you have a high chance of it getting stolen if you are talking on it out in the open. I would also recommend not bringing or wearing expensive jewelry. If you have a wedding band, I would suggest leaving it at home and finding an inexpensive band to wear while you are traveling.
These are just some of the tips I have after spending 10 wonderful months in Ecuador. It is an incredible country, with generous people and a rich culture. Enjoy your travels, but remember that your safety comes first!