Cuenca Ecuador Crime (2019) + Safety Tips (Episode 126)

The Cuenca Ecuador Crime rate has been a trending topic lately. CuencaHighLife reported on a statement made by a citizens group claiming that crime has increased over the past year or so here in Cuenca while the governor disagrees. Additionally, several people have messaged us to ask, “Is Cuenca safe?”

In this video, we’ll talk about some of the crime rate stats for Cuenca, what the provincial government has to say about it, and our experience living here for 2 years. We’ll also share a few stories from our friends who have had things stolen from them, and offer some safety tips that might help keep you safe in any city.

Homicide Rate In Cuenca and Ecuador Compared to the US

It’s difficult to find current (and accurate) crime stats for Ecuador. Most of the crime stats for Cuenca and Ecuador that I found online were anecdotal and/or self-reported. However, I did find accurate numbers for homicide rates, which we can then compare to the US.

Xavier Martinez, governor of the Azuay Province where Cuenca is located, was quoted in CuencaHighLife: “Today, Cuenca has the lowest murder rate in its history and one of the lowest in Latin America. The rate is about three per 100,000, the same as in European countries and half that of the U.S.”

To put that in context, the murder rate in Denver, CO, our former home, was 9.5 per 100,000 in 2018. That’s more than 3 times higher than Cuenca, and Denver is much safer than cities like Chicago and Detroit.

The average murder rate for all of Ecuador is 5.7 per 100,000, which is the exact same number as the national murder rate for the United States.

In terms of violent crimes, Ecuador and the US are very similar, but Cuenca is a bit safer.

Theft and Pickpocketing in Cuenca Ecuador

We have never personally met anyone who has been a victim of a violent crime here in Cuenca, but we know several people who have had things stolen.

The Foam Gambit

One of our friends experienced the Foam Gambit and had his backpack stolen soon after his arrival in Cuenca over a year ago. A guy came up and told our friend there was something on his coat and backpack. When our friend took off his backpack to look, the guy grabbed it and ran off. The thief put shaving cream on our friend’s coat and backpack to distract him.

The Group Gambit

In this scam, several people surround you with signs and other distractions while one or more members of the group pick your pockets. We’ve met several people who have seen or experienced this group strategy. They even have kids with them sometimes.

The Distraction Gambit

This is when someone gets you to look a different direction by asking if you dropped your keys or wallet “over there.” When you look away, they grab your bag and run in the opposite direction.

Overhead Bins in Buses

One of our friends had his backpack stolen from an overhead bin on an interprovincial bus between Cuenca and Machala. It’s best to always keep your bags in your possession. Put them on the floor in front of you and slip your foot through a strap.

Car Break Ins

This happens a lot here. One of our Ecuadorian friends left a laptop and some other things on the front seat of his car while he was visiting a friend. When he came out, the window was broken and his stuff was gone.

This happened to me in Foster City, CA on a business trip. I had reserved a car, but the rental car company gave me an SUV without a cargo cover, instead.

On my way to the hotel, I was hungry so I decided to stop at my favorite restaurant and rather than bring my backpack inside, I put it on the floorboard behind the driver’s seat.

About 20 minutes into my dinner, the bartender told me several cars had been broken into in the parking lot. I ran outside and mine was one of them. They got two laptops, an iPod, a Garmin GPS device and my passport.

Lesson learned. I will never, EVER leave things of value in my car in plain sight.

Carnival and Other Festivals

The pickpocket gangs are abundant during Carnival and other festivals here in Cuenca. More than 100 phones were stolen during the 2019 Carnival celebration. Having lots of people in close quarters with distracting activities all around is a pickpockets ideal working space. Leave your valuables at home for those events, and wear a money belt under your clothes to hold anything you must take.

Safety Tips for Cuenca Ecuador or Any Large City

Here are some safety tips to help you have a positive experience in Cuenca, or any large city. Most of these are common sense, but it’s a good idea to revisit them once in a while.

  • Pay attention to your surroundings…ALWAYS!
  • Make eye contact.
  • Don’t walk alone at night.
  • Avoid dark streets or trails.
  • Don’t stand around on a dark street talking to people.
  • Wear a cross body bag.
  • Wear your backpack in front if you’re in a crowd.
  • If you have a car, don’t leave things lying on the seat in plain sight.
  • On the bus: Don’t put your bag in overhead bins. Put your backpack on the floor or seat and keep an arm or leg through a loop.
  • At festivals: Leave everything at home. If you need to take some money or your phone, use a money belt.
  • Foam Gambit: Don’t take your backpack or coat off if someone says that you have something on you.
  • Group Gambit: Don’t stop. Cross the street. Push through or try to avoid them. Scream HELP!
  • Distraction Gambit: Always be suspicious of people you don’t know who talk to you on the street and always keep your bags secured with your foot or arm.
  • If you feel unsafe or suspicious of someone, keep walking, don’t stop, go into a store or restaurant, go toward other people.
  • If you cannot avoid the situation and you feel threatened, hand over your stuff. As inconvenient as it might be, you can replace your things but you can’t replace yourself.

Here are some more safety tips and information from the US State Department on Ecuador. Keep in mind that the State Dept hates rescuing people so they try to scare everyone into staying safely at home inside the US. In reality, Ecuador is safer than many large cities in the US, but the State Dept isn’t responsible for rescuing people from Detroit or Chicago.

Preparing to record this video made us realize we haven’t been as vigilant as we should be. We’ve never felt unsafe here and that may have lulled us into complacency.

We all need to be safe and pay attention to our surroundings wherever we are. Most people are good, but the world has its fair share of lost souls, too. We always look for the best in people, but that can make us a target for the worst in people.

Please do your best to stay safe and remember that things can be replaced, but you can’t.

Hopefully you enjoyed our video, and if you did, please LIKE, COMMENT and SHARE it, and SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel. ¡Muchas Gracias y Hasta Luego!

4 replies
  1. Joe
    Joe says:

    Good Video.

    Gringos living in a 3rd world country, no matter how nice you are, breeds bitterness amongst the people. Most of whom have never left the town of their birth.
    They may be smiling at you, but they know you can hop on the next flight to the states.

    Reply
    • JP
      JP says:

      We really don’t see or feel any bitterness here. I’m sure some people are, but the vast majority have welcomed us with open arms.

      Reply
  2. Carson
    Carson says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. You can get yourself into trouble anywhere by being careless and maybe just a little bit stupid! I am planning a trip to Cuenca in October 2019. I hope to move there in the Spring of next year. Thanks for enlightening and entertaining videos. I hope to meet you in the future. Carson from Las Vegas!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *