Ecuador travel: Is it safe to visit and what are your rights if you have a trip booked?

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Following the outbreak of violence and the decree of a state of emergency in Ecuador, concerns have been raised over the safety of prospective visitors and foreign nationals currently in the country.

A popular destination with those visiting South America, the nation has been rocked by violence in recent days after the apparent escape of a powerful gang leader from prison.

There have been reports of explosions and the abduction of police officers in cities such as Quevedo and Quito, the capital. On 9 January, gunmen stormed a TV station in the city of Guayaquil, just one day after the president declared a 60-day state of emergency.

Despite reports of increasing unrest, the majority of the country is trying to carry on as usual, with the army drafted in to maintain law and order.

Infrastructure such as airports is largely functioning as normal, while the UK Foreign Office has stopped short of advising against travel to the country. But is it safe to go, and what are your rights if you have a trip booked? Here’s what we know so far.

What has happened in Ecuador?

On 8 January, president Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency in response to what he called “transnational organised crime” groups, also designating them as “terrorist organisations and belligerent non-state actors” and recognising “an internal armed conflict”. He also stated that he has ordered the country’s armed forces to “neutralise” these groups.

The declaration followed reports of increasing numbers of riots and escapes in the country’s prisons. Notably, 7 January saw the alleged escape of a notorious gang member from his low-security prison cell. Authorities reported that Adolfo Macías, leader of the Los Choneros gang, wasn’t in his cell during a transfer between prisons.

Since then there have been reports of explosions and abductions of police officers, with a high-profile incident involving an armed attack on a TV station. Police managed to neutralise the situation, with 13 arrests made and only two injuries.

On 11 January, a nightclub arson in the eastern city of Coca killed two people, while a bomb threat in Quito caused the evacuation of the area around the Playon de la Marin bus station.

What is the latest Foreign Office advice?

Ecuador lies on the west coast of South America, and is a compact country that is far smaller than most on the continent

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Following the state of emergency, the Foreign Office (FCDO) updated its advice in accordance with that of the Ecuadorean Ministry of Tourism. The most recent update on 12 January says that “the Ecuadorean Ministry of Tourism is no longer advising tourists to remain in their accommodation”, though there is “a daily curfew from 11pm to 5am which you should observe”.

“Exceptions to the curfew include passengers travelling to/from airports who will need to show their passports or ID and their relevant boarding pass or flight booking.

“For all airports, only passengers will be allowed to enter the airport, family members and friends will not be allowed into the terminals to drop off or pick up passengers.”

The FCDO adds that “there has been an increase in the reporting of security incidents throughout the country, especially in Guayaquil and Quito. There have been reports of a series of explosions, shooting, vehicles set on fire and the abduction of police officials and prison security guards.

“Travellers are likely to see increased military and police presence around key public buildings, airports and on the streets. This may also include closure of the public buildings, shopping centres and key tourist destinations. You should monitor local media and stay away from areas involving increased security activity.”

Despite this additional advice, the FCDO has stopped short of advising against travel to any parts of Ecuador. Only a small section of the country – within 20km of the northern border with Colombia – carries a warning, with visitors advised against all but essential travel to the area, which includes towns like San Lorenzo and Nueva Loja. The warning does not apply to El Ángel Ecological Reserve, the Rumichaca border crossing, the Pan-American Highway or the town of Tulcan.

Are flights operating as normal?

While there are no direct flights from the UK, most flights from destinations such as Madrid are operating as usual. Flights from major South American destinations such as Lima and Bogota are running with some cancellations, but domestic flights from airports such as Cuenca, Guayaquil and Quito are currently in operation.

The official Twitter/X accounts of these airport have sent out updates assuring travellers that they are operating as normal.

What if I have booked a holiday to Ecuador?

In theory, upcoming trips should be running as normal, so contact your accommodation, flight or trip provider if you want to postpone. There are currently no grounds for customers to claim the money back through travel insurance; this will change if the FCDO issues a blanket “avoid all non-essential travel” advisory, as this would enable travellers to cancel their plans for a full refund.

In addition, remember that deliberately travelling to areas where there are travel warnings – in this case the border with Colombia – may invalidate any existing insurance.

If you have booked a package holiday, you may be able to move the dates or cancel for a refund due to the Package Travel Regulations legislation; the trip arguably won’t perform as promised if tourists are expected to stay inside their accommodation as per the FCDO advice. Contact your tour operator or travel agent to discuss your options.

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