I Plan to Take My 9-Year-Old Daughter to Ecuador. Is it Safe? Any Tips?

Ask Rolf: Vagabonding traveler Rolf Potts answers your questions about travel

04.08.08 | 11:55 AM ET

Rolf Potts

Dear Rolf,

One of my inspirations is to take my family around the world—hopefully about six years from now. In the meantime, I plan on taking my 9-year-old daughter on a 15-day trip to Ecuador for a bit of a father/daughter bonding time. I was just wondering if you’ve ever been to Ecuador. If so, is it a safe country to travel with kids? I am not very concerned, but I think I should check a few sources to see if I should be as concerned as some of my friends and family are.

—Paul, Ontario, Canada

Dear Paul,

I commend you on your plan to take your family around the world. I think that’s terrific, and I include resources for traveling with children in my travel-planning book, “Vagabonding.”

Before I get to the specifics of Ecuador, I’d like to pass along some general advice from Sheila Scarborough, who writes the blog Family Travel. She emailed to suggest three factors family travelers should keep in mind:

* Do your homework and have a plan; then you can change it. Serendipity is great, but you should also plan each day of a trip. Lay out the distance you’ll drive or travel, where you’ll stay, some ideas for cool places to eat, and ideas for attractions and things to do, including opening/closing times and costs. This lets you see ahead of time if that restaurant or museum that you thought you were visiting on Tuesday is, um, closed on Tuesday (whoops) and gives you immediate options if you get to destination XYZ and something goes awry. Sure, winging it is great for singles or couples, but you should see the look you get from your preteen when you tell her “We’ll just wing it” after you’ve screwed up getting to someplace in Tokyo.

* Quit lugging all that paraphernalia. Newsflash: They sell diapers and crackers and other kid stuff in lots of places around the world. You do not need to carry a Sam’s Club-sized stock with you; just take normal precautions with packing and be done with it. It’s good to teach your kids to try different things and do different things in a new place, so don’t transport your entire “home bubble” with you. If you’re traveling somewhere so exotic and out-there that you must bring specific supplies, consider going when your child is a little older and you’d be less logistically impaired. Always carry your own back-up toilet paper, anti-diarrhea medication, an antihistamine like Benadryl, some sort of anti-itch cream, Tylenol and whatever stuffed animal/blankie is currently key to your child’s happiness.

* Don’t forget to eat. Break this rule and you’ll pay for it with whiny, grumpy children (and an equally cranky spouse). Just because you tend to get absorbed in your travel “doings”—then look up at three o’clock and realize you forgot to eat lunch—does not mean that this is a good idea when you travel with kids. It isn’t too fun to be somewhere in the depths of the Louvre and hear yelling and fussing bouncing off all that marble because someone is “HUUNNGGRRYY, Mommy!”

As for the specifics of Ecuador, I think you should be able to take your daughter there and have a great two weeks. Just take the normal precautions (food, safety, etc.) that you would take in traveling with her in any American city, and you should do just fine. This part of the world is particularly family friendly, so this should afford you interactions with your hosts that you wouldn’t get if you were traveling alone.

Just to be sure about my advice—and to provide you with some specific travel ideas for Ecuador—I contacted Texas vagabonder Hayden Brooks, who recently traveled around the world with his own young family. Here’s his advice for Ecuador:

Our family of four (kids ages 6 and 13) spent two wonderful months in Ecuador, so I have many suggestions. The reason we chose Ecuador is because we had visited 15 countries in the previous 10 months and didn’t want to be moving around quite as much. Ecuador provides incredible cultural and ecological diversity within an area the size of Colorado. I would take our family back in a second. The main segments of our visit were:

* Quito: A few days at Café Cultura Hotel and the South American Explorers Club.

* Chugchilán: A week at the Black Sheep Inn, which is located well off the beaten track, four to five hours from Quito and three hours off the Pan-American Highway on spectacular winding roads. It was great, and has all sorts of eco-lodge-type activities.

* Galapagos: We stayed on the Alta for 10 days. 

* Otavalo: One month taking Spanish lessons as a family with Otavalo Spanish School. Here, we stayed two weeks at Las Palmeras Inn and then two days at Hacienda Cusín. Also did a two-week homestay with an Otavaleno family outside of Otavalo.

* Amazonian Ecuador: Stayed one week at the Yachana Lodge, and I have stayed in touch with the FUNEDESIN Foundation. Since I am in Austin, where Whole Foods is headquartered, I have been working to get the Funedesin’s Yachana Gourmet chocolates distributed by Whole Foods to all of their stores.

* We also spent a few days visiting Cuenca (a UNESCO World Heritage site) in south Ecuador, and went out of our way whenever possible to visit the local markets on market day.

My suggestion for a two-week visit would be to fly into Quito and then to pick just one of these regions to visit. If cost is not a big concern, then the Galapagos would be my first pick. Yachana Lodge and/or Black Sheep Inn would be close seconds, and Otovalo is a comfortable place to study Spanish.

Has Rolf already answered your question? See the Ask Rolf archive. If not, send your questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

13 Comments for I Plan to Take My 9-Year-Old Daughter to Ecuador. Is it Safe? Any Tips?

Tim Patterson 04.08.08 | 3:43 PM ET

My parents took my brother and I to Ecuador when I was 11 and my brother was 9.  We both had a blast, and the only danger was on the mountain roads. 

I have excellent memories of bargaining for souvenirs in a market (my parents let my brother and I explore on our own), riding horses at a lovely inn called “Hacienda Cusin (sp?)” and catching piranhas from the dock of an Amazon lodge called La Selva.

I also remember watching OJ Simpson’s White Bronco chase on live TV from our hotel room in Quito.

Good for you to take your child on the road!  Have a wonderful trip!

Debbie 04.08.08 | 5:03 PM ET

In my experience friends and relatives tend to be very protective of kids and worry about parents doing anything out of the ordinary.  When we took our first trip with my (then 6 month old) son to Paris, our friends and family were very concerned, raising issues like medical care, food, etc.  It seemed a little silly to me at the time, and even sillier now.

That said, I do take a few precautions before going on any extended international trip:
- I check the safety situation (the US and Australian State Departments are great resources)
- I check the CDC site to find out whether any vaccinations are necessary. It’s best to visit a travel medicine clinic for vaccinations rather than your pediatrician as they tend to be better versed in the details, especially related to vaccinating children or protecting children from malaria
- I find the name of a good hospital (preferably a children’s hospital or English speaking hospital) in each city I’ll be visiting.  Kids sometimes get in accidents or sick even at home, and it would be difficult to figure out where to go once you’re in an emergency situation.
- I bring along a good first aid kit complete with children’s tylenol and dosing information.  It’s no fun to try to explain what’s wrong and understand instructions in a foreign language, especially where your kids are concerned.

I’ve posted a few more tips about dealing with medical issues (and other tips on traveling with children) on my blog http://www.deliciousbaby.com/journal/2008/mar/07/dealing-medical-issues-when-traveling/


michelle jaramillo 04.08.08 | 5:32 PM ET

I went to Ecuador in 2001 and have a few places to add that were my favorite. Banos is a beautiful mountain town surrounded by waterfalls. we rented bikes and then hiked into some of the falls.  Also, not far from quito is a town called Tena.  this is a great place to do a rafting trip and also a jungle tour.  If you are looking for some time on the ocean, but do not have time for the galapagos, check out some day trips along the pacific out to some islands.. we saw a pod of whales and blue-footed boobies.  there is some good surfing along the northern pacific, as well.

Larry 04.09.08 | 4:35 PM ET

Dear Rolf,

There is a forum for Ecuador_Expats that you may want to join.  It is a great source for info on Ecuador.  I own a new condo in Cuenca, Ecuador, which will be our new retirement home in June 2009. We spent this 2 weeks (including this past Christmas) in Cuenca.  We simply love it. The people are extremely friendly and you can feel confident that you will be safe in Cuenca, as long as you take normal precautions.  To join the Yahoo Group, here is the link, sign into Yahoo Groups and look for ecuador_expats. Good luck. Larry

Lauren 04.11.08 | 6:34 PM ET

I just came back from a week in Ecuador.  As a 19 year old woman, I certainly have many unique concerns in travel safety but many of them are similar to that of children in that extra precaution is necessary.  I went for a community service trip, but I will just say that I NEVER felt in danger in my time in Guayaquil.  I highly recommend Guayaquil.. it has beautiful parks and great seafood and the Malechon, a boardwalk type area, is a fabulous, clean, and bustling place for tourists and residents alike.  From the poorest areas of Guayaquil to the pristine and trendy malls that are quite common around the city, I felt completely taken by the hospitality and kindness of the strangers I met there.  If you have any Spanish speaking skills, utilize them, but I feel especially with so much traveling experience you can have a great and safe stay in Ecuador.

Nancy Chuang 04.15.08 | 1:27 AM ET

I traveled alone for a month in Ecuador when I was 28…found it very safe and the people quite friendly. Many of the men on buses were protective of me, making sure I sat in front and watching over my backpack instead of putting it under the bus. Strangers invited me to meet their families. Lovely place!

I also visited Chugchilan, and want to point out that this tiny mountain village is part of what’s called the Quilotoa Loop. Other stops on this loop (which some tour companies undertake but is fun to do by public transport if you’re patient) are the gorgeous green crater lake Laguna Quilotoa and the sprawling market of Saquisili. The hiking at Quilotoa is high-altitude but not terribly strenuous for a child, and the market—especially the famed animal portion—would be a great cultural experience as well.

Soultravelers3 04.15.08 | 2:49 AM ET

Well, we have not made it to Ecuador yet, but we have been a family traveling the world for almost 2 years now, so I highly recommend a RTW journey as a family!!

It has been the best decision of our lives and even more rewarding than we expected. We are looking forward to many more years of doing more travel and South America will come after a long stay in Africa.

Rolf Potts’ book was one of our inspirations! We were a little nervous to take our young daughter ( 5 when we left in 2006 and 7 today) into rural Morocco and Turkey, but they turned out to be highlights!

Actually traveling is so much easier,than the worries before hand. The world is a safer place than most of us realize.

Traveler’s tummy is something you will need to be aware of, bring a hand sanitizer bottle and be careful with food.

If you can, I would move that RTW travel up because sometimes it is harder to get teens away from friends. Of course, with webcam skype, they can always take their friends with them today. ;)

You will have a ball in Ecuador and beyond! Lots of great advice here to tuck away for Ecuador. Thanks! ;)

Nancy Sathre-Vogel 04.15.08 | 6:04 PM ET

I just want to add another vote for traveling the world with the kiddos!!  My husband and I taught for many years in international schools and had the opportunity to travel all over the world - and we lugged our twin boys with us.  Our boys have learned so much from their travels, I honestly can’t even imagine what their lives would be like otherwise.

We are now about to take off on a 2 1/2-year journey riding our bicycles from Alaska to Argentina!!!  We are absolutely thrilled about the possiblities - for all four of us!

You can read about us and our journey at http://www.familyonbikes.org

John M. Edwards 04.19.08 | 7:04 AM ET

Hi Rolf:

I think it would be a little kindergarten to take a 9-year-old anywhere except the local suburban community pool.

It really sets my teeth on edge (if that’s possible) when bright young things brag that they are taking their small children to India, or elsewhere, so they can learn the “southpaw swipe”—“Daddy, why isn’t there any toilet paper?”—subjecting them to the squalor, filth, and degradation of third-world travel.

Except. I know what you measn. Our young memories are often the strongest and most powerful influences on our later life. Maybe it is worth taking a chance?

John M. Edwards

Grace 04.22.08 | 11:41 PM ET

My husband and I run an adventure travel company to Ecuador. Our kids are ages 2 1/2 and 6. Both boys have been there twice.
We recently took a bunch of our friends.  All the children were between age 3 and 11. Fabulous time.  One parent was surprised that their 8 year old really enjoyed trying new food.

One piece of advice not listed so far: Regular sleeping hours.  Make sure both you and your child get enough sleep daily.

As for Galapagos - I think you should do a land-based tour instead of a yacht tour. You can spend more time on the beach or hanging out in the local town.  You end up helping the local community by having your tourism dollars go directly to them AND you and your family can experience the local culture and lie on the beach under the stars.

Steven 06.02.08 | 3:52 PM ET

Hey Im from Ecuador and that country is beatiful and very safe is a place where you can fun w/ your kids and family

Ethan 06.10.08 | 7:59 PM ET

While you are in Ecuador, consider volunteering.  Check out http://www.volunteerforfree.com for opportunities to volunteer!

Brandon 06.16.08 | 10:48 AM ET

If you would like to volunteer in Ecuador, visit http://www.vaops.com  The site offers an extensive directory of free and low cost volunteer programs in Ecuador and around the world.  Did I mention that it is free.

Safe Travels!

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