A couple of months ago I arrived in Quito, Ecuador, expecting to settle here for a few years, maybe more. However I’ve decided it is not for me. At least I don’t think so. I’ve returned to the UK for a while to cool off.
Moving to any country is tough, especially during a pandemic. And it’s also very personal. I have hated my time in Quito, Ecuador, others love it.
I’ve lived in Lebanon, India, Syria (pre-civil war) and many, many more places. But nothing prepared me for life in Quito.
Now I know I’m going to get some backlash for this post. I hate whining and I was hesitant about offending anyone who loves it here. But this blog isn’t sponsored by a tourism board or hotel. I’m going to tell you like it is, for me, at least.
Here are the bad things about living in Quito, Ecuador for me personally…
I can deal with a bit of pick pocketing, but I’m not cool with the level of and type of crime here. I grew accustomed to seeing guns while working in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, but in Quito it felt different. In Lebanon, I felt the guns were there to protect me, whereas here in Quito I felt threatened. In Lebanon I personally felt welcome as a foreigner, whereas in Quito I felt like a target. I’m white, blonde and I stand out.
One day I took a stroll from the hotel to a park with my three children. I had a few people approach me and try to touch me. I am fine, my kids were fine, but still it felt aggressive, to put it mildly. I’ve since asked local friends, hotel staff and my husband’s work colleagues and they all advise the same: never, ever take your kids out alone on the streets, day or night, even in the ‘good areas’ of town.
Now, that’s not to say that all kids are kept locked up inside. The issue is that I have three young children and they’re inclined to walk ahead or run around. I’ve been advised to keep my baby in a sling and the other two on a leash (literally), but I can’t stop my kids wandering off. Kidnapping, while rare, is a thing.
Since the pandemic hit, it’s been getting worse I’ve been told. Children have also been a target of kidnappings. That’s not to say people don’t take their kids on the street. Some do, including foreigners. But from what I’ve seen most parents are very, very cautious.
Sexual assault and rape is an issue here, too. That’s not to say the problem doesn’t exist elsewhere. I spoke to some Ecuadorian women here and they said that the country is moving in the right direction. People are starting to question a macho culture that pervades.
I know that travel safety sites often exaggerate, but still, they make for grim reading. Date rape drugs are widespread. Never accept a flyer, perfume sample from anyone in the street, regardless of how well dressed they appear, I’ve been told.
Express kidnappings, especially of tourists using unofficial taxis, are a big problem. Travellers are taken to an ATM where they’re cleared of their savings, or sexually assaulted or raped.
Expat life in a bubble or in fear
Maybe I’m panicking too much. But I tend to trust locals and they all advise against me walking with my kids on the street alone. Ever.
So the solution is to stay at home, go to the mall (kill me now!) or head to the countryside. Based on this I feel my life would be stay in a bubble all week, then escape to the countryside on weekends. I’m not sure I could do this.
Maybe I’m worrying too much, but I’m a mum of three small children and I personally did not feel safe where I was in Quito.
Security is a personal feeling and I do not like the feeling of living in fear. This is not just one of the bad things about living in Quito: for me, it’s not just a lifestyle preference, it’s a dealbreaker.
Now it may sound ridiculous for a bit of dog mess to get in the way of a relocation. But there is a lot of dog poo!
Like in many other cities, stray dogs are a problem in Quito. I lived in Santiago de Chile where there were also a lot of strays, but there were also a lot more people cleaning up the streets.
Since staying in Quito I’ve stepped in dog poop more times that I can count. There’s dog poop in communal public parks as well as private gated condominiums. My two-year-old has got it on her hands playing in a gated community playground several times.
I politely asked a couple of owners whose dogs were crapping in the kids’ play area to clean up and they just shrugged and walked off. I wondered why no other kids played in the park and soon I realised – it was filthy. IThe park in the allegedly luxury condo we were staying was the dirtiest I’ve seen in a long time.
Again, maybe I’m blinkered as my husband was raving how clean the old town was, whereas I saw dog poop on every corner.
I’ve done a lot of research and it seems relocation agents are rare in Quito. Due to a miscommunication at my husband’s company we weren’t offered proper support for our move.
In case you’re wondering – a relocation agent acts as a one stop shop for helping find accommodation, registering at the hospital, providing cultural / security advice and anything else you might need when moving to a new country.
There are housing agents, there are lots of forums on Facebook with expats keen to help. There are people on social media claiming to offer their services to foreigners, but they’re not relocation agents. Unless you’re moving with a multinational company or large organisation which has solid experience of relocating workers to Quito, you might find yourself on your own.
We did eventually find a small relocation agency, but they seemed to come with their limitations. I didn’t get the impression they would be able to find us a suitable temporary home.
Lack of temporary housing
Airbnb does exist but it’s not as developed in other countries. The pandemic has put a lot of properties out of reach. 95% of the properties I contacted on Airbnb were actually no longer available for rent. We’re a family with three small children and it has been impossible to find suitable temporary accommodation. We ended up in a hotel.
Large companies tend to have their own temporary accommodation. For those moving without the arsenal of a big multinational, you’ll have to sign a minimum one-year contract (usually two years).
In my experience I found that most owners would provide very basic furniture (e.g. no TV, no bed linen, no cutlery etc) until our furniture arrived and then we would continue the same rental contract. But I wasn’t prepared to sign a long term contract and buy a load of household essentials having just arrived in a city I didn’t even like.
In it alone
If you are moving with a large company or experienced organisation, you may be OK. If you have family in Quito it’s a different ball game. However Quito is not an easy city to move to. You’ll need support.
A lot of the time I’ve felt like I’m fumbling in the dark. My kid got a concussion and I didn’t know which hospital to take him to, I didn’t have functioning internet to search online. Thankfully I have a friend of a friend whose sister-in-law happens to be a brain surgeon (what are the chances?!) and I managed to get the support I needed. My kid was OK. House hunting, finding household help and even grocery shopping has been a struggle for me though.
I’m immensely grateful to the Ecuadorian people who have tried to help, but at the end of the day I need more. I can’t rely on a friend with her own kids, job and busy life to find me a house.
Ok, I’m not going to mince my words here: Quito is ugly. Sure the old town houses some beautiful antique churches, but on the whole I find the architectural style pretty gross. Now, I’ve lived in Antwerp, in Belgium, which has some very industrial zones, but I didn’t find it depressing like Quito.
Because of the crime situation you’d be a fool for wearing nice jewelry or handbags. I’ve been told off for dressing ‘too nicely’. I loved seeing all the fashionistas prance about in Antwerp and Paris. I found it invigorating, interesting and inspiring. I felt alive there. Whereas in Quito, I felt numb.
The villages outside of Quito are much prettier. The nature outside of Quito is breathtakingly beautiful. If you value nature and a simple down to earth life you may well love it. But damn it, I wanted a proper cocktail! I wanted my wacko vegan food. Again, the bad things about living in Quito for me might be great things for you. It’s a simple, laid back style which some of my friends loved.
Most expat families seem to live in areas outside of Quito called Tumbaco and Cumbaya. I saw both and I didn’t like them. I really love walking around the city and this just isn’t possible here. Some expats have told me it is, but it’s nothing compared to wandering the souks of Lebanon, the cobbled streets of Paris or a London market. Personally I found both areas depressingly suburbian. I hate malls with a passion. And walking round and round a condominium isn’t my idea of fun.
People advise me to go to this cafe or that bar. People say I just need to explore a little more. But I go there and I’m like ‘ummm, what the… this is it?!’
We stayed in a five star hotel. Apparently. (It was five star in name alone). Maybe I’m a snob, maybe I’m an overtravelled brat, but if you compare the offerings compared to other cities, you might be disappointed.
Quito enjoys a series of microclimates, so it very much depends on where you live as to your weather that day. Still, it’s normal to experience thunder, rain, scorching heat and humidity, all in the same day.
There is very little difference to the temperature all year round. The only difference is more rain in the winter, I’m told.
While the weather outside of Quito is warmer, on the whole I was been really cold living in Quito. The houses and hotel I stayed in were cold and came without heating (or aircon). For about two hours per day it was too hot, but in the evening it was really, really cold. I wore warm socks in bed and most days I went round the hotel in a hoodie and body warmer.
Outside of Quito it’s more tropical which makes for a much more pleasant climate. However, it also means a lot of mosquitos. It seems I was the breakfast, lunch and dinner for a swarm of insects one weekend. My husband’s legs were so inflamed with bites they looked like they’ve been inflated with a bicycle pump.
It’s a small issue, but nonetheless it’s worth noting that the so called ‘spring all year round weather’ that everyone raves about isn’t a dream come true for all.
The bad things about living in Quito are personal
Moving to a new country is always tough. However there is one thing waiting out it out until it gets better, and there is another thing being irresponsible as a parent. In Quito my kids were bored, tired and fed up. For the most part I felt exhausted, tired and often, scared.
I can deal with a lack of vegan restaurants. I can cope with dog dirt. A bit of cold weather doesn’t put me off. But as a mother, the crime scares me so much.
As mentioned, it’s very personal. My husband loves the laid back lifestyle. He doesn’t get the unwanted attention I do. He doesn’t freak out for the kids’ safety like me. He would gladly settle in Quito for a long, long time.
I got chatting to a family of Ecuadorians and even they held a difference of opinion among themselves. The daughter said I should stick it out, the father suggested moving to the country and the mother recommended moving to the UK or Uruguay as soon as possible (Uruguay is another option I’m toying with).
A friend who I met online and is relocating at the same time as me hates Quito too, all for the same reasons. Too dangerous to live in the city and too boring to live outside, she lamented.
Another travel journalist friend described Ecuador as ‘rather boring’ and the ‘Belgium of South America’. I think that’s being unfair to Belgium.
It’s true that we’ve also been unusually unlucky. No doubt my impressions have been shaped by a series of misadventures. I appreciate that many of the bad things about living in Quito apply to may other cities, too.
Ecuador is the Belgium of South America
Holiday yes, life no
The fruit in Ecuador is amazing. The nature outside of the city is beautiful. There are amazing travel opportunities. But for me, as a mother of three young kids, security is a deal breaker. I know other families love it, but not me. Not yet, at least.
If you’re considering a move here, my only advice would be to visit before you move. Quito is a marmite city. Husband loves it. I hate it. Who knows how you will feel?
I would gladly vacation in Ecuador again, but I have no desire to live there. Taking a holiday in a place is very different to living there.
Call me stupid, call me ignorant, call me unlucky, I do not want to live in Quito.
Are you moving to a new city? If you do like your city, but you’re struggling to settle in, you might also want to check out my tips here.