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Is It Safe to Check Bags When Flying Into Ecuador?

Posted in: Ecuador Travel

ecuador safe checked luggageA reader recently asked the following question about the safety of checking bags on flights into Ecuador:

“Hi! We are flying into Guayaquil in 2 weeks en route to the Galapagos. We have to stay over in Guayaquil.  We have a hotel booked/Hampton Inn. I am worried when we land.  I keep hearing horror stories (that we shouldn’t check bags/they will be stolen), warnings about taxis.  Is there anything you can tell me that will help us?  I feel a little worried.  Thanks!” 

We read the same things before moving to Ecuador.

We were concerned about it, but we moved with our full allotment of six bags (2 bags each). Because most luggage is a plain black color we decided to buy luggage that stood out. We figured that if someone was going to try to walk away with a bag, it wouldn’t be the purple or florescent green one. As we planned our move, we bought the ugliest bags that we could find.

Our Ugly (and Safe) Luggage

While we didn’t lose any bags, it is hard to tell if it actually worked. I don’t know if there was really a risk of losing a bag. But we did leave the airport with all our stuff.

In the photo you can see the ugliest and most mismatched set of luggage ever. We had bright red, yellow, purple and green. We did have two solid black bags – which we wrapped in a bright yellow cinch strap and added colored handles. Who would want these bags? And who would risk walking out of the airport with one? We could easily identify our bags at 500 meters!

ecuador safe checked luggage

Moving day (July 2009) with our mountain of ugly luggage

Luggage Claim Slips

We have been through lots of airports and Ecuador is the only one that we’ve seen that controls baggage leaving the baggage claim area. When baggage is checked, you’ll receive little claim slips – usually stuck on your boarding pass. When you arrive at your destination they will always check that you have an equal number of slips and bags. Sometimes they check that the numbers correspond. This is a solid deterrent to a thief – and I would say a response to previous problems.

Make sure that you keep your baggage claim slips!

Packing For Thieves (And Inept Airlines)

Because we were aware of the possibility of losing a bag, we packed differently. Instead of packing two bags per family member, we spread all our stuff out across all the bags. That way, if a bag was lost, it wouldn’t be everything from just one family member.

We continue to pack this way. And, unfortunately, we still have a really ugly set of luggage. It does turn some heads (especially our affectionately named “booger bag” – the florescent green roller bag). We have taken dozens of flights within Ecuador and 4 international trips in the past five years and we haven’t lost anything.

Baggage theft is a concern at most airports. In researching this post, I found an article about an Ecuador-to-New York smuggling ring that stole valuables from lost luggage at JKF airport in NY. I haven’t heard of recent problems at Ecuador airports.

We have covered GYE taxis and accommodations in past posts. If you are concerned about taxis in Guayaquil, we recommend using a hotel shuttle. It is safe, painless and free!

Now it’s your turn!

What has been your experience with baggage coming into Ecuador? Have you had problems? What do you do to keep your stuff safe?

Please share your comments below:

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is editor of GringosAbroad - one of the largest English language sites about Ecuador. Work with GringosAbroad. He is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands).

25 comments… add one
  • Marc Sep 27, 2016, 1:08 pm

    Hi Bryan,

    I’m glad to see so much info on this subject, and we are taking note of the good advice. We will be traveling to EC and Peru for 6 weeks. With a wide scope of agenda, the three of us will each need a large checked-in, carry-on, and handheld bag.

    My concern was not so much with the airport, but what we do once we exit. Our plan is to arrive in UIO…bus to Baños…bus to Cuenca. Is it safe/easy to put so much luggage in the bus?

    Any suggestions?
    (Besides vigilance and death grip)

    Thanks!

  • pete amphlett Oct 16, 2015, 6:27 am

    Hi everyone
    Sharing our knowledge and experiences might help prevent us becoming victims.
    I have been visiting Ecuador on and off for 4 years now. And like many Gringos have had the misfortune to have to become a statistic of airport theft.
    My experience was on a KLM flight but I’m sure it could have been any carrier.
    It is difficult to determine where the theft took place UK, Holland or Ecuador as once the bags are checked in they are out of sight.
    In my case after a long flight I was concerned at the length of time the luggage took to arrive on the carousel in Guayaquil. I thought my bags had been stolen but was relieved to finally see them.
    Tired and disorientated I made way through customs just before midnight and it was only while waiting in line that I realised I had been robbed. I needed to get something out of one of the cases when I noticed the locks on both cases had been snapped off. I checked inside to find I had been robbed. (They even stole the spare razor blades from my toilet bag.)
    Not speaking Spanish I tried to bring this to the airport security officials attention but was treated like an imbecile.
    I was eventually presented to the pilot of the KLM flight – unbelievable.
    The next day I contacted KLM and they advised me of the procedure to make a claim.
    Unfortunately that itself presents another nightmare as one doesn’t normally travel with receipts for suitcases and other items so claims can not be processed until such time as receipts can be produced.
    Some days later KLM requested that I Email copies of receipts and as I included 2 cases in my claim to take the cases to the in Country supplier to get a statement as to their value (in this instance Timberland) and whether or not they were beyond economical repair. ……………….
    Some weeks after my return to UK the claim was eventually settled. Well I received a payment which fell short of my expectations.
    So for me I am not sure whether I should get suitcases with combination locks. If you purchase a top of the range case from Samsonite range then this is like painting a target on it as some of them cost more than the flight. I have used TSA combination padlocks and found that someone has tried to open them as I make a note of the numbers when I check my cases in. It is so kind of the handlers to leave them at a setting of 000.
    For those who have not yet been robbed I suggest it is just a matter of time. Once you hand over your cases at Check-in you are in the lap of the gods.
    A sad memory from a wonderful trip but it could have been so much worse. Just imagine how easy it is for someone to put something like drugs in your case without you knowing and then trying to explain that to the customs officials. Scarey!
    Happy travels

  • Sherlynn Smith Aug 18, 2014, 4:15 pm

    Because there are four in my family, every year when we visit the states we travel with eight large suitcases that are checked along with our carry ons and book bags. When I pack our suitcases before returning to Cuenca, I turn my childrens new clothing inside out so that it does not appear new and it will be less likely to stolen from our bags.

    One thing that I do now and the TSA no longer opens our luggage is to put tolietries and other items in gallon size zip Loc bags. A couple of years ago I kept things in the store bags that they were bought in and the TSA would open
    every checked bag because they could not see what was in bags from Target or Macys department store. Four years ago when we flew into Guyaquille, we left one of our suitcase on the carousel. I thought the bag was lost and put a claim into Delta Airline’s. Within two hours Delta telephoned me and told me that we had left it at the airport. They were so gracious and sent my “missing” luggage on the next plane to Cuenca at no charge. I was so grateful for their care and honesty.

    • Bryan Haines Aug 18, 2014, 4:41 pm

      That’s a good suggestion – anything to prevent a piece of luggage from being flagged and searched. I’ve heard traveler comments about things falling out and being missed as the bag is re-packed.

  • Norma Aug 12, 2014, 9:38 am

    Hi Bryan, we will move to Ecuador making it our forever home. will move into an unfurnished residence. Will need to purchase a bed and mattress. Are the mattress sizing similar to the US i.e. queen or king size? wondering if we should ship our mattress pad for comfort or are they readily available in Cuenca? thank you for your support sincerely the Garcias

    • Bryan Haines Aug 12, 2014, 10:22 am

      I’m not sure about the sizing between mattresses here and in the US. I imagine they are the same.

      We bought everything here – there are some premium stores that sell just about everything. If not, you can ship a new one here.

      • Ben Aug 12, 2014, 10:36 am

        Just read this little article… mattresses here in Ecuador use European standards 🙂

  • Crystal Aug 10, 2014, 4:09 pm

    We just returned to Canada after 42 days in Ecuador using every mode of transportation there including flying in and out of Quito as well as flying from Cuenca to Quito while there. It was particularly concerned about our luggage in that in my enthusiasm I purchased huge Patagonia bags in orange and lime green only to have my son say those bags will only attract attention. However to my delight the only attention they drew was it was very easy for us to spot our bags at the airports. We travelled with LAN & Avancia and both were excellent ( Air Canada could use some help from such airlines). We live in Yukon, Canada but I am from the same place in Nova Scotia as the Haines family and your blog encouraged me to take the trip to Ecuador and I am sure we will return again. Ecuador was a fantastic experience for my husband and I. I read everything I could before going to Ecuador and worried about safety of self and belongings but am happy to report not a single problem. We did not go to the Galapogos due to the cost but made it to most other spots in Ecuador; my favourites were Saraguro, Cuenca, Otavalo and Mompiche. We will definitely return and now our four adult children are keen to visit Ecuador too!

  • Stewart Aug 10, 2014, 8:24 am

    Hey Bryan,

    I just got back from a trip to Florida. At the Tababela airport I checked 2 bags (American Airline’s limit due to an embargo). Everything came out fine, but I got the feeling that my new bag was looked through. Nothing was taken, but I do advise that any laptops, cameras, etc. people stow in their carry on.

    Best to you and yours.

  • Jeff Aug 10, 2014, 2:14 am

    I’ve never had a problem with my luggage at Guayaquil. First off, you *can* use the special TSA-approved locks for flights going into and out of Ecuador. I can’t swear they’re a deterrent to theft leaving the country, but when they arrive… you get them right off the plane, locks intact. Other than the baggage handlers, I don’t believe anyone else has a chance to molest your luggage until it’s on the carousel. And if you can’t afford new, bright luggage, what I do is wrap some bright neon-colored duct tape around a handle or a strap. And Bryan makes a good point about the folks checking your baggage-claim tickets before you can leave that part of the airport. So far I’ve flown into Guayquil 3 times and once to Quito. I’ve never lost an item, and I’ve found the customs people to be very kind and accommodating. Just be sure you know the rules for the sizes of luggage for a given airline (there were recent changes!), their content-related rules and restrictions, and if you’re going to be checking bags anywhere in the US, know the TSA restrictions as well. For example, NO power tools of any sort in your carry-on luggage. I recently lost a cordless drill because I didn’t read ahead. Do you homework before any flight–especially international flights. Oh… and be sure to read the list of things you can and cannot bring in your luggage to Ecuador! There are many restrictions, so do your homework and don’t risk the consequences.

  • Rich Aug 9, 2014, 6:52 pm

    A personal tale. February 2014, my dad and I flew into Quito. He had one checked bag. (I packed lighter and got by with carry-ons.) The checked bag didn’t show up with us. About 24 hours later it arrived at the hotel. One item was missing out of the bag. (It could have been stolen at several different points.) It was the head for the Manfrotto tripod. It had to be removed from the tripod so it would fit in the bag. I took care to wrap it up nicely for protection. Whoever got into the bag must have thought they were getting a nice prize – until they unwrapped it. In all likelihood they didn’t even know what it was. I couldn’t find a replacement for it in Ecuador. The bummer was we carried the darn tripod all over Ecuador while not being able to use it. (It was insured and replaced upon return.) If you wrap up something nicely and under the “need for speed” it’ll be grabbed because it looks valuable and checked out later.

  • Jon Rice Aug 9, 2014, 6:17 pm

    We brought in 3 checked bags each. we used colorful duct tape to make them stand out from others when they were unloaded. we also secured them with the plastic zip strings (often used by police) since we did not have or want to buy TSA approved locks. inside each bag we had a note with extra zip strings asking the customs etc to re-secure the luggage. original locks were all the same color. the two additional strings inside the luggage were different colors so we could tell if it had been opened (once or twice). we had no loss and some of the luggage was opened. and yes, each piece was checked to verify it was ours. much more secure than in the USA

  • Carolyn V. Hamilton Aug 9, 2014, 9:31 am

    An interesting and enlightening read on this subject is my friend Bambi Vincent’s book “Travel Advisory.” As a rule of thumb, I NEVER pack anything electronic or any jewelry (even costume,–thieves can’t tell) in a checked bag. World-wide, those things are subject to loss. As for Ecuador, I didn’t have enough to warrant a container when I moved, so for 2 1/2 years now I’ve been doing suitcase runs (bringing 4 back each time) 2 times a year. I have never had a problem. Having said that, I must add that all my suitcases have big colored polka dots painted on them. I get lots of smiles, and a Copa desk agent recently said, “Oh, I remember this suitcase from last year.” And fyi, Bryan, I have that chartreuse bag only in pink with chartreuse polka dots! 🙂

    • Bryan Haines Aug 9, 2014, 2:23 pm

      Nice – I think it’s a good idea to have bags that stand out a little. We have a set of normal bags and a set of really ugly ones…

  • Chuck Aug 9, 2014, 9:13 am

    None of our friends who traveled directly from the USA to Ecuador have had any problems with their baggage. However, my sister had binoculars stolen from her bag during her lay over in Panama. I would be very carefull not to place anything attractive in checked luggage if there will be a lay over.

  • William Wright Aug 9, 2014, 8:28 am

    I concur with Guy,
    I had absolutely no problems flying into the new Quito airport. Checked one bag. Luggage ticket was checked. Kept valuables largely in my carry on. I placed in my carry on bag a change of clothes, light jacket and extra basic toiletries. Noticed one could pay to have luggage shrink wrapped just before check-in area. I chose to forego this option

  • Robin Aug 8, 2014, 8:58 am

    I have only flown into Quito twice, but both times everything was left in tact in my luggage.
    Before, I left the United States, there was a news story about a theft ring being busted at LAX airport. There was so much stuff being stolen from pax bags, the FBI set up a sting operation. Needless to say, I worry about my luggaage just as much state side as I do in Ecuador.

  • ChrisM Aug 5, 2014, 12:23 pm

    I’m curious after seeing the picture of all your luggage. Do you feel like you brought too much? Could have used more?

    We are flying to Cuenca in three weeks and trying to find the right balance of luggage to pack.

  • cynthia lea Aug 5, 2014, 11:57 am

    I traveled in Ecuador some 2 years ago, and stupidly left my luggage with the ticket agents at Quito’s brand new , state of the art bus station for approximately 1 hour, I retrieved them , boarded my bus and did not notice that despite locks on ALL the zipper compartments my brand new laptop and my camera were gone!!! Do NOT leave anything with ticket agents!!! Luckily I had insurance , reportrd it to the polce in the town I was travelling to (got a written report) and got paid , but a terrible mess!!!

    • Bryan Haines Aug 5, 2014, 4:16 pm

      That’s too bad to hear. It’s good that your insurance came through. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Guy C Erb Aug 5, 2014, 9:37 am

    We have somewhere between one and two hundred guests fly into Quito each year and have not had a single instance of luggage being stolen within the airport over the years. The fact that you are required to produce your luggage ticket as you exit security pretty much puts the nix on missing luggage. If you can’t find your bag then chances are it never made it on the plane in the first place. This happens fairly often to your guests and the airlines work hard to get your luggage to you as soon as it arrives and wherever you might be.

    Once you are out of the airport and possibly in a crowd then you need to keep a careful eye on things. We have had several guests lose smaller bags that were at their feet. Perhaps the guest is talking to someone else and then looks down and the bag is gone. This was more of a problem at the old Quito airport where their tended to be quite a crowd outside the door. At the new Quito airport, everything is more modern and far enough out of the main city that you don’t just find people hanging around. The situation in Guayaquil may be different, I can only speak for Quito.

    • Bryan Haines Aug 5, 2014, 10:16 am

      Thanks Guy. As I mentioned in the post we haven’t had any issues either. It seems that it might have been a problem years ago – and someone keeps repeating the same story in forums.

      Guayaquil airport uses the same ticket system – we have used GYE much more than UIO with equal success.

      I took a look at your site – looks like a great adventure!

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