Why is dangerous La Mariscal Sucre, Quito so appealing to backpackers?

Mariscal Sucre is the automatic zone in for many backpackers arriving into Quito but many Quitoans also enjoy the energy of the place. The streets leading to Plaza Foch are densely dotted with hostels (or hostals); some are proper party places with bars and weekend parties, others more tranquilo.

Hostal Galapagos fits the latter description and is a clean, family run place within two blocks of the bustle. It does have a communal area with sofas and DVDs, but it doesn’t offer the same level of sociability as other places and although dependent on how full the place is, it’s a fairly quiet option that winds down quite early (I cringed the few times I came in later and woke up mama Luz by buzzing to be let in, not that she was fazed). The Blue House, next door, also recommended, is a bit more of a lively option with outdoor seating and heating. But! – both are gated, in fact, I did not see a single hostel in Quito without bars and barriers. And it is those bars that remind one of just how dangerous Quito can be.

Even when penned in, pacing like a caged animal, you’re not necessarily safe from interesting characters as I discovered when one guy with very good English skills started a through bars sales pitch for drogas (chased away by Luz!).

Walking out in Quito after dark is not recommended for the solo traveller or small groups where the night time shadows reveal dodgy dealers and guys wandering with batons. But after some time it gets frustrating and you just do it, you become blasé, and you unwittingly leave yourself wide open to potential dangers.

I ran back from a party to the hostal in the early hours with one other traveller, no problem. I went out for midnight snacks and made it back, no problem. I ate out alone and arrived back in the dark, no problem.

But then I didn’t stray too far, I didn’t carry a bag, I didn’t take much cash, and I didn’t go looking for trouble. And that’s what most people do, although, as one guy who had been in Quito already for three months and then got mugged said, it’s partly about being sensible, partly about being lucky.

This one night he was walking along to an internet café and noticed a guy across the road who looked a little suspicious. Refusing to be drawn into that mindset he continued but then noticed a second guy had joined him. Speeding up slightly he drew comfort from the fact that it was only another 50 metres to the internet café and turned to look back one more time, only to see a third guy right on his shoulder. What followed was a momentary struggle before he came to his senses and quickly put his hands up as four guys stripped his pockets and wallet. They didn’t get much, they even left his wallet and cards, for which he thanked them (before hurling some abuse). This wasn’t an unusual story, but it was one with a fairly happy ending.

On the other hand, the La Mariscal area of Quito isn’t significantly more dangerous than other places that draw in the tourists en masse – the opportunists will be there waiting – and it would be unwise to avoid the place for of fear of being mugged.

Avoid it because you hate cities, because you want to get to the coast or jungle quicker, because you don’t care to hang out with a dominant gringo crowd. Or enjoy it for the benefits it does offer: a social hub, a starting point, a base to do trips out from, a place to people watch whilst slowly sipping a coffee or a beer, a place to dance and enjoy yourself. Just don’t be an idiot. Like any city, it has its dark side.

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Filed under cities, culture, ecuador, south america, travel

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