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WORLD INSTITUTE FOR CONSERVATION & ENVIRONMENT, WICE

RECENT KIDNAPPING: SAFETY IN CUYABENO IN PERSPECTIVE

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In September 2012, two foreign tourists were kidnapped from their canoe. Thanks to an incredibly quick response and a massive input of soldiers and army helicopters, the next day, both tourists were released, unharmed. The Ecuadorian President himself was directly involved in the rescue effort and  after their liberation, the presidential plane flew both women to Quito, where they were welcomed on the airport by the Vice President. Since then, numerous measures have been taken by the security forces to increase safety in the area.

 

Obviously, some people have become concerned about safety in Cuyabeno. So how safe is Cuyabeno? Including the last incident, we are aware of this recent kidnapping and armed 2 armed robberies having been reported since I visited the area in 1975 for the first time. Now, lets be very outspoken about this:

Every occasion of petty theft, robbery or kidnapping is one too many! 

 

But let's also put safety into perspective. The rate of homicides in Washington DC at a population of less than 1,000,000 inhabitants was at its top in the 1990, close to 500 killings per year! Thank Goodness it has gone down to less than 200, but still the numbers are unacceptably high, in fact, much higher than the horrible massacre recently, in Kenya! And yet, THE USA GOVERNMENT NOR ANY OTHER GOVERNMENT HAS DECLARED Washington DC a safety alert area. I personally lived and worked there for years and never felt unsafe.

 

Safety has 2 elements:

  • Statistical risk of an incident to take place;

  • Your personal perception of concern.

 

Some of the operational risks to Cuyabeno include:

  • Incidents involving wild animals (snake bites, alligator attacks, electric eel);

  • Diseases (malaria, infections);

  • Transportation accidents.

We at Neotropic Turis take safety very seriously and we have taken all the measures we can think off, such as a cellular phone antenna at about 30 m above the surrounding area, an emergency book, etc.

 

Risk statistics are always difficult to interpret. Should one determine the risk as the number of incidents per person, or per visitor day? In the case of Cuyabeno, that would affect the risk factor by a factor of 4, as most visitors stay for 4 days in Cuyabeno.

Then there is the perception of risk.

 

We personally don't think that the safety risks are any higher than travelling to any other destination in rural area in South America, which would make them safe enough for any traveler who chooses to travel to the continent. That would make Cuyabeno in the category of "safe for traveling" for nationals of most countries, but maybe not for citizens of the USA. The USA Embassy has issued a travel safety alert for the entire border with Colombia, from the coast to the east, just for the mere fact that it borders with Colombia. But what is the border area? On Google Earth, the distance from Cuyabeno Lake to the border with Colombia measures about 50 km as the bird flies, but  it is almost impossible to get to and from the border directly traveling through the virgin jungle and extended swamps. Even the most hardy Indians would find it extremely difficult to wade and crawl through those swamps, while there are no navigable creeks coming from the border. From the entrance of the park (Puente), it is Google Earth measures about 50 km and from Cuyabeno Lake to the entrance it is about 2 hours in motorized canoe over the Cuyabeno River, which would be another 40 - 50 km (It is not possible to measure the exact distance given the winding nature of the river). So effectively the visitation area of the reserve is at an travel distance of somewhere around 100 km from the border.

 

It is interesting to note that the USA Embassy staff has visited Cuyabeno at our lodge, while the safety alert was out, and it is financing a development cooperation project for the area, for which it is necessary that contractors visit the area. So the Embassy does not seem so much concerned about the reserve as it does not stop its own staff from going there!

 

We have read on line about some incidents of disappearing credit cards from different lodges. While we try to prevent such events, all the lodges are light and open structures to which breaking in is not difficult. While there is a general traditional value among the inhabitants about respect of other people's properties, it just takes one person with different moral values, to make properties disappear. So, if possible, leave unnecessary valuables (ipads, iphones, laptops, etc.) in Quito, but always travel with your passport! On our side, we have done what we could to prevent theft at the lodge, including: Safety boxes in our rooms for your valuables.

We feel that flying from Quito to Lago Agrio is the safest way to travel and it is far more convenient, but of course, it is more expensive. Over the years, a number of bus robberies have been reported between Quito and LagoAgrio, but we don't know as a proportion of how many passenger movements. I personally would not feel that this would make traveling by bus inhibitive for foreign travelers, but once again, this is not an issue on which a company should have an opinion.

 

In general, the greatest safety risk you run during your vacation is traffic. Just look at the figures. The USA worries about terrorist attacks. During 9/11, less that 3000 people were killed. Horrible? Absolutely!

 

And yet, every year more than 33,000 people are killed in traffic accidents in the USA. If we look at the statistics ever since 2001, and average of 150 people per year have been killed (the only ones being the 9/11 victims averaged over the following years) versus the yearly tens of thousands traffic fatalities. It is safe to assume that in Ecuador, the likeliness for you to get involved in a traffic accident, is far greater than you getting kidnapped or robbed at gunpoint.

 

Again, we can't make your choices regarding safety. We just gave you some considerations to put the concept of safety in perspective. You may be interested in reading our "Do and Don'ts in Ecuador".

 

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THE CUYABENO LODGE IS OWNED BY NEOTROPIC TURIS, AN ECUADORIAN CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY TOURISM CORPORATION UNDER ECUADORIAN LAW. READ HOW OUR LODGE RESCUED THE CUYABENO WILDLIFE RESERVE. Read our disclaimer.

Cuyabeno Lodge / Neotropic Turis Office in Quito, Ecuador:

Joaquin Pinto E4-360 Street & Avenida Amazonas

Phone: (++593) (0)2 2521212

Cell (mobile) phone: (++593) (0)999803395

Map: Find it on the Quito Map Zoom in, it is a very detailed map!
Email: niks

Talk or chat with us on Skype in English, Spanish or French. Our Skype name:

cuyabenolodge

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