Is Puerto Viejo Safe? -

Is Puerto Viejo Safe?



I remember having Chinese dumplings in an upscale shopping mall with my ex boyfriend and excitedly telling him about my plans to rip off my high heels and go live in the Caribbean jungle. Riding the wave of attachment and detachment from this man for the last three years, Costa Rica emerged as a life raft on my horizon.


Brightly colored wooden houses, coconut palm lined jungle beaches, Rastafarian culture, reggae music, and fresh seafood smothered in coconut milk all sounded too incredible to be real. Puerto Viejo sounded like paradise.


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Upon hearing this news, he turned to me and said, “I’m pretty sure Costa Rica’s Caribbean is the rape and kidnapping capitol of the world.”


Sobered by his words, I went home and I did what any twenty something who had barely traveled and been told by her on again off again ex boyfriend that she had already booked a flight and paid a housing deposit in an incredibly dangerous place would do. I turned to Google and asked, “is Puerto Viejo safe?”


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A recent story in the news came up first, about a tourist living in Punta Uva, who walking home late one night was thrown into a car, driven for an hour up the coast, gang raped on the beach, and left behind until a beach vendor discovered her in the morning. I read another story about a man who was murdered while sitting on the beach in the middle of the day. As I scrolled, terrifying stories surfaced one after the other.


Google told me that no, Puerto Viejo was not safe.


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I felt equally scared and committed. My fantasies of Caribbean living had blossomed so fully that a jungle vine invisibly tethered my heart. In an attempt to control what sounded like an uncontrollable situation, I went to my travel companion Andie and I laid out some ground rules. They read as follows:


1. We will never take an unmarked taxi.

2. We will never tell anyone where we live.

3. We will never have more than two drinks in public.

4. We will dress modestly to not draw attention to ourselves.


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Reading the rules now, I laugh.


Puerto Viejo doesn’t have marked taxis. They are all gypsy cabs. In fact you’re lucky if you find one with a door that locks or a seatbelt that functions. This is a small town where people talk, people watch, and people will likely know where you live… in fact one of their relatives is probably already your neighbor. The laid back Rasta lifestyle lends itself to a sunset cervasa and the bumping Reggaeton parties often lure you into dancing and drinking until morning. And when you’re on holiday in a hot sweaty tropical beach town you will probably want to be naked as often as possible.


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In other words, after one hour in Puerto Viejo we threw all of our rules out the window. We even did some things that in retrospect I would never recommend to any of you. But nothing bad really happened. We were never robbed. We were never physically harmed. We had an amazing time.


This is not the case for everyone.


Punta Uva


Two years ago while I was living in Puerto Viejo, masked men were breaking into homes with guns. One day they ran down the beach with machetes robbing people midday. A friend of mine worked for the Spanish school where every single computer, including her Macbook Pro, was stolen. A few weeks later I was pushed off my bicycle and robbed by men in a car on my way to the beach at eleven am. I’m pretty sure an acquaintance of mine stole my iPhone and money out of my pocket one night at the bar. Friends of mine have been mugged, jumped, and even raped at all times of night and day.


Even paradise has darkness.


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Returning from Southeast Asia I wondered how dangerous Puerto Viejo might feel to me. While I take precautions that I never took in Thailand and monitor my belongings with a far more watchful eye, I see the safety in Puerto Viejo shifting. Police now patrol the road and the beach regularly, community members installed security cameras on popular getaway roads for thieves, and the bars where drug dealers once peddled seem to all be closing down. Still, a few days ago a tourist who took my yoga class showed up with a bloody lip after getting mugged walking home after a party.


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So when people come to me instead of Google to ask if Puerto Viejo is safe, I often feel uncertain how to answer. Unfortunately, crime is a reality here. But isn’t it everywhere in the world? Can’t any place at any time be safe or scary? How many people are victims of crime every single day in the United States of America? Is it that we think that when we’re on holiday these unfortunate realities shouldn’t exist?


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I practice facing and addressing my fears rather than living in them. However pragmatically speaking certain decisions lead to danger more than others. As a solo traveler I consider these dangers and behave consciously to keep myself as safe as I can.


Rather than determine whether Puerto Viejo is a “dangerous” place, which ultimately I cannot control, instead I focus on what I can do. Here are my tips for how to live and travel safely in Puerto Viejo:



Take a Taxi After Dark


Nearly every incident I hear about in Puerto Viejo takes place on the main road after dark. The jungle road that connects the different beach communities has long stretches of complete darkness and when you walk you become quite vulnerable. My personal rule is absolutely no walking outside of town after dark, even if it’s as early as 7pm and you have a group. Occasionally I will ride my bicycle after dark early in the evening, however never with valuables.


The safest option, one I always recommend, is to take a taxi at night. Most locals will advise the same. It’s nice to know a taxi driver you can trust, so ask a restaurant or your hotel to call you a taxi and then ask the driver for his phone number so that you can call him in the future.



Stay Off of the Beach After Dark


Few things feel more romantic to me than sitting on the beach under the stars and swimming in the ocean under the moon. However unless you’re with a large group, in Puerto Viejo I advise against it. The dense jungle that guards the beaches keeps them very dark and the crashing waves drown out all sounds. That aside, I rarely hear stories of incidences on the beach, but personally I feel too vulnerable when I’m out there alone.



Pay Respect to the Waves


The entire coastline has some seriously strong currents. Every year people drown after getting caught in riptides. Exercise caution especially if you’re not a strong swimmer.



Lock Your Valuables in a Safe


Break ins do happen but most hotels and hostels have safes that you can lock your valuables in. Use them. Better safe than sorry.



Watch for Critters


This is the jungle.  I repeat, this is the jungle. There are wild animals, poisonous snakes, and all kinds of insects. Be aware of where you place your foot and if you’re walking in deep jungle, you may want to wear rubber boots. You can avoid encounters with tarantulas and scorpions by keeping your belongings clean and off of the floor and checking your bedsheets and night. Use coconut oil on your skin to ward off mosquitos and keep sand fleas from biting you on the beach. Resist the urge to scratch your insect bites and always keep them clean with soap, water, and perhaps some tea tree oil to prevent infection.



Don’t Go Home With Someone You Don’t Know


It’s shocking to me how seldom people practice this everywhere in the world. I strongly advise against taking a stranger home with you or going home with a stranger, not only in Puerto Viejo but anywhere. I know of one man in Puerto Viejo who invited women to his house for dinner, an offer from him that I repeatedly declined, and later heard that he date raped a friend. Some locals also carry the reputation of sleeping with tourists and then robbing them in the morning. These have not been my personal experiences, but be aware that when you invite someone into your home you offer them your trust. Choose wisely.



Only Take What You Need


The fact that you need so little to enjoy yourself is one of the best things about Puerto Viejo. For the beach a sarong, a water bottle, and a few dollars will suffice. At night tuck the money you intend to spend in a hidden place on your body and leave everything else at home. Take less, use less, and you stand to lose less.



Be Discreet


Consider that in Costa Rica most workers earn around $2 per hour and the least expensive meal in a restaurant costs $5. Costa Rica has an extremely high cost of living particularly relative to what most people earn. Most Westerners make more in one hour than a local in Puerto Viejo earns in an entire day. Yet when you walk into the grocery store, the prices are all the same.


You can imagine how this disparity could lead to resentment. A tourist doesn’t need his iPhone, he need only call AT&T and get it replaced after being stolen. She doesn’t need that extra cash in her pocket, there’s plenty more available inside the ATM. The more you show what you have, the more likely you are to be a target. Someone who feels like they have nothing and sees that you have everything might not think twice about taking what you have. Why do you deserve it, after all?


I recommend keeping your electronics tucked away, your fancy jewelry at home (the sea air will destroy them anyway), and your wealth statistics to yourself.



Educate Yourself


Many lifetimes weave the story that becomes a culture. Why people behave the way that they do individually and in societies is so layered and intricate you could spend your lifetime simply attempting to understand your own. However few things offer greater fulfillment in travel than seeking to understand as much as possible. As visitors it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on our new environment to both protect ourselves and give our respect.


I’ve been to Puerto Viejo nine times in the last three years and every day I unfold a new level of understanding about the culture that surrounds me. Afro Caribbean roots, indigenous communities, Costa Rican nationalism, and North American and European transplants lend color and texture to the elaborate cultural fabric.


Do research, ask questions, and listen. The more you seek to understand where you are and the people who live there, the easier it becomes for you to live in harmony with your surroundings, and the more your surroundings serve to protect you.



Trust Your Instincts


Beyond research, advice, and this article lives an inner voice with the wisdom to always keep you safe. Listen to that voice, trust that voice, and follow that voice. It will not fail you.


Want to create your own magical trip to Costa Rica? Check out my eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica!





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  1. It is a little confusing how in one paragraph, you say you were never robbed, and then in the next you talk of getting pushed off your bicycle and robbed, and having your iphone stolen. Perhaps you just meant the time you were there with Andi, you weren’t robbed, but then on a later visit you were?

  2. Jane Says Says: October 6, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Puerto Viejo is my safety zone. The place where I feel safest in the world.

    But perhaps I instinctually knew the ins-and- outs or just no one would dare mess with one such as I.

    Thanks for always being in everyones hearts. You are brilliant gem among many. Hugs and Kisses

  3. Your writing is stunning and so easy flowing.. like you!

    It’s amazing to look back at what you ruled out for your travels and then having actually gone there and seen it first-hand.. seen the difference!

    I am also very pleased to hear that police are stepping up and trying to make it a safer place to travel. It could happen anywhere in the world and it bothers me that places get bad names because of it. Anywhere you go you need to be respectful of the cultures, cautious of the do’s and don’ts… and just enjoy!

    I featured you and a couple of other really inspiring travel bloggers in my latest travel post – hope that’s OK! xxxx

  4. great tips. I feel the same way when people ask me about safety in India, particularly Goa where I live but have seen some horrible mafia related crimes- but I think that yes, it does happen everywhere but that doesn’t make it easier to answer :/

    • Camille Willemain Says: October 6, 2014 at 7:07 pm

      Thank you so much, yes I imagine you must get this ALL the time! I can’t wait to come to India and pay you a visit :)

  5. For the week I was in Puerto Viejo, I was warned about walking along that long stretch of jungle road at night. Five people from the hostel I stayed in got robbed there in that week alone, walking back from the bars in the evening. I took massive precautions to ensure I never ended up walking back in the dark, or at least not walking back alone.

    I found that on Playa Cocles, my belongings were 100% safe. I left a bag with purse, phone, camera etc on a bench by one surf instructor when I went out surfing for hours each day – I found that everyone knew everyone on the beach, so noone was going to touch your things.

    I’d definitely exercise caution around some of the locals, however I quickly befriended a couple of locals and that helped me feel safer – after a night at Lazy Mon, I trusted one to walk me back to my hostel, feeling safe to be out after dark with him.

    • Camille Willemain Says: October 6, 2014 at 7:05 pm

      Hi Catie thank you so much for sharing your experience with us :) It sounds like you found a good balance between safety and adventure!

  6. I just love this statement:
    Many lifetimes weave the story that becomes a culture

    How insightful. It is sentences like this that keep me coming back to your page Camille! I hope to meet you when we visit this Fall!
    The Urban Farm & Garden FB Page

  7. I love it.

  8. Gabrielle Says: October 7, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I’ve told you this once before. But it was witnessing you balancing safety and adventure that inspired me to travel alone.

    I had already been to Puerto once before, so that helped me. But it wasn’t until I saw that a young female successfully did it that I worked up the courage to do it myself.

    The worst thing that has happened to me in the 5 weeks I’ve spent in that city was me leaving my cell phone in the Tasty Waves bathroom. I came back and it was gone.

    I, too, had a little encounter with a riptide… it all worked out and I got out of the situation. It’s all about being ready and prepared to deal with situations that could get out of hand. Respect natural forces isn’t to be taken lightly… especially currents. It doesn’t matter how great of a swimmer you are… the ocean current will toss you up and spit you out if you don’t know how to protect yourself.

    I have found, in my very limited experience of course, that Puerto’s good qualities far overwhelm the bad. I was met with such overwhelming warmth, generosity, and genuine connection that any “unpleasant” thing seemed minimal. There will always be opportunists preying on people… but it’s rare to find a place where the people welcome you as whole heartedly as they seem to in Puerto.

    Here is one positive story I will share about safety in Puerto:
    The first time I traveled to PV my mom and I were biking down that stretch of Cocles from Rocking Jay to OM/Tasty Waves… I had heard bad stories about that stretch as well. It was totally dark at this point. A car came up slowly behind us and didn’t go around busily and give us the “I see you/I’m coming around you” honk. They simply followed us… This got me a little nervous… why would they follow us, slowly, at night? Shortly after they turned on their brights and just slowly followed us the entire stretch… It then dawned on me that they were trying to help me. And once we got to the more populated area they went around us and waved as they passed. It was Costa Rican police… and they were protecting us…

    My view is very limited, being that I’ve only been twice and for a few weeks at a time… but overall I was very pleased and felt very safe. I know this is not the case for everyone, but I feel that if you use the same common sense as you would in a “bad neighborhood” in the US… you’ll be okay. Act confident, but be humble with the fact that you are just a guest and a tourist and you will generally be well received and looked after by the community!



    • Camille Willemain Says: October 8, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Thank you so much Gabby, wow great story with the police officers! Glad to hear that they are looking out and that you’ve found the balance between safety and freedom :)

  9. These are really great advice and they can be used in so many other countries. There will always be dangers when we travel, especially as solo female travelers, but we need to face them rather than living in them as you say. Thanks for an inspirational post!

  10. I have been traveling back and forth from Puerto Viejo, CR for almost 8 years now. My very first trip there I went alone. I was a young adventurous 24 year old. I had an amazing time, and found the local community to be incredibly warm and inviting. So much so, that I started a non-profit to help the local kids attend school in Puerto. I spend anywhere from a few weeks to a few months in puerto every year. I lead a fitness vacation there every year, and I married a Costa Rican man who I met there after 5 or so years of traveling there alone. Never once have I had anything stolen, been attacked, or felt threatened. I regularly recommend the Caribbean side of the country as the “better” side of the country to visit. While I know that crimes happen, it is like any other city/town/community and it sometimes gets an unnecessary bad reputation.

    I think that you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that there is a huge disparity between the economic level of the locals and tourists. Which in turn lends itself to people who are desperate looking for easy opportunities and situations they can take advantage of. Use the same common sense you would use walking around NYC, Barcelona, Paris, or Shanghai and you will be fine. The good definitely outweighs the bad in Puerto x100!

    • Camille Willemain Says: October 21, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      Hi Alison, thanks so much for your insight! What is the name of the school you started? I’d love to know more about it! Also what is the fitness retreat that you lead? xo

  11. Oh my goodness, I was in Puerto Viejo two years ago and I had NO idea it was like this! Gosh, looking back now I was really stupid and SO unsafe. I walked along the dark road outside of town alone at night, walked around carrying valuables, and my friend and I went skinny dipping at the beach after dark. Guess we were lucky that nothing happened! But that’s the way it is in many places though I suppose… you can be so careful about everything and still have something bad happen, or be naively unsafe and come out fine. This is a good reminder to always exercise caution, though!

    • Camille Willemain Says: November 13, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      Wow! Glad to hear you girls were ok. But this is a great example that everyone has different experiences and it’s not necessarily dangerous… Thanks for sharing with us!

  12. Wow, I really love your article!!! Written perfectly….and I totally anderstand what are you speaking about! I love that place and yes, in the news you will just find bad story’s, but if you follow your instincts and some little rules, nothing will happen!
    Also you need to be sure that you are , for example a white person and all the people will notice that you are a German or whatever! So make sure you don’t carry to many stuff….

    Go on traveling, I just started 2 month ago! But I left everything behind me for a travel life….I really enjoy it!

    Good vibes from tamarindo Costa Rica!!!!! 😉

  13. […] **For tips on how to stay safe in Puerto Viejo, read my guide Is Puerto Viejo Safe? […]

  14. This is just the post I needed to read. My girlfriend and I are planninng a trip around costa rica. i have heard a lot of bad stories that have happened and the people I talk to are always telling me that it is a very dangerous country but you know what, same with america. This country is just as bad if not worst especially everything now and days you just have to have to take percautions and use comman sense. Your post are really inspiring and fun to read. My girlfriend and I will read your post to each other dreaming of when we take off to Costa Rica.
    Thank You

  15. My family and I are going to Costa Rica in March and I think I basically have them convinced on puerto viejo!! :) We will probably rent a house in punta uva or playa Chiquita. Fingers crossed they don’t do a little more digging and become paranoid… Anyways, do you have any tips on safely taking pictures as I realize you don’t want to be flashing cameras and phones around. Thanks!!

    • Camille Willemain Says: January 13, 2015 at 7:26 pm

      Hi Emily :) Ok so with taking photos you’re totally fine in town and well populated areas with a nice camera. If you’re going off on your own, you may want to take a small digital camera. Be sure to always keep it concealed and packed away and especially when you’re on a bicycle, keep it in a bag on your body that’s inconspicuous looking. Hope that helps!

  16. Tara Weaver Says: February 6, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    I love your information on Puerto Viejo. I’ll be headed there in the next few months by myself. I’ve done other areas in CR and felt safe, but this will be my first solo trip. I’m looking for a “self discovery” experience. Will you posting anymore articles about PV?

  17. My wife anI were there about 2 yrs ago for 2 .5 weeks there in PV . I researched this place as much as possible before we went down there . I read some of the bad stories etc… First of all we went on VRBO and found a place that was set in kinda of a compound type setting which ended up being very safe and cool as hell . Oh I might add we rented a large Suv when we arrived in San Jose and rented a Taxi just to follow to get on the correct road out of that crazy town . We ate at all the places to eat , we went to every beach , we smoked weed with the local dudes , in the bars I might add . Overall we had a blast . But , there was that one night , we closed the bar down and just before we left I noticed the local guys staging up around us , it was obvious to me what was about to happen , we left in a big hurry. That was the only incident . I thought I was gonna have to pull out my fake FBI badge that I bought at the spy shop in Phoenix lol . Nicaragua is a much better place to vacation if you ask me , Bajia Gigante .

  18. Oh , I’ve raced mountain bikes and road bikes in the States for years . I would never rent a bike in PV . You would really be taking your life in your own hands , roads are very narrow and their vehicles aren’t in the best shape , I’m sure they all pull to the right

    • Camille Willemain Says: February 26, 2015 at 1:24 am

      Interesting. I don’t consider the roads to be so dangerous in daylight. I certainly wouldn’t ride one at night with drunk people around, but in the day it’s perfectly fine. I’ve never had a problem.

  19. dorla3985 Says: March 24, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Is actually nice to find decent posts such as this. I truly liked this.

  20. Vanessa Says: May 13, 2015 at 6:00 am

    Hello Camille!
    I really enjoyed your article it really got me even more excited about my trip to PV in 6 days! It is, however, my first time travelling alone, and to be honest I might be a little scared, but I have faith that everything will be awesome. I will be volounteering at El Puente, have you heard about it? Also, would you have any tips on how to travel from San Jose to PV (easiest safest way). The hostel offered a private ride for 100$ but I know that the bus ride is 12$ so, I’m debating whether I go for safety/comfort or straight up adventure. (I am alone though) any tip you can give me would be really awesome (on my personal email or here) !
    Also, good for you for having the balls to travel all by yourself all the time!

    • Camille Willemain Says: May 15, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      Thank you so much dear! Do you speak any Spanish? If yes, you can do the bus safely and easily, just keep your valuables on your person. If not, I recommend arranging with Caribe Shuttle, Easy Ride CR, or Interbus, all shuttles that are much cheaper than $100.

  21. Thank you for this post!
    We are planning a trip as a family- myself, my husband, and our 3 year old son (he’ll be 4 when we travel). We picked PV from your beautiful pictures and stories, but I hadn’t seen this post. As a mom- I have crazy mixed emotions after reading this. Yes- bad things can happen anywhere, but this still has me worried.

    When we honeymooned in Ireland (pre-child) we were warned about theft. We kept money in different places, including emergency money in shoes. We had no problems there- in fact, everyone was extremely nice to us. We had a beautiful time. But our trip there included a private condo with locks and our own rental car with an alarm.

    Are there any extra precautions we should take with a child?

    Thank you!

    • Camille Willemain Says: July 24, 2015 at 8:59 am

      Hey Sarah, thanks for your message. Actually, believe it or not, in my experience you’ll be less of a target with a child! Most people I know who have hard problems are young travelers on their own. My main advice would be to be careful with riptides and go to the beaches that have the mellow tide pools to swim :) Also, have you grabbed a copy of my eBook The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica already? It has a whole safety section and 150 pages of my best recommendations. xo

  22. I love reading your take on Puerto Viejo and enjoy your writing. Your information is realistic and it is important for people to not be duped into thinking that PV is as safe as we all would like it to be.

    I have been there 13 times over the past 15 years; 11 of them as a single- solo female. While I haven’t been there in three years, I can share a bit on the topic. Unless they have disappeared, there are prostitutes and “Crackheads.” They are not contained to distances far from where you live like in a big city, so they can access the area.

    On one trip, I rented a cheap house kind of central to where they liked to hang out, but it was a convenient location in town. While I have never been personally attacked or robbed (but I am 6 feet tall), I did have the house broken into from a local crackhead. Luckily, I expected this, so he got: a radio-cd player that I had especially purchased for $15.00 from Walmart, packs of cigarettes (I smoked at the time), my watch, and my hiking boots (what I was most bummed about). I hid my passport, debit card, and cash under the lining of the bathroom trash (yuck-even a crackhead wouldn’t think of that : ), in the ceiling panels of the room and a couple of other unique places, so they were safe. I did smile thinking of the look on his face (yes, I found out who did it), when he pushed play on the cheap CD player and Portishead started playing. Ok, I was most bummed that he got the CD., but he left my clothes, food, and everything else, so I got over it.

    Befriending a crackhead-prostitute who “lived” on my street, (sorry to be brash-but true), I was told who broke into my house. I went to the “Policia,” who looked at me blankly, as I explained what happened and who did it in Spanish. I walked away without help and I referred to them in the future as, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum (I have a picture to prove the resemblance). I am glad that the protection has improved recently.

    I have known a few good-looking, charming guys from there that have been always ready for a quick romance with lonely female tourists, but they can’t help take some cash, your phone, or even your earrings, on the way out the hotel door, so beware girls. These guys have been through beautiful women of all ages from around the world, so you are probably not anything special. Don’t let their impressive charm fool you.

    Another time, I met a European couple that got a bit too comfortable with the safety and on their last day, went to the beach and went swimming leaving their backpack with camera, passports, money, etc. on their towels just a few yards away from where they were swimming. They didn’t prepare for the Crackhead with the fishing line that swiped it all without even being seen.

    Having said all of that, I have walked solo down the dark road to Cocles (you shouldn’t do it), partied and danced until dawn, withdrew thousands of dollars at the ATM there, and brought my then 4-year old daughter there and all over Costa Rica. I would never not go for fear of safety.

    Leave your phone at home or bring an old one, bring a cheap camera that takes decent pics., don’t bring anything else that would make you cry if you lost it or it was stolen, and don’t party so hard that you lose common sense. Traveling 101, wherever you go. : )

  23. Beautiful, open spirited perspective on Puerto Viejo. Thank you. I’m coming next week! x

  24. Hi, can you please email me? I am 30, blonde, and traveling to Puerta Viejo alone in a month and a half. I found a on on Craigslist at a restaurant Putback Jacks.. I’ve always wanted to go to Costa Rica for 10 years and just broke up with my boyfriend so now seems like the perfect time. I would LOVE to talk to you before this… My mom says definitely don’t go to Limon… Please send me an email.

  25. Keely Tipton Says: December 28, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    I am planning my first trip to Costa Rica with my husband. We are planning on staying in airbnb house in Cocles. I’m 28, he’s 37 and we enjoy partying, adventures, and a true experience of the culture. Your blog/articles have been a huge help!! I was hoping I could get with you to get some advice on transportation, affordable things to do, etc. I really look forward to hearing back from you! You can email me at keelylynnlamb@gmail or if your in the states shoot me a text at 9032806882. I hope this isn’t a bother but am really looking for a friend that can help us enjoy this trip and appreciate this trip as much as you seem to have in the past!!