Costa Rica’s Sex-Tourism Is Growing

Prostitutes from different countries gather in the Del Rey, Costa Rica's most popular prostitution venue  - photo by Keely Kernan/Freelancer

Prostitutes from different countries gather in the Del Rey, Costa Rica's most popular prostitution venue - photo by Keely Kernan/Freelancer

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The slumping global economy is having a stimulus effect on Costa Rica’s famous sex-tourism industry, as a growing number of unemployed women — from Colombia to the Dominican Republic — flock to San José to seek a living in the world’s oldest profession.

In popular prostitution hot spots such as the Hotel & Casino Del Rey and Key Largo, local prostitutes compete with an influx of foreign women from Nicaragua, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and even Russia. The increase in numbers and variety of working women here has reaffirmed Costa Rica’s position as an international hub for prostitution, which is legal and regulated by the government since 1894.

But not everyone is happy about the increased competition, which, along with a contracting economy, has required some prostitutes to lower their prices by as much as 40 to 50 percent.

“Business is bad. The problem is competition. Sometimes I don’t even make enough to take a taxi home after work,” said Costa Rican prostitute Mayela, as she lingers by the bar at Key Largo in search of a client.

Like many prostitutes, Mayela, a 36-year-old single mother with an unfinished education, first started selling her body for sex in her early 30s to support her children. After several years of prostitution, she made enough money to buy a small house and get her three daughters into decent schools. She eventually found an unskilled assembly line job at a factory, which paid less than prostitution but got her out of the skin trade, which she despises.

But when she got laid off earlier this year, Mayela said she had no choice but to return to wearing short skirts and working long nights.

“Now there are like 90 percent more girls working here than before,” Mayela said of the scene at Key Largo. “And most of them are foreigners.”

Even veteran foreign prostitutes notice the changes.

“There are a lot more Colombians now. Before it was mostly Ticas [Costa Ricans] and Nicas [Nicaraguans],” said Elena, a Russian prostitute who was brought to Costa Rica by a Belgian man five years ago to work in a strip club.

Some of San José’s women of the night came to Costa Rica with more ambitious professional plans in mind. Ana, 34, said she worked in the fashion industry in Colombia and came to Costa Rica to find similar work when the economy started to slow in her native country. When she couldn’t find a job in Costa Rica, she turned to prostitution.

Though tourism in Costa Rica has fallen 15 percent this year, the scene at the Del Rey and Key Largo — the heart of San José’s so-called “Gringo Gulch” — seems resilient to the downward trend. On a recent Saturday night, both spots were packed with hundreds of North American men, who flirted at the bar with curvy women or shuffled drunkenly and uninhibitedly on the dance floor to live music.

But while business in the Gringo Gulch appears lively at first glance, some women say more men seem interested in window shopping than making a purchase. A Costa Rican prostitute named “Cindy” says many men are looking for a fantasy bar experience where voluptuous women coo and paw at them for several hours, but fewer are actually paying to go upstairs afterward.

Jacobo Schifter, a professor emeritus at Costa Rica’s National University of Heredia and author of Mongers in Heaven, an investigation of Costa Rica’s sex tourism industry, reports that the self-identified sex-tourism mongers have created their own subculture, identity and even philosophical positions on issues such as sex and relationships.

For many,  Schifter notes in his book, the behavior becomes addictive. Costa Rica, he says, becomes a monger’s  “crack” and sex with prostitutes becomes their fix to help them “escape reality.”

While there are no official statistics, based on Schifter’s research, he estimates there are between 10,000 and 20,000 sex workers in the country, and 25,000 to 50,000 sex tourists who visit each year, 80 percent of whom are U.S. citizens.

Fundación Rahab, a Costa Rican nongovernmental organization that started in 1997 and has helped some 500 women leave the profession and find alternative work, acknowledges it’s harder to convince the current population of prostitutes to stay in their program with the economy in recession.

“It’s harder to convoke groups now, and it’s harder for the women to get out of prostitution because they say, “what I am going to live on if there’s no work?” said Laura Sisa,  Fundación Rahab’s program coordinator.

As for Mayela, the Costa Rican woman who returned to prostitution after losing her factory job earlier this year, she said she is willing to make the personal sacrifice to protect her daughters from following in her footsteps.

“I sat my daughters down and told them what I do,” she said. “I told them they have to study, and that’s expensive. But I work hard so none of them will end up here. That would be the worst.”

Special to The Miami Herald

Costa Rica Medical
Calypso Cruises

previous post: Americans Heading To Costa Rica For Stem Cell Treatments
next post: Exchanging Money In Costa Rica – Hotel and Banks


  1. Thanks for finally writing about >Costa Rica Sex-Tourism Is Growing
    – Prostitutes Compete | <Loved it!

  2. This is what happens when you fall for a prostitute in Costa Rica. Beware Gringos! They will take anything they can get their hands on.

  3. Jorge McFee says:

    …….how do I get from San Antonio to Jaco, Costa Rica?  Do I get paid for sex?  Pro Bono……………..
    No……..say that……?

  4. Mark Regalia says:

    Does anyone know a prostitute named Cindy Winter Ortega in Costa Rica? She was last seen in Playas del Coco. 

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    Costa Rica has had it right for over 100 years– pimping is the true crime.  How many pimps get arrested in the US?  Are we going to pretend there isni't prostitution in every Western nation on Earth, like damned fools? 
    These women are not underage, no kidnapped into the trade like they are at Port Authority in NYC, in "good old USA", and are in a place where nobody forces them to trade sex to earn a living.  So what the hell are the clowns in this report really talking about?
    No matter what you say, or what names you want to call Johns and working girls, women simply are not exploited when they are of age, required to get medical approval, get all the money the changes hands, and are not beat into submission by pimps, cops or Johns. 
    Where's the harm where women have no fear for walking away from any horrible John who may happen along, rather than do the business that a pimp forces on her?  It does not sound like women in Costa Rica have any of those so called high class, highly moral, highly hypocritical, 1st world issues.  Western, 1st world countries are the nations that are backward and uncivilized toward women who practice the oldest profession on Earth, and with their 60% divorce rates… where is the real prostitution taking place?
    In places like Costa Rica, women freely negotiate to do what they are willing to do or not, without hypocrite holy Joe or holy Josephine telling them what they can or can't do.  The so called "Gringo gulch" proabily  takes up 3 blocks, and brings untold revenue into the country as one more major attraction the country has to offer.
    Women in this stupid report are complaining about too little money, which is a hallmark of global recession, brought on by widespread corruption by legal industries doing legal business (horrary for legal financing that's taken down down the whole world).
    And so I guess we'll all be damned if people get to live with too muchl liberty regarding something as trivial as sex, right?

    • Some Guy says:

      The article wasn't damning the sex industry, it was bemoaning the fact that more women are being driven into it. No one is suggesting that the women shouldn't be free to do as they think is best for them, or that the johns shouldn't exist. The article is just pointing out that the slumping economy is pushing more women into prostitution as a last ditch attempt at survival, and the increased number of prostitutes are driving prices down — which is making even the last ditch less appealing. If you take issue with the article because you believe the women are prostituting themselves out of something other than rock-bottom desperation then you are hopelessly deluded.

  6. Bob Jones says:

    What two people do in the privacy of their bedroom is completely up to them. The government and NGO's have NO BUSINESS defining people's private lives. American men love prostitutes because at home they are unloved and dispised, even by their own wives. You should be happy for these men that they can find some love while helping out a single mother pay her bills on time.
    there is no reason to hire a prosititute in costa rica as there are many good looking and proper girls looking for a boyfriend. For example this entry:
    Hot Costa Rica Women
    shares a simple tale of finding a new girl friend in the supermarket in Escazu.

  7. This is shocking. The exploitation of Costa Rican women by the gringo sex fiends from North America is an abhorent and disgusting assault on the moral dignity of females everywhere. I was totally unaware of just how serious this problem is. I wonder if anybody can tell me where to find the places where these poor defenseless women are being abused and exploited. I would like to do some research to see for myself just how serious the problem is. Thanks 

  8. william Levy says:

    God Bless Costa Rica. I have been going there since 2007 and love it there. The women are wonderful and the people very friendly. Thank you for a great county. And I love Massiel

  9. Stephen says:

    Hey at least here the women can deal directly with the johns. Pimping is usually not an issue. Sites like allow men to hire women directly without the middleman that causes so many problems elsewhere.

  10. Jerry yemans says:

    Prostitution should be legal here in the states.  There would be far fewer affairs that destroy marriages and far less violence against women.  I had more fun and better memories of my Costa Rica trips than any thing I have ever done.  Almost all of these girls are sweet and fun to be with unlike the cosmo reading ill tempered bitches we have here in the states!

  11. Miguel says:

    I’ve been to Costa 4 times, lived with a Costa Rican family 3 times (over 17 years, since 1995). When I went there originally, there were practically zero “gringos”. Hard to call myself a “gringo” as I was a hard working, dedicated foreign exchange student who spoke the language fluently and continues to this day. I kept in contact with my new family every month for 7 years or so, but eventually felt awkward coming back and seemingly taking advantage of the (upper middle class family). I went off on my own living abroad, and eventually came back after 12 years in and out of about 20 something countries. This year, 2012, I’m married and trying to show my wife the wonders of Costa Rica. All the memories (turning 19 in a foreign country, all the random puss along the way, how f’ing great), but instead I get a greedy ($50 something to leave the country, was $14), and I didn’t get to partake in the local delicacy, because I’m married now (but if I could get side action in certain areas, I would do so). The moral of the story is that sex tourism is great for those able to partake in it. For the rest of us married asswipes, we have to hope our wives let us free sometime between now and death because Costa Rica is changing constantly.

  12. Too Bad.
    Costa Rica it’s a beautiful place.
    I’m sorry to hear about the Sex-Tourism in Costa Rica.

  13. Jenny says:

    It’s really no different than when a women goes male hunting in a bar, expect we don’t pay! haha

    You can get STD’s from any bar in America, the real reason people get mad is because they are not making as much as the girls. I know girls that make 200,000-300,000 a year!

    Why are people mad that NFL players use their bodies to make money? If it’s because sex is not involved why are you not worried about women getting some at the bar in the US? Point: It is the same “sex” ones for lust the other for money.

  14. Why, when talking about prostitutes, does the press and the public in general, pretend that there are no males soliciting sex with males?
    There’s a certain inequity in that.

  15. you guys just don’t get it the sex is great down here and there is less crime ,because men have an outlet for their agression.Americans just don’t get It keeps american women on top in the men rule

  16. Ecuador vs. Guatemala says:

    i’m sorry to hear this Sue. We went through the same experience. it was hell. I got it from her. it hurt me too. We didn’t make it.

  17. husband went to CR, got stds, i got stds, we are very sick now, we are living a nightmare;emotionally,physically,financially

  18. Judge lest ye be judged.

  19. William says:

    This is truly sad. All these sappy gingos coming around to Costa Rica to get laid by infected whores. These are probably pencil dicked white guys who cannot get play unless they pay for it. The only bitch that would tell him she loves him and mean it is probably his mother.

  20. Prostitution is the world’s oldest OPPRESSION. It has never been, and will never be, just another transaction between “two consenting adults.”

    I hope Mayela’s daughters never become prostitutes.

  21. zeke o.. says:

    Well I say if it prevents one rape, unwanted pregnancy, a murder ect. As we so often read about in daily news papers and puts the food on some bodies table maybe its a blessing in disguise.There are health issues here. Its up to the couples to understand and address those issues.

  22. Joseph Bloseph says:

    This article was poorly researched and written and is full of inaccuracies and omissions. In most of the world prostitution is legal and it’s the legalization that especially protects the women as each woman is a freelancer – and it’s pimping that’s illegal. Hence the women do not have to answer to anyone, are not forced to do drugs, share their earnings or work in any environment where they don’t deem safe. Also the women are required to carry a cedula that all of the bars and hotels check closely as the cedula or ID certifies the women is a registered worker, is of the proper age and is getting frequent medical exams for STDs. Also you will not see any underage girls in these gringo establishments as it’s highly illegal and simply not condoned, encouuraged or allowed, period.
    Many of these women only work part time on weekends or seasonally, say 3 – 6 months, as they’re able to earn and keep many, many times the salary of the average working person. And while its true tourism and the world economy is down – it’s utterly ridiculous to report the typical rate for an hour with one of these women has dropped 50% in the past few years. It most definitely hasn’t, instead it has remained steady at 80 to 120 US dollars. The variance depends on the man’s spanish speaking ability, friendliness, age and looks but mostly his negotiating skill. Of course I could go on trying to explain but let me ask the reader’s here with the overly judgemental, puritanical minds one simple question. If this simple act of trading an hour of affection for a few dollars between two willing and consensual adults is such a horrifying tragedy – than why are so many American men flying down to these Central American countries to meet up with so many beautiful Latin American women that are leaving their own home and their own country to travel to another country just to meet up with these same men?? The answer of course is no one is breaking any law and everyone is making an uncoerced choice – which sounds a lot like freedom.

  23. Spider says:

    So nice to read, can anyone let us know what the average rate a prostitute goes for per night in costa rica, could be an intreasting alternative to thailand for us sex crazy perverts

  24. Roger says:

    Poor Carlos wrote being sad that “his” country be known for prostitution paradise, any country that promote to the world as tourist destination,(creates jobs, creates income) women will benefits, that is how they see it, easy job, making money otherwise would not make with a regular job, let him ask the the ladies why they do it. and once and for all He will UNDERSTAND THE POWER OF MONEY-DINERO

  25. I think this article it does is promote prostitution in the country, why not look for prostitutes in the U.S.?.

  26. Carlos says:

    So sad my conutry is famous for this shit!

  27. J Willette says:

    Well, just another over heated ‘article’ on the working girl life in Costa Rica.. not all factual, though.. the thing is to provide sex for money here is not illegal, so it is accepted by default. Plus, it is a recreational option for many Ticos (guys) lining up in the morning, briefcase in hand, reading the paper and waiting for their ‘haircut’.. before heading off to work. These guys don’t frequent the usual gringo haunts, however. Prices are too high.

    But to suggest that this practice is ‘regulated’ in any way by the government is just plain wrong. Many other countries require working girls to have medical examinations regularly, issue them with ID and actually do ‘regulate’ the business. There are NO regulations or provisions specifically formulated for selling sex. There is a law pertaining to age of consent.. that’s it.

    Poorly researched articles like this one abound and often provide more mis-information and provoke the tsk-tsking reaction among many readers. Like many other things in Latin America, the gov here is ‘enlightened due to oversight’ in this and many other areas. Regulation certainly wouldn’t hurt, but making the practice illegal would have the same negative effect it has stateside.. drawing in pimps, lawyers, and other ‘protectors’ and placing the girls in positions ultimately far more dangerous and injurious to their health and safety than the current rather laissez-faire situation.. which most of the girls prefer. Many are ‘pro-ams’ who hook occasionally to supplement their low wage income and resemble more a secretary on a night out than a pro selling sex for pay. And aren’t into drugs or other forms of self-abuse.
    Try to learn more about your subject matter before presenting information about which you are not well informed. JW

  28. How much does a girl charge ?

    I remember being down in Colombia at the Hotel Irotama in Santa Marta.
    Man…. those were hot latinas there.

    I wish i can go back to the Irotama Club again.

  29. Costa Rica, in my opinion has the most enlightened and intelligent politicians in Central America. We in the U.S. have a great deal to learn learn about quality living. Pura vida. J.E.

  30. Wilson says:

    All I can say is…..
    “God bless third world poverty”.

  31. Goodiex says:

    The main issue is more horny gringos come to CR , we need more prostitutes.
    I have been see the last weekend a 60 something old guy with a under 20 girl, just an old guy with a girl, thats so discusting ….

  32. Tim looked like he was having a GREAT time while he in Blue Marlin and Key Largo. Tim certainly caught on to negotiating and interviewing the girls quickly.

    I “think” I noticed him leave with a couple of honeys on his way back to his hotel room.

    I wish I could get paid to write a story in San Jose.

  33. YES Yes yes, It’s so bad… However I have never seen a woman go hungry. These are independent women doing what they want to do. No one is making them; hell I wish I could get paid to have sex!

  34. Darryl Coleman says:

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

  35. Darryl Coleman says:

    I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work :)

Speak Your Mind