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Revealing Costa Rica's Legal Sex Industry

Picture of Jenn Parker
Updated: 20 March 2018
Prostitution is completely legal in Costa Rica. This fact appeals to an estimated 15-20% of North American tourists and is actually a motivating factor for visiting Costa Rica. Destination bachelor parties and erotic vacations are particularly popular in San José, Jacó, and Tamarindo due to their ample supply of sex workers. If this is your type of thing, make sure that you know the laws, the risks, and the appropriate places to go.

The law

While the willing exchange of sexual services for a monetary compensation is totally legal in Costa Rica, the use of a middleman, or “pimp”, is very illegal. There are hotels, bars, sports clubs, night clubs, and massage parlors that are well-known for their prostitutes. The arrangement of services and payment must be between the client and the sex worker. The repercussions for doing it any other way are very severe.

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Be careful. Be respectful. Be mindful. | © pconormanning / Flickr

The big no

Costa Rica maintains a zero-tolerance approach to engaging in sexual activities with minors. It is absolutely imperative that you have valid proof of the age of the individuals with whom you are engaging with and not to just trust their word or your personal judgement. It is not uncommon for undercover sting operations to take place to bust people who are trying to engage sexually with children. If you are caught, you will likely spend the rest of your days in a Costa Rican jail. “Innocent until proven guilty” does not apply here; it is more like “possibly innocent, and you must wait in jail until you are proven guilty.”

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Know without a doubt he or she is over 18 | © Blemished Paradise / Flickr

The risks

Since prostitution is a legal enterprise, Costa Rican sex workers are supposed to register with Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The government issues legal sex workers an identification card and offers a free medical exam every 15 days. However, not all prostitutes register as sex workers and even the ones that do don’t always keep up with their bi-monthly check-ups and tests. Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS often take months to show up on an STD test. A study found that 1 out of every 100 female sex workers in Costa Rica has tested positive for HIV and 7 out of every 100 male sex workers possess the highly contagious virus. Around 6% of all sex workers have syphilis.

The spots

San José, Jacó, and Tamarindo are the most popular hot spots for prostitution, but such services can be found throughout the country. Areas like the Red Zone and Gringo Gulch in San José host an estimated 800 sex workers and dozens of bars, massage parlors, and hotels. Sportsmen Lodge, Hotel Del Rey, and New Fantasy massage parlor are the most talked about and visited establishments in the city where nearly 400 foreigners visit every day in search of some stranger love.

Hotel Cocal and Casino and the Beatle Bar in Jacó hold the reputation as the top coastal spots to arrange some paid company. In Tamarindo, you are likely to see prostitutes out and about at night and at the main party hubs like Monkey Bar and Pacifico. There are also places that you would never assume were condoning this type of activity or that are so hidden you would never find them unless someone told you to go there. The sex industry is thriving in Costa Rica even while many are trying to shut it down.

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Don’t end up on the wrong side of the tracks | © JoAnn Miller / Flickr