The Sex Trade and Children’s Programs Share a Park in Costa Rica

English: View from Morazan Park or Bar Key Lar...

English: View from Morazan Park or Bar Key Largo in San Jose, Costa Rica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Costa Rica has long maintained a reputation for leniency when it comes to prostitution.  In fact, the small Central American country has become a popular stop on the itinerary for the growing number of international sex tourists.  There are areas of the capital city of San Jose which cater almost exclusivly to the pleasure-for-pay clientele which is an important source of income for a country that lives or dies by tourism.  Parque Morazan, close to the infamous Hotel Del Rey, Bar Key Largo, Hemingway Inn, and other known fleshpots of the Barrio Amon neighborhood, turned into one of the hot spots for prostitutes and their customers any time of the day or night.

It wasn’t always so.

Parque Morazán

Parque Morazán (Photo credit: cnflcr)

Parque Morazan is home to the Templo de Musica, an open-air rotunda that was built for concerts in the park and other cultural events.  It was intended to be an  attraction for families, a place for workers to take their lunch, to meet, socialize, and talk over the events of the day.  But, being so close to the Barrio Amon, it evolved into a hangout and meeting place for prostitutes, many underage and banned from the sex clubs and review bars of Barrio Amon, and their cruising clients, looking for  something a little more exotic than the run-of-the-mill sexual encounter with male, female, or any of the sexes in between.

Sometimes things change…

Nearly a decade ago now, San Jose mayor Johnny Araya Monge set into motion a sweeping set of initiatives aimed at cleaning up the streets of the capital of Costa Rica, including improved garbage removal, a recycling program with specialized containers, regulating the street vendors to cut down on the filth and refuse that built up around the fruit and vegetable stands, and finally, a push toward making public areas such as Parque Espana, and adjacent Parque Morazan in Barrio Amon more family friendly, at least for parts of the week.  Those efforts included cracking down on the underage sex trade, and concentrating those efforts on the area around Barrio Amon, including Parque Espana and Parque Morazan.

tamarindo estuary playa conchal atenas 182

Costa Rica seems to specialize in adapting – being flexible.  Instead of denying a problem exists, Costa Rican officials always seem to come up with some sort of plan or policy that accommodates what is with a their ideal  vision of reality.  Now that the underage prostitutes – many of them illegal Nicaraguan teens, or sex slaves – have been driven out of the area (and into some underground establishment, no doubt), Morazan Park hosts a schedule of family friendly activities on the weekends, including cultural dance reviews, musical groups, a tented area sponsored by one of the national banks where art supplies and teachers are available, as well as the usual collection of street performers who show young aspirants how to walk tight ropes, juggle, or perform magic tricks.  This is all very informal…hula hoops gyrate around hips…flaming batons are twirled…streaming ribbons are hung from trees for acrobats…and clowns twist balloons for or paint the faces of young Costa Ricans.  And the following weekend the cast will change, with a whole new array of performers engaging in a whole new array of entertainments.

And more than often, things stay the same…

Barrio Amón

Barrio Amón (Photo credit: Amareto2011)

But, the beat goes on in Barrio Amon, like it has for decades, and like it will for as long as it is profitable for Costa Rican women to sell their studied affections to mostly foreign tourists traveling the established route of the sexual tourist.  Small hotels openly advertise rooms for rent by the hour.  Intimate apparel shops abound, along with tiendas that specialize in sexual paraphernalia, and no end of establishments with the word “club” in their name.  Here’s a clue – their not really clubs, at least as most people would take the meaning.  It is a sort of disconnect that the family-oreiented and child-friendly activities in Morazan Park are taking place within walking distance from Costa Rica’s – and maybe Central America’s – most notorious center of totally legal prostitution, the fuel that makes Barrio Amon’s economic engine run.  And it’s not as though this is some run-down, seedy area of vice such as areas of the United States seem to morph into.  Barrio Amon remains an attractive draw for tourists not lured by the promise of sex.  It is clean, safe, and a must see for anyone interested in the concentration of stately old mansions, offering more examples of Spanish-flavored architecture than the rest of San Jose’s barrios put together.

tamarindo estuary playa conchal atenas 183Parque Morazan was one of our first introductions to Costa Rican culture when we moved to this peaceful, little country that has abolished its military and focused on creating a stable, lively, and livable nation for all of its citizens.  And, if sex tourism is one of the industries that will make it possible for the people of Costa Rica to live as well as they do, then so be it.  My wife and I were enchanted with the area of Barrio Amon, especially Parque Morazan and Parque Espana.  We took a stroll through the neighborhoods where the sex trade is prevalent, and we both found more amusement in the behavior of the self-conscious mongeres than anything else.  And, after our little stroll on the seamy, steamy side, we easily made our way back to the park for Culture de Caribe Day.  Roots, rock, reggae…

16 thoughts on “The Sex Trade and Children’s Programs Share a Park in Costa Rica

  1. B Gourley says:

    I was in Phnom Penh in October, and they have a similar blight. They seem to be trying to do something about it as well. There were posters all over town announcing punishment for such crimes. (The degree to which they are enforcing it, I cannot say.)

    • coyotero2112 says:

      They ruined a few “businessmen” here who thought they were above the new policies. Costa Rica is cleaning up some of its more horrid problems, even thought they’re lucrative, which is unusual in any day and age.

  2. mrs fringe says:

    Sounds like Costa Rica truly has found answers–assuming they haven’t also sanctioned underage prostitution, I’m way too uptight to be ok with that.
    You did indeed pick the right country to live in.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      No, they cracked down on those looking for the underaged…in fact, a guy named Panama Jack, who runs the Hotel del Rey, told me that place used to be full of teenies. The owner thought he had everybody paid off and he was untouchable. He was wrong…now he’s gone. A situation that is far from desirable, but they’re not making it worse by driving them into the streets to get beaten, diseased, and jailed at my expense. Common sense…can’t beat it.

  3. Capt. Richard Barone says:

    I have lived in front of the Morazan for several years. Statistically it is similar in demographics to any other large city park. One thing I can attest to is the amount of police presence in and around the park including many new surveillance cameras. That park is very much a public park, safe to cross through during normal hours. I find the park also heavily frequented by street clowns and panhandlers but in general more pleasant than the many others in the area, excepting Parque Nacional.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      Totally agree. With all the police attention my wife and I felt more than comfortable there on weekends for concerts and acrobats, and when walking at night to go out. The mongerers in my apartment building didn’t approve as much…now they call out.

  4. jannatwrites says:

    I think it’s interesting that the sex trade can co-exist with a cultural, family friendly area. Here, it goes on in certain parts of town – and those are the places to avoid – especially at night.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      It’s that Pura Vida lifestyle. People are pretty laid back here, and when the criminal element is taken out of any “vice” it gets fairly tame, almost normalized. Sure beats most of the alternatives you and I have experienced in the U.S.

  5. jerwayne2013 says:

    It seems that the more a country tries to control one’s every movement, the more problems it creates. Apparently the Costa Rican government has found a way to make everyone happy with what they choose to do & also keep the crime rate down. Bravo for a country trying to do what is best for it’s people. The park sounds live a very diverse area & seems to be working for the public. I love the picture of the is so beautiful. Thanks for such an interesting blog. Keep up the good work on letting thos of us who have never been to Costa Rica get a little more familiar with the beautiful country. Great and interesting read & the attached pictures are wonderful.

  6. I have not had the pleasure of visiting Central America. A relative who travels throughout the US, recently described a scene in a US city that has similarities to the scene you describe here. It would be great if everyone could live, free, empowered and happy – what a concept.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      Certainly not the ideal situation for the women, and men, who work “the trade” but…prohibition would only make it worse, with cops and pimps and gangs involved. Good to hear from you !

  7. kelihasablog says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog recently so I could see these wonderful pictures and find out more on Costa Rica. My hubby is always saying he wants to go there, so I appreciate the info! 😀

    • coyotero2112 says:

      It’s a country full of variety. There’s places for every taste…it’s all about expectations. Some people come here and are miserable…some people come here and stay a lifetime…like me. Glad to answer any questions. I do another site with my wife, More Costa stuff there than on mine.

  8. As always I turn to your blog to discover new things, so thank you for navigating us through Costa Rica’s “oldest business” (as they say). Like all issues that involve sex and capitalism, the exploitation of prostitutes has no easy answer but constantly needs to be addressed. Anything that will make the women of Costa Rica’s lives safe, economically secure and disease-free I support. Your essay gives me much food for thought. Cheers!

    • coyotero2112 says:

      It’s truly amazing what happens when a country stops trying to prohibit something people are going to do any way. The women who work in the “hotels” and “clubs” here are clean – they get checked for aids and have health cards – they’re smart – most of them are in college – and they’re not out on the street being beaten by pimps or dong drugs, then banging gringos to support a habit. I picked the right country to live in.

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