Gay life in Costa Rica is fairly similar to life in the U.S. in that it varies from region to region, city to city, even neighborhood to neighborhood. Legally speaking, homosexual activity is not a crime between consenting adults (over age 18), and there have been court rulings prohibiting police raids and harassment at gay locales.

Demonstrators with Frente por los Derechos Igualitarios in Costa Rica.

Demonstrators with Frente por los Derechos Igualitarios in
Costa Rica. Photo © MadriCR, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

San José is known as a gay-friendly city. There are many openly gay bars in town, lots of gay-friendly restaurants and guesthouses, and in 2003 the city organized its first gay pride festival. One speaker at the festival joyfully proclaimed that Costa Rica had come out of the closet, but it’s clear that most gay Ticos still live a fairly closeted life, especially if they are in positions of power.

Guides to gay Costa Rica stress that the country is a fairly tolerant place as long as you’re not “openly affectionate” in public. Gay men, by the way, are far more visible than gay women, and there is a big trans community, with cross-dressing sex workers much in evidence along some downtown streets.

“Being gay in Costa Rica is really a nonissue,” counters Scott Pralinsky, who came to Costa Rica in early 2004. “Most people here, both Ticos and expats, are very discreet about their sexuality. But we [he and his boyfriend] certainly don’t hide anything and have never run into any kind of friction. I feel more comfortable in Costa Rica being myself than in most places I’ve lived in the U.S.”

Around the country there are pockets of openly gay culture; Manuel Antonio (near Quepos, on the Pacific coast) is one of the best known. In general, though, outside of the Central Valley, more traditional mores hold sway, and gay individuals should be as aware as they’d be in the less-tolerant areas of their own countries.

For a list of gay organizations in Costa Rica and other helpful information on navigating Costa Rica’s LGBT scenes, check out Moon Living Abroad in Costa Rica.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Costa Rica.