As far as Latin American countries go, Costa Rica is one of the most open-minded and accepting of LGBTQ+ people (although, I hear there is quite the scene in Guadalajara). If you are travelling as a lesbian in Costa Rica, you can expect to feel relatively comfortable, but don’t expect the same freedoms granted in San Francisco and other metropolitan areas.
A Little LGBTQ+ History in Costa Rica
Despite being a predominantly Catholic country, there has been great support towards the LGBTQ+ community. In 2014, Luis Guillermo Solís became the first president in Costa Rica to raise the pride flag. “This is the house of all Costa Ricans. When we say all Costa Ricans we mean all, without exclusion, without violence, without harassment in absolute respect for the rights of each one,” Solís told a crowd of LGBT leaders and advocates during his brief comments on the lawn.
In 2015, a family court judge ruled to recognise a same-sex common-law marriage. Yet, two years later and after much talk about the importance of equality, same-sex marriage is still not legal in Costa Rica. Still, the support within the country is such that some same-sex couples head to Costa Rica for unofficial destination wedding ceremonies.
Travelling as a Lesbian in Costa Rica
While tolerance and support for the LGBTQ+ movement is on the rise, it is not ubiquitous. Public displays of affection may be met with disapproval or hostility. Outside of gay-friendly areas, you may want to use discretion as suits your personal comfort level.
Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast is a well-known location for vacationing gays. Of course, gay does not necessarily mean lesbian, trans, or queer. Most of the LGBTQ tourism in Manuel Antonio is aimed towards gay men. While it is comforting to know you are amongst a tolerant community, expect to be in the minority as a lesbian.
San José – being a major city – has an active gay community. There is even a lesbian bar – La Avispa – which has women only nights on the second Friday and last Wednesday of each month (otherwise, it is a mixed crowd). La Avispa has been around since the 70’s and has therefore established itself as an icon of the gay party scene. Laura and I are not party people, but La Avispa is rumoured to be a great club. If you are interested in the feminist-lesbian history of this club, check out this fabulous article from OutRight International.
We did not personally encounter any hostility during our two weeks in Costa Rica. However, we were discreet in public and did not engage in any public displays of affection. On occasion, when we felt we were alone in a public area, we would steal a kiss. So although we weren’t comfortable holding hands on the beach, we also didn’t feel there would be any serious threat to our safety had we been ‘caught’ being affectionate in a tourist area.
We didn’t experience any problems at any of our accommodations (check out our Costa Rica accommodation reviews). For the most part, nobody cared who we were upon check-in. The only exception to this was at Cabinas Jiménez where, after checking in, the receptionist approached us and asked if we would prefer a room with two beds instead of a double bed. She was very friendly and in no way hostile, but we did have to reassure her a couple of times that we were fine sharing a bed.
Near the end of our stay, another lesbian couple checked into the room next to us at Cabinas Jiménez. They were more masculine presenting than myself (i.e. they had short hair and wore pants), but on par with my wife Laura. Like us, this couple also practised restraint in disclosing their identity and engaging in PDAs. They also said they hadn’t encountered any issues during their stay in Costa Rica. In Puerto Viejo, they even stayed with an expat couple from Oregon who had an older child that was in the process of transitioning.
Overall, we felt comfortable and safe everywhere we visited in Costa Rica. If they ever form a lesbian softball league, we would highly consider moving there.
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