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 Jose 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 starting 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."
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