By day, Barrio Amón, is an historic area illuminated with the green of nature and intertwined with ancient buildings. At walking distance from downtown San José, Barrio Amón is a beautiful pleasant neighborhood and one of the few remaining colonial districts in the country, where you will find some of the last coffee baron mansions, constructed during the late-19th and early-20th centuries in what used to be a coffee plantation belonging to a French Businessman.
In the past, Barrio Amón was an exclusive residential area and home to prominent Costa Ricans like former president Otilio Ulate (1949-1953).
Today, Barrio Amón has become a commercial district where you find restaurants, bars and hotels, in fact many of San José hotels and hostels are located in this part of the city.
By night, in Barrio Amón, the neighbourhood transforms into an area of pleasure-for-pay and San José’s most notorious centre for prostitution, the fuel that makes Barrio Amon’s economic engine run.
Here, you will find hotels that rent rooms by the hour for ¢6.000 colones, massage parlours with “chicas” (prostitutes) that provide a happy ending in 30 or 60 minutes – both for women for men and men for men – pick up bars and street walkers (though generally most “ladies” of the night are transexuals), etc.
While the “traditional” sex trade “brothels” are low key, not wanting to attract too much attention, preferring to keep things indoors… at night in Barrio Amón the transexuals apply their trade at most of its corners.
And what happens at night worries those who still live in the area, to the point that residents have become organized in the Asociación de Vecinos de Barrio Amón (Association of Residents of Barrio Amon), believing – knowing well, though difficult to prove – that there are business that lend themselves to “prostitution”.
With no doubt, the residents and members of the association prefer to keep their anonymity for fear of reprisals from “organized sex tourism” operators in the area.
However, not all businesses in the area are involved in sex and sex tourism.
What happens frequently in Barrio Amón is that foreigners arrive at their hotel, leave their bags and get down to “business”.
Interesting though is that although Barrio Amón once catered in its majority to foreigners, today the trend is that visitors (customers) at night are locals.
Barrio Amón is not some run-down, seedy area of vice such as areas of the United States seem to morph into. Day or night, Barrio Amón remains an attractive area.
By day it is safe, and a must see for anyone interested in the concentration of stately old mansions. By night, however, the mood changes and so does the safety factor.
The transexuals are the visible face of sexual services in Barrio Amón, they can be spotted at most corners. For the rest of the pleasure-for-pay locations about the only visible sign to the street is “open”. Someone watching the door is an indicator of what maybe sex for a fee is available inside. Groups of parked taxis or large number of parked vehicles are another indicator.
While transexulas are forced to work out in the open, taking their customers to nearby hotels by the hour, the cars of their johns or the many dark allies in the area, women offering sexual services work inside the bars, hotels, “clubs” and massage parlours.
According to La Nacion speaking to Mariano Rodriguez, the Jefe de Patentes de la Municipalidad de San José (Chief of permits for the city), “at no time has the municipality handled permits for brothels”.
Rodriguez adds, “it is not considered a crime to convert a hotel, guesthouse, bar, etc… to the purpose that could include prostitution”. According to Rodriguez, the municipality takes action – closures – if it detects drugs, minors and/or health violations.