Santa Teresa: Women sexually assaulted at river crossing

September 5, 2015

Four French women were robbed and sexually assaulted by armed men wearing masks north of Santa Teresa last week when they stopped at a river to see if it was safe to drive across, police and area residents said.

A man who represents the French Consulate in the Nicoya Peninsula and served as interpreter for the women with the police told The Tico Times their horrifying story but did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

He said four French tourists in their mid- to late 20s were driving from Sámara south to Santa Teresa last Saturday when they came to the Ario River crossing at about 4 p.m. Four men came out of hiding wearing masks and gloves, armed with a rifle, a handgun and two machetes, and overpowered the women and stole everything they had, the interpreter said.

The assailants pushed the women into the woods and “played with them,” sexually assaulting them with their hands, he said. The women were tied up and one man stayed to guard them while the other three went to Montezuma to withdraw cash on their credit or debit cards, using PINs the women were forced to tell them, he said.

The three men returned, and the women were moved to an abandoned house in the forest where they were again sexually assaulted and tied up by the hands and feet, at least one of them left completely naked, the interpreter said.

The bandits took the women’s car, cellphones, computers, cameras, money, clothing – everything they had, he said. The victims managed to free themselves but then spent the night hiding in a grass field, afraid of meeting the assailants again if they went to find help.

At 6 a.m. they flagged down a man on a motorcycle working as a watchman for a local finca, and he called police, the interpreter said.

The women were described as completely traumatized, in part because they thought the men were going to kill them.

They filed a complaint with Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police, or OIJ, and are now at the French Embassy or have returned to France, the interpreter said.

The OIJ confirmed in a brief email Friday that four female French citizens filed a complaint saying they were victims of assault of an unspecified nature in the vicinity of the Ario River late in the day on Saturday, Aug. 29.

“Various personal articles like cameras and cellphones were taken from the women,” the OIJ said. “At this time the judicial agents are investigating the claims, and no more details on the case are available now.”

Wilfredo Herrera of the National Police in Cóbano confirmed in a phone interview Friday that the travelers’ rental car was stolen and they were left tied up about a week ago near the Bongo River, though he had no information about sexual assault. He said no suspects have been detained.

Several area residents, who did not want to be named out of fear for their safety, described the women’s terrifying ordeal — a story that has been making the rounds on social media and by word of mouth all week.

A recent post on TripAdvisor warns against driving the coastal route between Santa Teresa and Coyote:

“The Rio Ario and the Rio Bongo crossings have had thieves hiding along the river banks, waiting for people to stop and assess their route across the rivers,” says a post by Wefish88, a resident of Santa Teresa. “The four thieves have masks and gloves on to hide their appearances and have guns. They have robbed, raped, stolen rental cars and everything in them over the past few weeks. The latest incident, last Sat. afternoon, involved 4 young ladies. They were brutally assaulted.”

One Santa Teresa resident who didn’t want to be named wrote in an email that there have been other robberies at the river crossings, along with a worrisome increase in robbery in the Santa Teresa area.

“The other day a family with a small BABY were assaulted on the beach midday for 10,000 colones,” she wrote. “Girls are being robbed at gunpoint while they tan on a certain stretch of beach.”

Another resident who wished to remain anonymous said about three weeks ago in the same area, his friends drove up on a robbery in progress at the Ario River crossing. As his friends turned a corner, they saw two men with rifles robbing tourists stopped at the river.

The newcomers made eye contact from a distance of 30 to 35 meters with the robbers, one of whom pointed his rifle at them. The driver threw the car in reverse, gunned it and escaped.

The driver’s girlfriend called police, who reportedly said they would see if they could get to the area, but they didn’t have 4-wheel-drive vehicles.

Michael Krumholtz contributed to this report. Contact Karl Kahler at

Related: Santa Teresa: A few wrong turns on the road to paradise

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46 Responses

  1. No, we’re trying to bring something to light, and we who work in the Travel section don’t consider this “buried”! Thanks for reading.

  2. My understanding of Ticos is, the stay silent in the face of crime – not out of fear, but because it’s a cultural thing ( even referenced in Lonely Planet books on CR.
    That being said, I heard that a guy out of Mal Pais, a man we fished with for several years, was boarded, beaten, shot and tossed over board early in the summer. A mate survived and managed to swim to shore. Have you heard this? Emiliano was pretty well known as a charter captain and I’m surprised I haven’t read anything.

  3. I always expect to find reports of violent sexual torture and kidnapping in the travel section, where else would you look? Let’s face it, Santa Theresa has a bit of a rape problem. Anyone that doesn’t believe that this is main page news is either stupid or hiding something. All amounts of nastiness can make the main page as long as the crimes are not directed at foreigners or tourists. When anything happens against foreigners or tourists that news gets neutered or buried here, in the travel section.
    This is a great piece of reporting and could actually change something for the better, if it could actually be found.

  4. Thank you for writing up this story which probably should have been on the front page. I hope that you in the Travel Section are able to stick with it to see if, in fact, OIJ does anything at all about it. It certainly seems as if, at a minimum, some kind of sting is in order at these river crossings.

    It is difficult to have confidence that OIJ will do anything at all about it if the victims aren’t here to keep pressing for justice. In our experience that seems to be the only thing that works to get them to do more than take fingerprints, gather a report and then disappear.

  5. I want to thank you for bringing this matter to light. I’m a resident of Mal Pais for three years now. I moved from the Central Valley because my husband’s business is mostly here. I felt safer living in San Jose! I never go out for a walk on the beach with my dog because I’m afraid I will be attacked. People get robbed-raped-shot on the beach or on the road, or even in their rental homes. I read about a new assault everyday on the private Facebook group Sant Teresa neighborhood watch. Police don’t help much. There’s also the belief that making this public will damage the tourism businesses here. I think if we continue to be silent about it we will really suffer the consequences. Speak out citizens!

  6. This should be FRONT PAGE news, I fully agree with Sean Davis. The media needs to quit burying these stories. They should be pushing them, and forcing this government to make the changes necessary for the safety of visitors. But as usual, the media will hide behind their BS fear of lawsuit! Some things should take priority over worrying about non-existent lawsuits. This is a problem between media organizations and their incestral relationship with the government hierarchy. Do your jobs for the readers, and quit being whores to the bureaucracy.

  7. There is virtually no police presence in that area … Police in rural area are scarce in Costa Rica and rarely have the funding to operate. I the town of Guanacaste the locals have to provide the property used for the police station and funding is always an issue. Pathetic !

  8. Tourism is the number one money maker in Costa Rica. The present administration should make security a top priority…which I think they are NOT DOING……

    I arrange tours to Costa Rica from USA… I am very careful where I send them. Also I am honest as to the crime rate in Costa Rica. Which is unusually high!

  9. All these statements about hiding news about crimes are true. I sent an email to a Tico times writer about a very serious fiasco close to the Liberia airport where all traffic was stopped by a demonstration by limo drivers about the new rules about taxi companies. It quickly escalated into a riot. About 40 police were present and they did nothing to stop it. 3 friends of mine were attacked by lots of men armed with clubs and large rocks used to beat them and totally ruin their car. They even tried to turn it over. All 3 of my friends were seriously injured and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. I have seen nothing about this in this or any other newspaper. Bad for business? I guess so!!!! My wife and I don’t feel safe here. Things have really changed. The police are a joke. We have heard other people say they are leaving because of this.

  10. I have lived in Costa Rico for 7 years . The Tico attitude about crime is so what , it happens for example my tica granddaugher was robbed by knife point during day at noon , lost money and cell phone. I said to her did you go to police her answer they don,t do anything.Were you scared , it happens everyday. Ticos accept crime ,no problem. TICOS are so easy going. Also when it,s crime with tourists, it,s their fault they came.Police look other way.Their guns have no bullets. Pura Vida They never will be first world country until they care about crime.

  11. I just posted a story about Daniel Bizier, the victim of mob violence at the Liberia airport. And I’m going to agree that we should have put this Santa Teresa story in the news section, not in travel. We weren’t trying to bury it; it’s just that I write primarily for the travel section, and I initially thought of this story as a warning to travelers. But it probably would have been more widely read in News. If we were trying to bury it, we wouldn’t have written it.

  12. Hey, the same can happen in the States, stop saying only here, isn’t the States the one who teaches everything in T.V.?

    Come on….
    All the world is in havocs!! Stay safe in your country, better.

    If you don’t like it here, go back.

  13. A bit inaccurate and very unfair…Rio Ario is NOT Santa Teresa…At all…i actually demand that the TicoTimes should change the headline and write a note about this huge mistake before it reverberates in other media who are not telling the story, but creating a headline. Shame!

  14. If the police have any integrity in CR they would plant a car with a couple of people who pose as tourists trying to get across the road and then grab the S O B’s when they come out of hiding. The police could have a back up car out of sight to be called when it happens. You guys need to get your heavy crime problem fixed as soon as possible. There are more and more tourists aware of it every day…it’s going to affect your almighty colones.

  15. Why does it matter WHERE the article is published? If you read the headlines, one can get an idea of what the article is about! The fact is IT IS PUBLISHED and one can decide to read it in its entirety or not.

  16. To every foreigner living here in Costa Rica who has ever been a victim of crime. Take your old OIJ or police report (if you have one) and take it to your embassy. There is a groundswell of individuals in the Santa Teresa area who have finally realized the one tool they all have and can agree upon is advising their embassy. And now the embassies are getting an earful from their citizens who live here in Costa Rica. However the pressure needs to be constant to the embassies so they will put constant pressure on the government before anything changes at all. If all the embassies here published advisories on their websites, when the tourism dollars slow down to a trickle, only then will the government sit up and take notice.

  17. My thoughts are with the victims.

    Repeated assaults on the same stretch of road or beach, and the OIJ is no where to be seen. What? Are they to busy doing absolutely nothing elsewhere? Like in Liberia, NOT stopping a mob from assaulting private vehicles? This angers and embarrasses me as a Costa Rican.

    What does the ICT have to say? Oh right, bring out the signing sloth and hope no one notices. This administration is clueless, and I drank their Cool Aid and voted for them. Sorry, Costa Rica, and sorry visitors to this beautiful country, but we are all screwed, to put it bluntly.

  18. I have visited Costa Rica 12 times in the past 11 years, bringing family or friends with me. I have personally seen and experienced the increase in violent crimes over this period of time. For me, I do not know what to do. Stop coming to Costa Rica? WOW, that is something I just do not want to do but what else is there to do. AT NO POINT DO I BELIEVE THERE IS A POLICE EFFORT TO DEAL WITH THIS INCREASING PROBLEM. What to do?

  19. Why this hasn’t be publicly disclosed on other media papers or news webpages? this is very serious and as a CostaRican is totally unacceptable. This must stop now, these type of actions stain our beautiful country; and no this is not cultural. That part of the country may be low literate but still is part of CR.

    Dear tourists, until the problem is solved, restrain yourselves of visiting Santa Teresa area, we have plenty of beautiful and gorgeous beaches along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, beware.

  20. This is EXTREMELY disturbing news and it needs to be dealt with swiftly and firmly- similarly to how the OIJ dealt with the murders of two college kids in Puerto Viejo in March, 2000. Anybody remember “The Emily’s” murders? I do. It was a horrible wake up call to the Government of CR that the lawlessness of the region needed to be cleaned up which is what they did. But only after enough pressure was applied to make them act. If these machete wielding, gun toting robber-rapists don’t get caught soon innocent people will get killed. Make no mistake about that. As far as the bad press subject If I lived there I would be SCREAMING for ANY press I could get to bring enough attention to this to make the government of CR react with force. Pura Vida.

  21. I have traveled through Costa Rica for 20 years. I have seen changes as many countries have as the economy gets worse. The area that needs to be improved is the police force. If you have a complaint you may as well wait years to get a resolution if at all. The government is very corrupt and I feel less safe now then in the past. It’s a shame as most of the Ticos are very good people but if the government is not going to step up then this country will lose its attraction from tourist. This would hurt all people in CR as well as tourist that would like to visit a safe place for vacation.

  22. I lived in CR from 2002-2013.. I personally had a truck stolen we paid OIJ in Liberia and it was returned the next day with a blown motor.. I had a KTM stolen it was recovered 6 months later but only because my Austrian Mechanic was well connected and was tied off to someone trying to sell it. The OIJ tipped of the Tico thieves the night he was trying to recover it. But thru a gun battle the next day he did recover it. I personally know of 50+ people who had their cars stolen, thugs showing up to houses with guns, tires being popped and tourist having everything stolen.. The cops are not cops they are for the most part very lazy with no funds. There were many murders of expats around that never made the news..Also many first hand reports of land being stolen. Bank accounts being emptied. Even when there was electronic trail of the thieves Nothing was done.. Yes the country is beautiful with lots to do but. Everytime I left my house even to go the grocery store I always wondered if this would be the time I was robbed blind.. Myself and all my friends always would have minor things stolen all the time cameras, radios, cellphones, etc. But the stories I have are disturbing.

  23. Thank you for reporting this event. I’d like to see swift justice by the OIJ on this horrible crime. Please follow up on this story and don’t let it fade away.

  24. I was impressed reading mostly all of the comments of you guys and girls , bad things happen in all of the countries , actually Costa Rican government people has in particular this issue of crime without solved , because they are waiting for a security minister that give the order to combat the crime , assaults , robbery , rape and if you foreigners in there don’t point to the ministers and high status delegates to make the complaints , the O.I.J. can not act by themselves because they have to keep their jobs to support their families and the police . Many of those public servants are well enough trained in martial arts to make delinquents quit their offenses. Authorities already know that , cause of the bunch of reports , theses elements are adverse to the rest of the people.

  25. Horrible. Tourism is the #1 income producing industry in CR. This joy ride may be coming to an end if the Ticos can’t get their act together. Theft and other crimes are rampant. Insecurity is a way of life for tourists and foreign expats. Empty hotels and irate tour operators are the only way to get the attention of the government. Police reform is well overdue. The criminals are smiling. Honest hardworking Ticos are suffering. My sincere sympathies to the French victims. Whitewashing this event by saying that ‘crime can happen anywhere’ doesn’t cut it. I am canceling my trip to Santa Teresa.

  26. Cancelled my trip to Santa Teresa! I am living in Montezuma right now, and am a single American female traveler! I have been to Costa Rica 4 other times and this is my last trip. I will never come back! The locals, many whom I call friends are financially broke, everyone is miserable and very rude, and I spend more time worried about being raped or robbed than actually enjoying myself. I would rather go to my neighborhood swimming pool back in the states. Nothing about what is going on here is #PURAVIDA!

  27. Fernando, that is the problem with Costa Rica. That was a terrible crime that was committed and you don’t want us to say bad things? Grow up, that’s the problem with Costa Rica, don’t say anything bad, hide the problems. It’s people just like you that don’t want gringos in Costa Rica except you want their money. See how you feel when the gringos leave with their money, you will be the first one begging us to come back. It’s your country but we can leave and never look back, your stuck with it.

  28. To the comments that this happens in the States, and if you don’t like it go back to your country. For one thing that is an extremely callous statement. And for another, it is untrue. NO ONE would be able to commit crimes like this. They would be caught, arrested and prosecuted. If the criminals were so bold as to do this repeatedly, like they are in Santa Theresa it would be very simple for the police to apprehend them.

  29. And where were the police??? OH THAT’S RIGHT- arresting an American leaving SJO for posting the truth about Costa Rica online

    Cost Rica is nothing more then a dirty little whore house with thieve and bandits running wild waiting to rob rape and murder you

  30. 14,000,000 tourists in 3 months…. so where does the money go and for What? That a lot of doe ray me, I should think…..

  31. I take it the case has been solved? Since no one is chiming in?
    The rug has been lifted.. and the dirt swept under….

    As plane loads of patsy’s keep arriving………..

  32. The Costa Rican government doesn’t let the news report on crimes against foreigners living in Costa Rica or tourists. You will never see anything like this in the local news.
    Costa Rica is releasing 5,000 of the worst criminals near Christmas! That was just reported on the local news.
    This country will soon be a hell on earth!

  33. I just heard about this terrible crime tonight. Tomorrow I was planning on driving my 14 year old son from Nosara to Camarrinal. I’ve crossed this river many times in the 17 years I’ve been coming to Costa Rica and I can’t tell you how distressing this news is. These crimes need to be addressed, investigated and dealt with a heavy hand. Much of Costa Ricas economy is based on tourism. This place needs to be safe. Petty crime and violent crime needs to be dealt with immediately. If Both the local and national government can’t see the negative long term affects of this crime wave they are blind.

  34. This is very distressing news. I have driven this road many times over the 17 years I’ve been coming to CR. It’s simply unbelievable that the local and national government does not investigate and prosecute these criminals. Do they not realize they will lose a massive part of their economy if the tourists stop coming here out of fear?!? This country has so much to offer and so many people that care about it. Make the roads safe!! Make the beaches safe!! Eliminate petty and violent crime immediately.

  35. and now even the recent post on TripAdvisor that warned against driving the coastal route between Santa Teresa and Coyote is no longer there – it has been silenced…

  36. I used to take all my vacations in Costa Rica, a single woman alone, because it was SAFE! I had planned to retire to Costa Rica; I used to recommend it to all my friends. I rode the buses, stayed in small local tico hotels, etc. The rapidly escalating violent crime over the last few years is why I don’t visit CR anymore, so my gringa vacation money and my pensionista money is now going elsewhere and not helping to support Costa Rica.

    To the tico who said it is the same in the states, that is false. My work required me to travel constantly all over the US and Canada for 30 years, including such “high crime” areas as downtown Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Atlanta. I have never had to worry about my rental car being broken into while I ate lunch in a restaurant, being stopped on the road by robbers, or being accosted on the sidewalk in front of the hotel at 10 AM by a gunman. I only retired a couple of years ago so this is not a description of decades past. In the US the Walmart parking lots do not have to be guarded by armed men so the patrons are not robbed when they are putting their food in the trunk! There is crime here and in all cities, but do not lie to yourself that our situation is in any way similar to CR today! Our police respond to crimes and the criminals are stopped. No gang could continue to assault people repeatedly in the same area as happens in Costa Rica today.

    And to your comment that if I don’t like it go back to my own country, that is exactly what I have done, tourista money included, which means your country’s economy has lost that income.

    The last time I was in Costa Rica gunmen would routinely wait outside a Costa Rican university and rob tico students as they left the grounds. Don’t tell me the police could not catch them! It is a short step from robbing with a gun to killing with a gun, and Costa Rica has now taken that step from thievery to violent crime–witness the 4 French women tourists kidnapped and repeatedly raped. And are their attackers in jail? I think not!

    Costa Rica’s main source of income has been foreign tourists and to some extent foreign investment in local industry–as in the Rawlings baseball factory in Turrialba and the manufacture of Pentium computer chips. As the crime increases without hindrance, this income will continue to diminish. It is a great shame that criminals and corrupt government should overshadow decent and honest citizens, because I remember the country as a very beautiful, unique, SAFE place, a true “paradise”, and the people as well educated, hard working, and friendly, even to a visitor with less than perfect Spanish. Not any more! DON’T GO THERE! Shame on the Costa Rican government!

  37. My wife and I were in Mal Paiz last year. When we asked 2 policeman where to stay they said not here,too much crime. I would like to fish out of Santa Teresa this next week but after reading these comments I will spend my money elsewhere. Police do your job and get rid of the drug heads and freeloaders looking for an easy buck.The buck stops with the Costa Rican government

  38. On April 5, 2016, my wife and I were assaulted by a young male who jumped out of the bushes wearing a mask of some kind. He had a knife that he used to cut my wife’s purse off her body. We think he may have been holding a gun as well but we are not sure. There was a scuffle resulting in cuts, scrapes, bruises to both of us. It was beyond scary.

    This attack occurred just after sunset on the main walkway/driveway from Banana Beach to the main road in Playa Carmen / Santa Teresa.

    We have been coming here almost every year for the last 12+ years and have never had anything like this happen, nor known of it to happen to anyone we knew or met. Really sad to see things going this way here.

    I write this so that others will know what is happening in this once very safe town that was a true paradise. Not anymore. Like the other reader above, I will be taking my tourist dollars to another location in the future.

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