Top 25 Costa Rican Phrases to Sound Like a Local in Paradise

Planning a trip to Costa Rica or looking to connect with Ticos? Learn the essential Costa Rican phrases to navigate daily life, interact with locals, and embrace the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle with ease. This article provides you with practical expressions covering everything from greetings to navigating the marketplace, ensuring you’re not just a visitor but a part of the vibrant culture from the moment you say ‘Hola’.

Costa Rica Phrases – What You Will Learn

  • The phrase ‘Pura Vida’ is essentially the mantra of Costa Rica, used to express positive feelings, greetings, and a sustainable lifestyle representative of the country.
  • ‘Mae’ is the Costa Rican equivalent of ‘dude’ or ‘man’, frequently used among the youth, while ‘Tuanis’ is a blend of English and Spanish meaning ‘cool’ or ‘nice’ for complimenting.
  • Key Costa Rican slang includes ‘Suavemente’ to calm down a situation, ‘Que lechero’ to celebrate luck, and ‘Un toque’ to express a brief wait or swift action, all reflecting the easygoing Costa Rican spirit.

Exploring the Richness of Costa Rican Slang

Illustration of Costa Rican slang

Ever been curious about the unique sound of Spanish spoken in Costa Rica compared to other Spanish-speaking countries? The difference lies in the country’s distinctive set of slang words, deeply rooted in its culture. These expressions, typically playful and vivid, add a distinctive touch to conversations, helping you blend in during your visit to this Central American paradise.

Chatting with a local or engaging in small talk with your cab driver, you’ll frequently come across the use of ‘usted’. But don’t be taken aback when you hear ‘tú’ and ‘vos’ in similar situations, especially among friends. The Costa Rican slang, mirroring its people, radiates friendliness and warmth, weaving a vibrant array of expressions reflecting the culture’s effervescent spirit.

Pura Vida: The Quintessential Costa Rican Phrase

One phrase you’ll repeatedly hear in Costa Rica is ‘Pura Vida’. It signifies more than just words – it encapsulates the country’s laid-back lifestyle. Originating from a 1956 Mexican movie of the same name, the phrase has since been universally embraced as a mantra by Costa Ricans.

Today, ‘Pura Vida’ is used to express everything that’s positive, from saying hello to showing appreciation. Over time, it has evolved to symbolize a love for nature and a commitment to living sustainably, truly embodying the Costa Rican lifestyle and the concept of pure life.

Mae: More Than Just a Word Among Friends

Another term frequently used among friends in Costa Rica is ‘Mae’. It’s an evolution from the word ‘maje’, originally referring to the process of hardening shoe soles for rough terrain. Now, ‘Mae’ has transformed into a versatile word for addressing friends or acquaintances, similar to ‘dude’ or ‘man’ in English.

Predominantly used by the younger generation in Latin America, Costa Rican slang words have become an integral part of everyday conversations, further emphasizing the friendly nature of Costa Ricans and showcasing the unique Costa Rican pronunciation. In this context, the term “costa rican word” refers to these slang words that are commonly used by locals.

Tuanis: The Ultimate Compliment

Costa Ricans express admiration in a unique way when paying compliments. The term ‘Tuanis’, adapted from the English phrase ‘too nice’, describes anything cool, appealing, or awesome. This term, akin to many Costa Rican expressions, carries a positive connotation and is frequently employed to show appreciation towards someone or something.

So, next time you’re in Costa Rica and you want to compliment someone, remember to say ‘Tuanis!’.

Everyday Expressions for the Aspiring Tico

Illustration of everyday Costa Rican expressions

Navigating through the bustling markets or tranquil beaches while visiting Costa Rica, you’ll encounter Costa Rican Spanish phrases that infuse local flavor into daily interactions. Costa Ricans employ these expressions for greetings, expressing gratitude, and managing social situations. Familiarizing yourself with these phrases will facilitate a deeper connection with the locals and enrich your overall experience.

Greetings and Goodbyes

Similar to other cultures, Costa Ricans possess their unique greetings and farewells. From the moment you disembark, the warm locals will greet each other with ‘Pura Vida’ or simply ‘Buenas’. And when the time comes to say goodbye, you’ll hear phrases like ‘chao’, ‘adios’, and ‘hasta luego’.

Master these words and you’ll be greeting and bidding farewell like a local in no time.

Expressing Gratitude

Gratitude transcends languages, and Costa Ricans manifest it through distinctive phrases. Whether thanking someone for a meal or acknowledging a considerate gesture, ‘Pura vida’ or ‘Mucho gusto’ are the usual expressions.

A more elaborate way to express gratitude is ‘Buena nota’, which is used to show appreciation or convey that someone is a good person.

Navigating Social Situations

Social situations can occasionally be complex, however, knowing the appropriate phrases simplifies blending in. Whether you’re departing from a gathering (‘N.J.’ or ‘nos juimos’), exhibiting confusion (‘Ando tras del palo’), or requesting a pause to think (‘Tengala adentro’), Costa Rican slang provides the perfect expressions.

Speaking the Language of Pura Vida

Illustration of the Costa Rican lifestyle

Experiencing Costa Rica goes beyond discovering breathtaking landscapes or savoring exotic cuisine. It encompasses adopting the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle, deeply rooted in the local dialect. We’ll now introduce phrases encapsulating the Costa Rican ethos, ranging from leading a smooth life, celebrating good fortune, to living in the present.

Living Life Suavemente

In Costa Rica, ‘Suavemente’ is employed to diffuse heated discussions, fostering an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. This expression mirrors the relaxed and patient demeanor of Costa Ricans, frequently suggesting someone to relax or decelerate.

So, the next time you’re in a heated argument, remember to say ‘Suavemente’ to restore calm and peace.

Celebrating Good Fortune with “Que lechero”

Good luck tends to favor the bold, and in Costa Rica, those who utter ‘Que lechero’. This phrase, expressing good fortune, is typically used when someone strikes the lottery or experiences a similarly fortuitous event.

So, if you’re feeling lucky in Costa Rica, don’t forget to say ‘Que lechero’!

Embracing the Moment with “Un toque”

Costa Ricans uniquely savor the present moment with the phrase ‘Un toque’. Ranging from asking someone to wait for a moment to indicating something occurring swiftly, ‘Un toque’ is a versatile expression used in diverse situations.

It’s a testament to the Costa Rican ethos of patience and living in the moment.

Humor and Wit in Costa Rican Spanish

Illustration of humor and wit in Costa Rican Spanish

Humor and wit form the bedrock of Costa Rican culture, and their vibrant reflection is seen in the language. Costa Rican slang brims with phrases that infuse humor and wit into conversations, whether it’s handling mishaps or expressing astonishment.

Dealing with Mishaps: “Que torta”

We all face those ‘Oh no’ moments, and in Costa Rica, they’re referred to as ‘Que torta’. This phrase is employed when someone commits a significant blunder or messes up.

So, if you find yourself in a sticky situation in Costa Rica, just remember to say ‘Que torta’ and laugh it off!

When Things Get Crazy: “Que camote”

When scenarios take an unexpected turn in Costa Rica, people exclaim ‘Que camote’! This phrase is employed to describe situations or behaviors that are chaotic or bizarre.

So, when you find yourself in the middle of an unexpected adventure in Costa Rica, remember to exclaim ‘Que camote’!

Light-Hearted Teasing with “Cabra”

Costa Ricans enjoy teasing their friends good-naturedly, often using the term ‘Cabra’. Whether playfully alluding to someone’s girlfriend or addressing a young woman, ‘Cabra’ infuses conversations with humor and camaraderie.

Words for Work and Play

Illustration of Costa Rican leisure activities

Be it discussing work or cheering for your favorite team, Costa Rican slang caters to all conversations. This section explores the phrases Costa Ricans employ in their professional and leisure activities.

Talking Shop with “Brete”

Work in Costa Rica is denoted as ‘Brete’. Despite its unclear origins, the term embodies the industrious spirit of Costa Ricans. ‘Brete’ finds usage in diverse contexts, from office jobs to manual labor, highlighting the importance Costa Ricans assign to work.

Cheering On Your Team at the “Estuche”

One thing Costa Ricans cherish as much as ‘Pura Vida’ is football. When it’s time to support their favorite team, they do so at the ‘Estuche’ (stadium).

So, if you happen to catch a game in Costa Rica, remember to cheer on your team at the ‘Estuche’ and make the most of your visit Costa Rica experience!

After-Work Relaxation: “Jumas”

After a strenuous day’s ‘Brete’, Costa Ricans master the art of unwinding. The term ‘Jumas’, used to describe someone who’s intoxicated, symbolizes the penchant for relaxation and festivities post-work.

Money Matters: Costa Rican Terms for Currency

Money communicates volumes, and in Costa Rica, it’s articulated through ‘Rojos’ and ‘Tejas’. These terms denote Costa Rican currency, simplifying your navigation through financial discussions.

Understanding “Rojos and Tejas”

In Costa Rica, ‘Rojos’ corresponds to 1,000 colones, while ‘Tejas’ represents 100 colones. These terms are commonly employed in daily transactions, necessitating visitors to acquaint themselves with them.

So, next time you’re shopping in Costa Rica, remember to pay in ‘Rojos’ and ‘Tejas’!

The Cost of Being “Codo”

While ‘Rojos’ and ‘Tejas’ denote money, ‘Codo’ is used to label someone as cheap. In a culture that prizes generosity and community, being tagged as ‘Codo’ isn’t regarded as a compliment.

So, remember to be generous and avoid being called a ‘Codo’!

Love and Relationships: Romantic Costa Rican Slang

Though love is a universal language, in Costa Rica, it’s articulated with a local twist. From addressing your significant other to expressing affection, Costa Rican slang lends a distinctive twist to romantic expressions, making a literal translation difficult to grasp for those unfamiliar with the local lingo.

From “Cabra” to “Viejo Verde”

In Costa Rica, ‘Cabra’ is a playful term for referring to a girlfriend, whereas ‘Viejo Verde’ is a less complimentary term for a lascivious old man. These terms, among others, infuse a splash of local color into romantic dialogues. If you’re wondering “qué es la vara” in this context, it’s simply a way to highlight the unique expressions used in Costa Rica.

“Perro amarrado”: Owing More Than Just Money

Perro amarrado’ is a phrase signifying the concept of being indebted beyond just money. In a culture that esteems honor and integrity, this phrase represents a moral obligation, something that ‘Rojos’ or ‘Tejas’ cannot repay.

Navigating the Unexpected: Phrases for Surprises and Disbelief

Life brims with surprises, and Costa Ricans have a vibrant assortment of phrases to articulate surprise and disbelief. These expressions assist in gracefully and humorously navigating unforeseen situations.

The Shock of “Al chile”

Al chile’ is an expression meant to convey surprise or disbelief. Whether you’re awestruck by Costa Rica’s breathtaking landscapes or taken aback by a sudden turn of events, ‘Al chile’ is the ideal phrase to voice your sentiments.

“Se despicho tere”: When Things Go Awry

When events deviate from the plan, Costa Ricans utter ‘Se despicho tere’. This phrase is employed when something goes awry or someone fails. It’s a jovial way of acknowledging the blunder and proceeding forward.

Costa Rican Insults and Swear Words: Use with Caution

Despite the colorful and lively nature of Costa Rican slang, caution is advised with certain words and phrases. Insults and swear words are best circumvented unless you’re conversant with their application and context.

“Cerote” and “Brocha”: Terms of Disparagement

Costa Rican slang encompasses disparaging terms like ‘Cerote’ and ‘Brocha’. ‘Cerote’ describes someone unpleasant, while ‘Brocha’ labels someone as a sycophant. Although these words form part of the local dialect, it’s advisable to avoid them unless you’re familiar with their usage and context.

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In the vibrant land of Costa Rica, language is more than a medium of communication. It’s a colorful tapestry woven with witty slang, playful phrases, and unique expressions that reflect the country’s rich culture and laid-back lifestyle. As you immerse yourself in the local language, you’ll find yourself embracing the ‘Pura Vida’ way of life, making your visit to Costa Rica an unforgettable experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a very popular phrase in Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, “Pura Vida” is a very popular phrase that is used in various friendly contexts, meaning anything from “hello” to “thank you”.

What is the catchphrase of Costa Rica?

Costa Rica’s catchphrase is “Pura Vida!” It loosely translates to “Live Life” or “Enjoy Life.”

What is the slang for Costa Ricans?

The slang for Costa Ricans is “tico” for a man and “tica” for a woman, derived from the tendency to make things diminutive by adding the suffix -tico.

What is a typical Costa Rican greeting?

In Costa Rica, typical greetings include “Buenos dias” (good morning), “buenas tardes” (good afternoon), and “buenas noches” (good evening), which can be used informally at any time of the day.

What does the Costa Rican slang ‘Mae’ mean?

“Mae” is a casual term in Costa Rican slang used to address friends or acquaintances, like “dude” or “bro” in English. So it’s kind of like a friendly way to refer to someone you know.

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Peter is a digital nomad who largely writes from Asia, Europe, and South America. Always following the "vibe," he sets up shop in hostels and AirBNB's and continues to entertain us with wild stories from life abroad. Ask him anything in our community forum.

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