Costa Ricans or Ticos are friendly and hospitable people who are eager to show their lovely country to visitors. The locals are always ready to help with a smile and share as much information as a listener can absorb without losing patience.
Outside of major tourists attractions, most of Costa Ricans do not speak English. They still would try to help in any way sometimes even resorting to lively mime performances supplementing verbal explanations. If you make an effort to speak or say some words in Spanish, it will be a great way to Thank them for their kindness.
However, Costa Rican Spanish has some specific flavor which might confuse language translation apps. With a dialect as relaxed as their lifestyle, local language is full of slang and idioms. Here is the short list of some Tico expressions.
Pura Vida [poo-rah-vee-dah] – literally means pure life; can be used as a reference to anything that is good, or as a greeting or acknowledgement. This phrase is the unofficial motto of Costa Rica
Tuanis [too-ah-nees] – cool, great; synonym to the phrase pura vida
Mala nota [mah-lah-no-tah] – uncool, not good, what a pain; used to describe a person’s character or to indicated that a job poorly done. (Que mala nota! = What a bad person!)
Mae [mah-eh] – a pal, buddy, dude
Tico [tee-ko] – Costa Rican; feminine tica
Chepe [cheh-peh] – San José
Soda [so-dah] – a small, family-run restaurant. Read this article about how to order food at soda.
Pulpería [pool-peh-ree-ah] – a small cornet store, mini market
Chinamo [chee-nah-mo] – a street stand
Güila [gwee-lah] – a girl (despite its meaning in Mexico)
Chante [chahn-the] – a place to stay, house
Salado [sah-lad-do] – unlucky (Es un salado = He is very unlucky)
Quiubo [kee-oo-bo] – what’s up?
For more Tico expressions, street slang, and country-specific vocabulary check these resources:
- Tico Slang and Idioms
- Costa Rican Sayings – How to Talk Like a Tico
- 15 Spanish Phrases You Must Know to Avoid Looking Stupid in Costa Rica
Some basic words and phrases in Spanish:
¿Cómo se llama usted? [ko-mo seh-yah-mah oos-ted] – what’s your name?
Me llamo… [mey yah-mo…] – my name is…
Mucho gusto [moo-choh goose toe] – pleased to meet you
¿Cómo esta usted? [ko-mo eestah oost-ted] – how are you?
Muy bien, gracias [mooy bee-ehn grah-see-as] – very well, thank you
¿Y usted? [ee oos-ted] – and you?
Si/no [see/no] – yes/no
De acuerdo [de a-kwer-doe] – Ok
Por favor [pore-fah-vore] – please
Muchas gracias [moo-chas grah-see-as] – thank you (very much)
Con mucho gusto [con moo-cho-goose-toe] – you’re welcome
Con permiso, disculpe [con pair-mee-so] – excuse me
Perdóneme [pair-dohn-a-meh] – pardon me
Disculpe [dee-skool-peh] – I am sorry
Buenos dias [bway-nohs-dee-ahs] – good morning
Buenas tardes [bway-nahs-tar-dess] – good afternoon
Buenas noches [bway-nahs-no-chess] – good evening
Seńor/seńora [senyohr/senyohra] – mr./mrs.
¿Habla usted inglés? [ah-blah-oosted-inglehs] – do you speak English?
No hablo espańol [no ahbloh espahnyol] – I do not speak Spanish
No entiendo [no en-tee-en-doh] – I don’t understand
Entiendo [en-tee-en-doh] – I understand
No sé [no she] – I don’t know
¿Dónde está…? [don-deh-es-tah] – where is…?
Izquierda [iss-key-er-dah] – left
Derecha [dare-eh-chah] – right
Lejos [lay-joes] – far
Cerca [sehr-ka] – near
Abierto [ah-bee-her-toe] – open
Cerrado [sehra-doe] – closed
¿Qué hora tiene? [ke-ora tee-eh-ney] – what time is it?
¿Cómo? [ko-moe] – how?
¿Cuándo? [koo-and-o] – when?
¿Cuánto cuesta? [koo-anto koo-ehstah] – how much (does it cost)?
Quiero comprar… [kee-see-e-rah kom-prahr] – I want to buy…
¿Por qué? [pore-keh] – why?
¿Quién? [kee-yen] – who?
Estoy enfermo [es-toy en fehr-moh] – I am sick
Cuidado [koo-weedah-doe] – caution
¡Ayuda! / ¡Auxilio! [ah-yoo-dah / owk-see-lee-oh] – help!