Costa Ricans speak Spanish, but as is the case with most of the world, they have their own way of speaking. Just as an elevator to Americans is a lift to the British, Costa Ricans have their own way with Spanish words that is unique to them. Learn the most common Costa Rican slang terms used to better understand Spanish in Costa Rica.

After living there for over a year, I began to realize that many of the phrases I was learning and using with my friends were not the same in other Spanish-speaking parts of the world, so I thought it would be fun to put together the most commonly used Costa Rican slang words that are specific to Costa Rica.

PURA VIDA

If there is only one Costa Rican slang phrase you take away from the post, let it be Pura Vida.

What does Pura Vida mean in English?

Pura Vida literally translates to “pure life” , in Costa Rica it takes on a meaning of its own. Pura Vida can be a greeting, farewell, an answer to ¿Cómo estás? (how are you?), but also the question (¿qué, pura vida?); it can be an exciting exclamation, a way to say thank you as well as you’re welcome, and honestly a million things more.

Pura Vida is literally the essence of Costa Rica, and as you will see, as you begin to learn the lingo, you will also gain insight into the lives and culture of the Costa Rican people.

What are Costa Ricans called in Spanish?

A Costa Rican in Spanish would be costariccense, but there is a cuter way in slang that Costa Ricans refer to themselves.

Ticos, the Costa Rican slang word for Costa Ricans, are called this because they make a lot of words cutesy by adding -ito or -tico to the end of them. So look out for when they ask if you want un poquitico de cafecito con el almuercito (a little coffee with lunch).

In fact, Costa Ricans use “Tico” so much, they often refer to Costa Rica itself as Tiquicia

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Costa Ricans, also known as Ticos, at an art festival in downtown San Jose

Common Slang Words in Costa Rica

  • La Finca- recently a famous Costa Rican referred to the country condescendingly as “la finca,” alluding to the agricultural history. In true Tico spirit, Costa Ricans fought back by lovingly referring to the country as La Finca, and now it has caught on as another way to refer to Costa Rica.
  • Soda – When you see a sign that says “soda”, it does mean there is a restaurant with food and drink, but maybe not for the reason you think. A soda is the Costa Rican equivalent to an American “diner,” it is a small, family owned restaurant serving typical local foods, usually with only a few chairs, and always with a “chilero,” a homemade concoction of pickled vegetables and peppers that is a delicious spicy addition to a plate of rice and beans.
  • Casado – Casado literally means married in English, but in Costa Rica this is the name of the classic Costa Rican dinner. A casado will typically consist of rice, beans, protein, salad, and sweet plantains, called maduros. It is often accompanied by a freshly made fruit juice, called fresco.
  • Pulperia – This is a corner store, often referred to as a bodega in other Spanish-speaking countries

Check out our photo journal for beautiful pictures of Costa Rican Wildlife

More Fun Costa Rican Slang Terms

  • En Todas – En Todas literally means in everything, like my husband will often tell me when I take care of all our travel planning details for an upcoming trip (“estas en todas mi amor“). The slang version would be that when someone says “en todas” they mean great; it is a positive response to how are you
  • A Cachete – this phrase literally means ‘to the cheek’ but used as a way of describing something that is cool or neat
  • Tuanis – Tuanis is a very surfer-esque word, meaning chill or good, and is often used similarly to Pura Vida in Costa Rican slang

This fun local business in Costa Rica makes t-shirts with common Costa Rican slang 

  • Diay or Idiay- In common Spanish, a filler word like “um” would be “Pues”. The Costa Rican word for pues would be diay or idiay. While this is used as a filler word like well, so, or ummm, diay can also mean things like wtf, wow, etc. It changes depending on the tone and intonation
  • Mae – This interjection is used to mean dude, bro, etc. Mae is not gender specific but is more casual and therefore only used among peers
  • Tranquilo/tranquila- can be a verb or an adjective meaning don’t worry, calm down, but also to describe when something is chill (ending changes based on gender)
  • Guila – girl, hottie, pronounced wila
  • Cabra – literally goat, but a slang word to refer to your girlfriend, a little antiquated
  • Titi – another way to say ‘this,’ not to be confused with Tita which is another way to call your grandmother
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Pata Caliente is a way to refer to someone who is always traveling

More Costa Rican Slang

  • Pata Caliente – while it literally means “hot foot”, this slang refers to someone who moves or travels a lot, a beloved word by the travel community
  • Mier – short for mi hermano (my brother), sometimes pronounced like mi’ersh
  • Camote – literally a type of sweet potato native to this region (not the orange kind westerners are used to), in slang camote can mean the same as the Spanish ‘raro’, meaning weird, especially when referring to a person
  • Qué Guava – while guava is literally a type of fruit, qué guava is used to mean “what good luck” or to describe something very lucky
  • Qué Chiva – Another phrase that means cool, neat, or awesome. Chiva in Costa Rican slang is very very similar to the Mexican use of qué padre or chido.
  • El Chunche – this is a fun slang word that means the thingy
  • Al Chile – no kidding, for real, seriously
  • Suave Un Toque – If a Costa Rican says this to you, it is slang for wait a moment

Other Costa Rican Sayings

  • Dele Viaje – This phrase normally would be something like hágalo in standard Spanish, which means just do it!
  • Torta/Qué Torta – when something bad happens, you might say “qué torta” to mean oh no, what are we going to do, that sucks
  • Tortero – a word to describe someone who is clumsy, or possibly someone who gets into trouble frequently
  • Machita – Macho/macha is literally a masculine adjective so machita in English means a masculine female. However, in Costa Rica machita is a slang term. It refers to a lighter-haired person. A blonde will frequently be referred to as machito/machita, and it is a term of endearment. You will also hear ticos (Costa Ricans) who are more fair and less moreno (dark hair/eyes) referred to as machitos.
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Machita means a masculine female in Spanish, but machita is also used as a Costa Rican slang term to mean a blondie

  • Hablar Paja – literally to talk straw, this means to shoot the breeze, to talk about nothing, or chit chat
  • Andar de Goma – to have a hangover
  • La Choza – slang for home/house, which is usually casa
  • Los Cachos – Costa Ricans will used los cachos as a slang word for shoes (usually called zapatos in Spanish)

What else would you add to this list of slang words in Costa Rica? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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