If you do not know any Spanish, we recommend learning the basic Costa Rican slang prior to your travel ventures. Even if you do know Spanish, it’s important to keep in mind that you may overhear words and sayings that are unfamiliar to Spanish language that you hear in other Spanish-speaking countries. Recall from our earlier Travel Tip blog discussing the reference of the Costa Rican locals as ticos.
These words and sayings are called idiomatic expressions. They are a useful guide to understanding the humor and character of that culture. They may seem peculiar as they do not translate directly with their meaning, however if you are aware of them before you are immersed in the culture, it will be much easier for non-native speakers to embrace and understand them.
Be sure to keep an open mind when conversing with locals, as they tend to directly address others more so than we do in the English language that may seem blunt or offensive. This is not the case, as it is just the way that the converse with each other, and should be thought of as friendly and light-hearted. For example, it is common that women be referred to as mamita, madre, or mi hijita. Locals also tend to use characteristics as nicknames, such as flaco (“fat”), flaco (“skinny”), negro (“dark-skinned”), chino (“Asian,” if you have slanted eyes, regardless of if you are actually Asian or not), or gato (“blue or green eyes”).
Here is a list of popular words and sayings that you will hear often and will certainly be helpful to know, especially when interacting with the locals.
The most popular saying in Costa Rica is Pura Vida (pronounced pooda-veeda), which has multiple meanings, including “hello,” “goodbye,” or “great.” If there is one word you should know in Costa Rica, this is it!
More Costa Rican slang that may come in handy:
Todo Bien (pronounced toh-doh bee-yen)–meaning “all good”
Tuanis (pronounced twan-ees)–meaning “cool”
Buenas (pronounced bway-nah)–meaning “good morning/afternoon/evening”
Ciao (pronounced chow)–meaning “goodbye”
Que Chiva (pronounced kay-chee-ba)–meaning “how cool”
Rojo (pronounced ro-ho)–another word for a 1000 colones bill. Rojo, literally meaning “red,” is the color of the bill.
Teja (pronounced te-ha)–another word for a 100 colones coin.
Toucan (pronounced two-can)–another word for a 5,000 colones bill. There is also a picture of a toucan on the bill.