Pura Vida: 19 Costa Rican Spanish Phrases You Must Know Before You Visit » Learn Spanish con Salsa (2024)

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Costa Rica, like many other countries, is rich in expressions or idioms. Costa Ricans are colloquially called “ticos” because of their frequent use of the diminutive ending -ico.

Colloquial expressions characteristic of Costa Rica, or tiquismos, are used frequently in the country.

Pachuquismos, on the other hand, are street Spanish expressions that can be considered vulgar and offensive if used in the wrong context. Many of these words, even when found in a standard Spanish dictionary, don't have the same meaning in Costa Rica.

Learning colloquial expressions can be a guide to understanding the humor and character of the Costa Rican culture.

What is Costa Rican Spanish?

Many Costa Rican idioms (like playo andtombo) are not used or understood by any other Spanish speakers. One of the most common Costa Rican expressions, pura vida, can be understood even though it's not used outside of the country.

Some expressions have a national origin while others come from outside influences. They can also be classified according to the age of the population that uses them, since there are common expressions throughout the population (zaguate, carajillo), while others are common to the youth (tuanis, mae).

Pura Vida: 19 Costa Rican Spanish Phrases You Must Know Before You Visit » Learn Spanish con Salsa (1)

Is there a Costa Rican accent?

Despite its small territorial size, each province in Costa Rica has distinctive features in its speech, accent, and phonetics. The province of Guanacaste (to the north) has much influence from its neighboring country Nicaragua.

The province of the Costa Rican Caribbean,Limón, presents totally unique characteristics in its speech and culture, influenced by the Creole English and the Jamaican immigration that occurred there.

The distinguishing characteristics of Costa Rican phonetics include the following:

  • Many Costa Ricans pronounce the “rr“ without the trill, as it's pronounced in most Spanish-speaking regions. It sounds much more like pronunciation of the R in the word peroversus therrin perro.
  • An emphasis is placed on the letter S in most of the country, contrary to the rest of Central America where it is often omitted.
  • In rural areas, the pronunciation of the D at the end of a word is omitted and the last vowel is accentuated. For example, calidad sounds like calidá, and usted sounds like usté.

If you want to learn Costa Rican Spanish words and phrases, I highly recommend the Costa Rican Spanish Course by Spanish Pod 101.

It's found in their regional Spanish series and it really helped me prepare for my trip to Costa Rica a few years ago. I noticed several words and expressions from the course when I was out and about in Playa Tamarindo and San Jose.

The course includes 32 dialogues that give you the English, “standard” Spanish, and Costa Rican Spanish versions of conversations. These are practical scenarios that you'll likely encounter in Costa Rica. Plus each lesson comes with audio, vocabulary, and transcripts.

Pura Vida: 19 Costa Rican Spanish Phrases You Must Know Before You Visit » Learn Spanish con Salsa (2)

Here is a sample of what you'll hear in one of the lessons:

You get access to this course when you sign up for Spanish Pod 101, and you can start with a free membership to check it out. Click here to try out the Costa Rican Spanish Course.

Pura Vida: 19 Costa Rican Spanish Phrases You Must Know Before You Visit » Learn Spanish con Salsa (3)

19 Spanish Words You'll Only Hear in Costa Rica

So let's get to it, here are 19 tiquismos you'll want to know before you visit Costa Rica. Each one has an example in context so you'll know how it's used, plus audio of a native Spanish speaker from Costa Rica so you can hear how it sounds from a tico.

1) ¡Pura vida!

This is by far the most popular expression in Costa Rica. When you hear pura vida, you know you're talking to a tico!

In general terms, it means satisfaction or approval: “Everything is fine!” But it's used so often in daily conversation it can be a greeting, a way to say good-bye, a confirmation (like “OK”), or a way to ask how someone is doing. I've even heard it used to ask for directions!

Ejemplos (Examples):

¿Pura vida, mi amor? Te ves agobiado.

Is everything okay, dear? You look overwhelmed.

¿Cómo estás? – ¡Pura vida! ¿Y tú?

How are you? – All good! And you?

2) Achantado

Unwilling, with laziness, discouraged, bored. That has neither the motivation nor the will to do anything.

Ejemplo (Example):

Pablo estaba achantado en el sillón, sin querer hacer nada.

Pablo was lazy on the couch, not wanting to do anything.

3) Bocas

Food prepared in a bar or canteen to eat while having a drink or a beer. It’s served in small quantities. Snack.

Ejemplo (Example):

¡Qué buenas bocas dan en esa cantina!

In that bar they give very good finger food!

4) Brocha

Do something to look good with someone. Flatterer, bootlicker.

Ejemplo (Example):

Julia era una brocha con su papá para que la dejara ir a la playa y no lo convenció.

Julia was so flattering to her dad for him to let her go to the beach but she didn’t convince him.

5) Casado

Typical Costa Rica lunch. Food dish containing rice, beans, salad, ripe bananas and is added either: fish, steak, pork chop, usually eaten at lunch.

Ejemplo (Example):

En ese restaurante cocinan unos casados con carne muy buenos.

In that restaurant, they cook very good Costa Rican lunch with meat.

6) Chaine

Clothes that are worn. Good looks.

Ejemplo (Example):

Ese amigo va bien chaineado para la fiesta.

That friend is well dressed for the party.

7) Chapulín

Young thief. Juvenile delinquent.

Ejemplo (Example):

Los chapulines asaltaron a la señora y se llevaron su dinero.

The hoodlums robbed the lady and took away her money

8) Galleta

It refers to a smart, intelligent person.

Ejemplo (Example):

José es un galleta en matemáticas.

José is good with math.

9) Pelón

Party, celebration.

Ejemplos (Examples):

Nos fuimos de pelón toda la noche.

We went partying all night.

Ese pelón estuvo buenísimo.

That party was great.

10) Muca


Ejemplos (Examples):

¿Ustedes alquilan mucas?

Do you rent bicycles?

Pedí una muca para mi cumpleaños.

I asked for a bicycle for my birthday.

11) Perro

Unfaithful man.

Ejemplo (Example):

Luis es un perro.

Luis is a cheating dog.

12) Pichel

Countenance, Face.

Ejemplo (Example):

Mi mamá tiene el pichel más bello del mundo.

My mom has the most beautiful face in the whole world.

13) Sapo

Someone who says everything. Snitch, informer.

Ejemplo (Example):

Jefe, hemos descubierto quién es el sapo que le anda contando todo a la policía.

Boss, we've found out who the snitch is that's been telling everything to the police.

14) Sorompo


Ejemplos (Examples):

Si no entiendes esto es porque eres un sorompo.

If you do not understand this is because you are a fool.

Me sentí como un sorompo en aquella fiesta.

I felt like a fool at that party.

15) Colgar los tenis

To die, to pass away.

Ejemplo (Example):

Cuando cuelgue los tenis no quiero que me llore nadie.

When I die, I do not want anyone to cry.

16) Echar el cuento

To flirt. To woo a person.

Ejemplo (Example):

Le estoy echando el cuento a esa chavala.

I'm courting that girl.

17) Filo

Hungry. To feel like eating.

Ejemplo (Example):

Tengo mucho filo!

I am very hungry!

18) Fregar

To annoy, to bother.

Ejemplo (Example):

A estos niños les encanta fregar a los mayores.

These children love to annoy the elderly.

19) Cañas

Colones (moneda costarricense)

Colones (Costa Rican currency)

Ejemplos (Examples):

Ese confite vale 20 cañas.

That candy costs 20 colones.

La mamá le dio cien cañas para que comprara algo.

The mother gave him a hundred colones to buy something.

There you have it, 19 Spanish words and phrases you'll only hear in the land of pura vida.

Want to learn more Spanish expressions from Costa Rica? Get your copy of the Costa Rican Spanish 101 Bilingual Spanish Dictionary & Phrasebook.

Pura Vida: 19 Costa Rican Spanish Phrases You Must Know Before You Visit » Learn Spanish con Salsa (4)

Learn more Costa Rican Spanish with theCosta Rican Spanish Regional Spanish Course onSpanishPod101.

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Tamara Marie

¡Hola! My name is Tamara Marie. I'm a language coach specializing in brain-friendly methods to learn foreign languages faster. I speak English (US native), Spanish (advanced), and Brazilian Portuguese (beginner). I'm a Latin music & dance addict and passionate about helping people learn languages.

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Pura Vida: 19 Costa Rican Spanish Phrases You Must Know Before You Visit » Learn Spanish con Salsa (2024)


How do Costa Ricans use the phrase Pura Vida? ›

Pura Vida is so much more then just a phrase, it is their culture and way of life. Costa Ricans (Ticos) use this term to say hello, goodbye, or even to let people know everything's good! Costa Ricans don't just let the term bring them a good life, it's the way they use it in their everyday attitude to make them happy.

What is the famous phrase of Costa Ricans? ›

Pura Vida. This is the expression you'll hear the most. It's the national motto of Costa Rica and often used as a greeting, or as a response to a greeting. It means 'pure life' and it harkens back to this country's stance on the military and violence in general.

Is Pura Vida a common phrase in Costa Rica? ›

Chances are that you'll hear “pura vida” from friends and friendly people all over Costa Rica. It's our way of saying hello, making you feel welcome or saying goodbye in a happy way.

What does Pura Vida translate to in Costa Rica? ›

Essentially, the meaning of Pura Vida is Pure Life or simple life. This has a lot to do with the culture of Costa Rica and the attitude of the Ticos.

What are 4 meanings of Pura Vida? ›

If you want to translate, pura vida, it means “simple life” or “pure life,” but here in Costa Rica, it is more than just a saying—it is a way of life. Costa Ricans (Ticos) use this term to say hello, goodbye, everything's great, and everything's cool, or even the things that are not cool, but happened.

What is an example of Pura Vida? ›

If something bad has happened, like a missed flight or an illness, you can say Pura Vida, meaning all is good. If someone asks how things are going on a project or at the office, you can say Pura Vida, meaning yes, things are great.

What does yo soy tico mean? ›

I'm Costa Rican. yo soy tico( yoh. soy. tee.

What famous Costa Rican expression means everything is cool? ›

“Pura Vida” means literally “pure life” in English, and is the way “ticos” (as the Costa Rican people is known) have to say they are enjoying life to the fullest, it's “going great” and we are thankful that you are around. It's the way we all have to express that everything is alright. Or to ask if it is this way.

How do you say beautiful in Costa Rica? ›

Table of contents
  1. Bello / Bella – “Beautiful”
  2. Bonito / Bonita – “Pretty” or “Nice”
  3. Guapo / Guapa – “Handsome”
  4. Lindo / Linda – “Lovely”
  5. Bueno / Buena – “Good Looking”
  6. Hermoso / Hermosa – “Gorgeous”

What is a phrase like Pura Vida? ›

All is Chill and "a Cachete": Much like "pura vida," Ticos express that something is beautiful, great or convey that all is well by saying "a cachete" [pr: ah kah-CHE-tay].

What is the slogan of Pura Vida? ›

Pura Vida…it's Costa Rica's slogan, as well as being a way of life. The direct translation is “pure life” but it's so much more than that. It's living the good life…

How do you respond to Pura Vida? ›

How do you respond when someone says Pura Vida? You can reciprocate the greeting by simply saying “Pura vida!” back. This acknowledges and embraces the positive spirit and philosophy of living a pure life.

Does Pura Vida mean thank you? ›

You can say pura vida to mean “thank you,” “you're welcome,” “that's great” or “life is good.” The versatility of the phrase is part of its appeal, and it's a 100% positive expression of pleasure in life lived to its fullest. In A lo tico, a book-length glossary of Costa Rican expressions by Alf A.

What does Pura Vida Mae mean? ›

Pura vida — Hello/Goodbye/Thank you/You're welcome (lit. “ pure life”) 3. Mae — Dude/Guy/“Um”

What do Costa Ricans say to greet each other? ›

Even when meeting your peers informally, you'll find that Costa Ricans use pleasant greetings: Buenos días/ buen día / buenas tardes/ buenas noches: These greetings mean respectively 'Good morning,' 'good afternoon,' and 'good day. '

How do Costa Ricans greet each other? ›

A firm handshake, with direct eye contact and a welcoming smile are the standard greeting. When shaking hands, always use the appropriate greeting for the time of day - 'buenos dias', 'buenas tardes', or 'buenas noches'. The handshake is an important part of Costa Rican culture and serves to reinforce relationships.

How do Costa Ricans say hello and goodbye? ›

Pura vida — Hello/Goodbye/Thank you/You're welcome (lit. “pure life”) You'll hear pura vida used as a greeting, a goodbye or a way to say “thank you” or “you're welcome.” It's basically like the Costa Rican “aloha.”

What is the phrase in Costa Rica about life is beauty? ›

Pura vida! For anyone who has visited Costa Rica they will explain to you that this phrase defines the basic essence of life here. For Ticos (slang for Costa Ricans), it is a simple expression of happiness, optimism, and living life to the fullest.

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