Costa Rican Phrases

Top 10 Costa Rican phrases to help you survive Nosara

Little remains unwritten about Nosaras spectacular beaches, verdant rainforest and incredible wildlife, but anyone whos visited knows that perhaps it’s finest asset is the people. Their philosophy of knowing how to unwind and relax is inseparable from their language. And if you think simply because you have a working knowledge of Spanish then you’re all set, well you’re wrong. With a dialect almost as casual as their unhurried culture Costa Rican Spanish is loaded with idioms, slang and phrases as unique as the people themselves. If you’re planning a trip to Nosara, or thinking of relocating then when it comes to picking up the lingo you’ll have your work cut out. That said, a little goes long way so here’s a few key costa rican phrases guaranteed to make the locals smile.

Pura vida – Lets begin with the most obvious and by far the most commonly heard. “Pura Vida” is pretty much Costa Rica’s unofficial motto and can be used for literally anything from a greeting, farewell, acknowledgment, or just in reference to anything considered good.


A:”Como estas?” – (How are you?)

B: “Pura Vida” (Pure life)


Mae – This is a comprehensive nickname used informally to mean friend, buddy; with the best comparison probably being the word “dude”

Example: “Mae vamos.” (Dude, let’s go.)


Tuanis – A common theory concerning the origins of this word (which means “cool”) is that it comes from the English phrase “Too nice”.


A: “Mae, Que tal tu dia?” – (Dude. How was your day?)

B: “Tuanis” (Cool)


Por dicha / qué dicha (“Fortunately” / “how fortunate”) This is the phrase Costa Ricans use to express appreciation for their own good fortune and that of friends.


A: “Me pegue el gordo” (I just won the lottery!)

B: “Que dicha” (How fortunate!)


Salado (“Tough luck”) Although the literal meaning is “salted,” or “salty” this common Tico expression means “tough luck”


A: “Gane la loteria pero perdi mi tiquete.” I won the lottery but then I lost my ticket.

B: “Salado” (Tough luck)


 Zarpe “Last drink of the night,” “nightcap” The zarpe is one of Costa Rica’s most important social protocols. No fiesta is complete without it.


A: “Debo irme. Tengo que trabajar manana temprano” (I should leave. I have to work early tomorrow.)

B: “Tranquilo Mae, echemonos el zarpe.” Relax. Have one more nightcap.


Suave un toque “Hold on a second” This expression underpins the Costa Rican attitude towards relaxation and not being in a rush.

A: “Vamos. Tenemos un dia con mucho trabajo.” (Let’s go. We have a busy day.)
B: “Tranquilo, Suave un toque.” (Relax. Hold on a second.)

Buena nota “Cool or nice person” This phrase literally means “good note” but is commonly used to describe a cool, good, or nice person


A: “Usted conoce este mae diego?” (Do you know that guy Diego?)

B: “Si diego es buena nota, me presto su ferrari.” (Yes. Diego’s cool. He let me borrow his ferrari)

Hacer un MacGyver “To do a MacGyver” Remember the ingeniously resourceful 1980’s secret with a knack for solving problems with little more chewing gum and paper clips? Well Ticos remember him, so much so that he somehow found a place in the native lexicon. As you may have guessed, to “MacGyver” something means to improvise a repair using whatever’s convenient, or just remedy a problem with the simplest solution.


A: “The reins just broke on my horse. I can’t steer him.” Se me rompio la rienda de mi caballo, no puedo manejarlo

B “No worries. Find the duct tape and we’ll do a MacGyver.” Tranquilo mae, busque cinta y hagale un macgiver

Más Tico que el gallo pinto “More Costa Rican than spotted rooster” This expression is a combination of two essential Costa Rican terms. Costa Ricans use the word “Tico” to refer to themselves. “Gallo pinto” the literal translation being “spotted rooster” is the name given to the national Costa Rican dish of rice and beans.

Example: “El se vino a Costa Rica hace 30 anos, despues de eso el es mas tico que el gallo pinto.” (He moved to Costa Rica 30 years ago. After all this time he’s more Tico than Gallo Pinto)

Interested in Costa Rica’s culture? Learn about some of our myths and folktales!

2 thoughts on “Costa Rican Phrases

  1. […] to learn more about Costa Rica and it´s culture? Check our “Costa Rican Phrases” […]

  2. […] always interesting to find out some fun facts about your new country! Check out some Costa Rican phrases that will help you blend […]

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