Costa Rica Blog
Costa Rica Blog

Survival Spanish for Your Costa Rica Travels

Imagine you’re strolling down the aisle of a Costa Rica farmer’s market, eyeing tables laden with plump mangoes, juicy pineapple, luscious papaya and other exotic fruits. Wouldn’t it be nice to exchange some pleasantries while doing your shopping? Yes, it’s true that most Ticos – especially those or live or work in tourist areas – speak English, but your Costa Rica vacation could be that much richer and more meaningful when you can communicate with those around you. High school Spanish can only get you so far, so here are a few key phrases and idiomatic expressions unique to this country to help enrich your travels.

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Tips for speaking spanish on your next Costa Rica vacation
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Popular Costa Rica slang

  • Mae: You will hear guys referring to each other as “mae” in every nook and cranny of this nation. Pronounced like “my,” the term loosely translates to dude among friends. It can also be used to refer to a woman.
  • Tuanis: If something is very cool or awesome, it is tuanis – pronounced too-ahn-ees.
  • Macha/Macho: Any woman or man who has light skin or blonde hair is called macha or macho.
  • Chunche: a thingamajig or something you can’t really think of the name for. Pronounced choon-chay.
  • Que chiva! : A friendly phrase that says how cool!
  • Un toque: Translates to wait just a second.
  • Soda: A small, mom-and-pop style eatery or cafe
  • Que mala nota! : What a terrible person!
  • Pura Vida: This iconic phrase is practically the national motto. It translates as “pure life,” but is used as greeting among friends, to say thank you and you’re welcome and to show general happiness or satisfaction.

Phrases for ordering a meal

  1. Could you please recommend a restaurant or cafe? Por favor, me puede recomendar algun restaurante o soda?
  2. May I have the menu, please? Me puede por favor dar un menu?
  3. I am ready to order. Ya estoy listo para ordenar
  4. What kind of fruit drinks do you offer? Que jugos naturales tiene?
  5. Do you have any vegetarian dishes? Tienen algunos platos vegetarianos?
  6. I would like to order the grilled chicken with salad. Quisiera el pollo a la plancha con ensalada verde.
  7. Check, please! La cuenta, por favor!
Shopping in the farmers market of San Jose
More about San Jose Costa Rica here

A few helpful tips for communicating in Costa Rica

There are several ways to say “you” in Spanish. Like many Central American countries, Costa Ricans prefer the informal vos rather than tu. While conjugating verbs using vos may be a bit trickier, the tu form can also be used and understood. When in doubt, you can always fall back on the more formal version of you – usted – which shows a greater level of respect.  Another quirk of Costa Rica Spanish is the tendency to replace the verb “dar” (to give) with “regalar” (to present as a gift). So, next time you’re ordering a glass of wine or beer at bar, be sure to say: Regalame una cerveza, por favor. The verb is used in other situations as well. For example, if you’re asking for the check at a restaurant or to borrow a pen, or for someone’s phone number. You’re basically saying, please gift me something.