Pura Vida! 20 Costa Rican Spanish Phrases for Everyday Use
Are you planning to visit Costa Rica and would like to learn useful Costa Rican Spanish phrases?
You’ve come to the right place! Today, I’m going to explain what I mean by Costa Rican Spanish, what is “slang,” and why you should learn it.
Finally, I’ll introduce you to 20 of the most common and helpful Costa Rican Spanish phrases you’ll hear in this friendly Central American nation.
What is Costa Rican Spanish?
When I say “Costa Rican Spanish,” I’m actually referring to the type of Spanish spoken in Costa Rica. The distinctive words originated in this Central American country or that are only spoken there. You can also call it Costa Rican “slang.”
According to dictionary.com, slang is “a very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language.”
Every country, and sometimes region, has their own share of slang words, and Costa Rica is no exception.
Why Should You Learn It?
The fact is, learning a language is best accomplished by learning about the culture in which it’s spoken. While Spanish may have varieties all over the world in every Spanish-speaking country, it’s useful to narrow down on your areas of interest and to learn the language variety and its culture (including slang) at the same time.
Besides, you never know if you’ll be traveling to Mexico one day, or getting a job offer from Spain in the future. By learning slang from the different countries that form the Spanish speaking world, you’re simply investing in your future.
By learning significant phrases of Costa Rican Spanish, you’re covering your bases for a possible future trip to this beautiful Central American country.
20 Costa Rican Spanish Phrases
The following is a list of some of the most common phrases and words in Costa Rican Spanish.
I’ve organized them in fun categories for you:
- Costa Rican way of life
- Fruits & vegetables
- Negative or troublesome
Costa Rican Way of Life
This category includes words and expressions that symbolizes Costa Rican approach to life.
1. ¡Pura vida!
If there’s a phrase that defines the character of Costa Rican people, it has to be ¡Pura vida! Its literal translation is “pure life!” but it goes way beyond that. It expresses an optimism that permeates Costa Rican culture and a way of approaching life. It can mean many things, for example “goodbye,” “nice to meet you,” “great,” or “thank you,” but Costa Ricans would say that the true message is something like “life is good.”
One of the most beautiful pieces of Central American Slang, and definitely my favorite one.
Hola, me llamo Luis.
¡Pura vida hermano!
Hello, my name is Luis.
Life is good bro!
A tico or tica is a person from Costa Rica. As you may have heard about gendered nouns in Spanish, you surely understand that tico is reserved for boys and tica for girls. Even people from other countries in Latin America call Costa Rican people ticos.
Mi maestro de español es tico.
My Spanish teacher is Costa Rican.
3. Por dicha
Another beautiful expression of Costa Rican Spanish that shows the optimistic approach towards life of ticos. Dicha means “happiness” or “bliss,” so this phrase translates as “fortunately” or “luckily.”
Por dicha, todavía tengo mi antiguo teléfono.
Luckily, I still have my old phone.
4. Suave un toque
For a native Spanish speaker like myself, this phrase sounds so cool. It means to calm down or slow down a little bit.
Suave un toque que no te estoy entendiendo.
Calm down a little bit as I’m not understanding a word of what you’re saying.
This is a list of different ways of saying “cool,” “nice,” or “good” in Costa Rican slang.
Meaning “good,” “cool,” or “nice,” is a helpful word that you can use in a lot of different situations. There’s a theory that it actually derives from the English language expression “too nice. ”
¡Qué tuanis zapatos!
What a cool pair of shoes!
6. A cachete
Another way of saying that something is “cool” or “awesome.”
¡Esta playa está a cachete!
This beach is so cool!
7. ¡Qué chiva!
This one is used in different contexts to express that something is cool, or that someone is really mad.
¡Qué chiva está tu casa!
Your house is so cool!
Basically, different ways of saying “what’s up?”
8. ¿Qué es la vara?
The Costa Rican Spanish equivalent to “what’s up?” You’ll hear it every day, several times in Costa Rica.
Hola, ¿qué es la vara?
Hey, what’s up?
9. ¿Qué miche?
Another version of “what’s up?” in Costa Rican Spanish.
Hola, ¿qué miche?
Hey, what’s up?
Fruits & Vegetables
The colorful Costa Rican Spanish makes smart use of fruits and vegetables to enrich its colorful vocabulary, as these expressions show:
10. Hablar papaya
I find this one so funny. Hablar papaya means “to talk nonsense.” Hablar does mean “to talk” or to speak,” but I wonder where the papaya came from! It’s like that English expression of “going bananas.”
No le hagas caso, está hablando papaya.
Don’t listen to him, he’s talking nonsense.
11. No entender ni papa
When you don’t understand anything, you can say: no entendí ni papa. A papa is a potato, so don’t ask me for the origin of this expression. I guess it goes hand in hand with that one of the papaya.
No le entendí ni papa al maestro de español.
I didn’t understand anything of what the Spanish teacher said.
12. Pedir cacao
Pedir cacao literally means “to ask for cocoa,” but in Costa Rican Spanish it means to ask for forgiveness or for a second opportunity.
Le pedí cacao a mi mamá y parece que me dejará ir a la fiesta.
I ask my mom for a second chance and it seems she’ll let me go to the party.
13. ¿Al chile?
This phrase literally means “to the chili,” but in Costa Rican Spanish it’s an expression of incredulity that actually means “seriously?” or “really?”
¿Al chile te dijo eso?
Did she seriously say that to you?
Negative or Troublesome
You’ll hear these phrases when someone is upset or in trouble.
14. Jalarse una torta
In Costa Rican slang jalarse una torta means to get in trouble. If you make a mess or break something, then you can say that te jalaste una torta.
Me acabo de jalar una torta, reprobé el examen.
I’ve just got into trouble, I failed the exam.
15. Estar de chicha
Why would you say estoy enojado (I’m angry), when you can say estoy de chicha? Ticos rarely get angry, but when they do, they say it in a funny way.
No me molestes, estoy de chicha.
Don’t talk to me, I’m really angry.
16. Estar ahuevado
When a tico or tica is down, sad, or disappointed, they say that they’re ahuevados.
Reprobé el examen, estoy ahuevado.
I failed the exam, I’m quite disappointed.
17. ¡Qué pega!
When ticos get annoyed by something or someone they usually say this phrase.
¡Qué pega con tu amigo, ya no lo aguanto!
How annoying is your friend, I can’t stand him anymore!
18. Cara de barro
A shameless person is a cara de barro.
¡Ese tío tuyo es un cara de barro!
That uncle of yours, he’s quite shameless!
These last two phrases are quite unique and couldn’t get them into any of the other categories, but are still widely used and very useful in Costa Rica.
19. Dar pelota
When talking about slang you never want to translate literally, as most of the time the translation will make no sense. Case in point, dar pelota literally means “to give a ball.” However, in Costa Rican Spanish it’s used to ask for attention.
Oye, dame pelota, esto es importante.
Hey, pay attention, this is important.
20. ¡Qué salidas!
This phrase means “what nonsense!” or “how crazy!” and you can actually see from where it comes originally. Salida means “exit” or “departure,” and you can imagine someone (like a politician) trying to escape from a difficult question with a nonsensical answer.
¡Qué salidas está diciendo el presidente!
What a lot of nonsense the president is saying.
Practice Your Spanish Slang from Central America
There you’ve got, 20 useful pieces of Costa Rican Spanish that you can add to your vocabulary, just remember that most Spanish speakers outside of Costa Rica won’t understand them! Keep them in there for when that moment to visit this extraordinary country arises and then impress the locals with your knowledge of their colorful slang.
Sign up for a free class to practice slang from Central America with one of our certified teachers from another Central American country: Guatemala. You may even end up exchanging Central American slang words!
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