before you go to Costa Rica: 10 words / expressions to know.


A lot of people that I’ve met recently told me that they are soon going to Costa Rica or it’s on their bucket list to go and visit the country that had been named the happiest country in the world. Not everybody speaks Spanish and so a few words are always helpful. But instead of the usual “cómo está?” or “Dos cervezas por favor”, here are some expressions and words that are typical for Costa Rica that will make your stay a lot easier. At least more entertaining.


Tico / Tica

Costa Ricans love to make things sound small, cute and nice. So in Costa Rica a lot of words end with “ito” and “ita”, so instead of “papa” (potato), it is papita instead. There is also the possibility to end some words with “ico” or “ica”, for example “hermanitico” (little brother). Either way, Tico and Tica is the nickname for a native Costa Rican.


Some say that this derives from “too nice” which is actually what it means. If you want to say that you like something a lot, for example your favorite beach spot, use “tuanis”.

Pura Vida

Nothing describes the Costa Rican way of life like “Pura Vida”. Not just an empty expression, it is that feeling when you’re hanging in the hammock next to the beach, you’re drinking Imperial (fantastic beer by the way), you hear the howler monkeys in the trees above you and you just breathe in nature and you’re happy to meet the friendliest people in the world (that I’ve met so far).


The closest equivalent that I could think of in English is probably “Dude” but in this case, everybody is a dude and it’s also very common to fill it quite often into every sentence. Y mae, qué chiva!


If you don’t know a word for something and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t remember, make use of this one. Your sun lotion, your laptop and everything else can be the chunche (thing).

Gallo Pinto

Now we’re getting to my favorite part, food and drinks. There is no way, you can get around Gallo Pinto, for me the greatest way a day can start. When I tell friends that haven’t been to CR that it mainly consists of beans and rice, you don’t hear cheering exactly. But once you try this great mixture of rice, beans, cilantro and Salsa Lizano, you’ll be enamorado (in love).

Cacique Guaro

Guaro could stand for any alcohol beverage but in fact it stands for a special type of liquor, not my favorite in the world but if you mix it with hot sauce and some lemons, you’ll get “Chili Guaro” which will taste incredibly good. Only problem could be that it might burn twice.


Ceviche is originally Peruvian (so I believe), which is a dish served cold, consisting of fish, bell pepper, onions, lemon juice, cilantro and ginger ale. Simply delicious.


Well, what can I say? The first time I tried Cas in Costa Rica, I fell in love. In endless love. One of the great things about Costa Rica is that you can have the best fruits mixed with water or milk right in front of you at almost any restaurant (ask for “frescos” or “naturales”). So my greatest discovery was Cas, a type of guava that almost only grows in Costa Rica. If you get a really fresh one (not only made from the pulp), this is heaven on earth.

Qué chiva!

The final expression is perfect to describe what Costa Rica is, in fact “muy chiva”! It is pretty close to “tuanis” and simply stands for “how cool”. This is used a lot of times and the reason for that? Because there a tons of cool things in Costa Rica.


Pura vida, mae!

6 thoughts on “before you go to Costa Rica: 10 words / expressions to know.

  1. Ah, the howler monkeys. Terrifying in the middle of the night when you don’t know what is making that god-awful sound. Things may be different now, but when I was there in 2003, speaking Spanish was pretty much a necessity. I had some very dicey taxi situations trying to communicate where I wanted to go to my non-English-speaking drivers. It was my own fault for only knowing about 10 words of Spanish!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nowadays it’s pretty ok without Spanish (I had a lot of friends going there last year for our wedding and not everybody spoke Spanish). And when you don’t know how tall the howler monkeys actually are, you get easily scared. Happened to me as well. Now I’m incredibly happy every time I hear them 😉

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s