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Costa Rican Spanish expressions

1. ¡Pura vida!

As you can see from the picture above, this phrase can be used for pretty much any situation. From the jungles of la Fortuna to the signature of an executive’s e-mail, Pura Vida is a universal term of tranquility and agreement.

This expression comes in first in our Costa Rican Spanish expressions not only because it is one of the most used ones in the country, but because it embodies Ticos’ (section on this word further below) way of life, boiling away life worries and living life to its purest. No wonder Costa Ricans have some of the longest life spans in the world.

2. Tuanis

“Tuanis” means “sweet!”, “all good”, or “nice!”. Legend has it that “Tuanis” is a bilingual morphing of the Spanish word “Todo” and the English word “nice”, where “todo + nice” (meaning “everything is good”) turned to “tuanis”.

3. Rulear

This verb means “to sleep”, which in Spanish is formally said “dormir”

4. Perico

Perico means parrot in Spanish but in Costa Rica, they also use it as a term for cocaine. So, be careful if someone there offers you perico—they’re probably not offering you a new pet!


You learn that cabra means goat in Spanish, but it’s also the oh-so-charming way some men refer to their girlfriends in Costa Rica. Ladies, doesn’t this make you want to go find a Costa Rican boyfriend?


If someone says they have to go to brete instead of spend time with you, it means he or she has to go to work.


8. Suave

If you say this to another person in an argument, it means “calm down.” If you and a friend get into a heated exchange, you can just say “¡Suave, mae!” which means “Take it easy!”


9. Jupa

Jupa means head or “cabeza” in Costa Rican vernacular. “Tengo un dolor de jupa!” means “I have a head ache”, for example.


10. Mae

This word means “dude” and can be used to refer to a man or woman. As you can most likely guess, this term is reserved for use between close friends. Don’t call someone you just met in Costa Rica “mae.” However, between close friends, the use of “mae” is extremely common.

11. Tico(a)

This is a common word used to refer to Costa Ricans. It’s a term they came up with for Costa Ricans, and it’s the term that they use to refer to themselves, so it’s not offensive in any way, but rather widely used. Legend has it that this word was born from the Costa Ricans use of the “ico” at the end of a word instead of “ito” (pocitico vs. pocitito).

12. ¡Qué guava!

This phrase means “what luck!” A good time to use this would be if you’re walking with a friend and she encounters money on the sidewalk.

13. Jamar

Jamar can directly replace comer to say “to eat.”


15. Choza or chante

If you’re chatting with a friend and he or she invites you to his or her choza or chante, then he or she is inviting you to his or her house.

Agüevado or bostezo

The above words are synonyms and mean bored or boring. For example, if your new teacher causes you to yawn incessantly in class, you could say“mi maestra nueva es muy agüevada.”

Estar de goma

This phrase means to have a hangover. If you knocked back a few too many last night, you could say “hoy, yo estoy de goma.”


20. Harina

Harina directly translates to flour, but in Costa Rican slang it means money. So unless your neighbor next door pops over to ask for some to use in her cookies, you can assume that when someone asks for harina, he or she is requesting cash.

Learn to speak Spanish and Costa Rican in Spanish Language Bootcamp

In Spanish Language Bootcamp, students learn thousands of Spanish words and expressions that will help traveling Costa Rica and Spanish-speaking countries a breeze! Please click here to learn about our intensive Spanish immersion language program in La Fortuna!

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