How to Sound like a Local in Costa Rica

Quick Answer

Planning a trip to Costa Rica? If you are, you’ll definitely want to keep this list of Costa Rican regionalisms and slang in your back pocket. Like most other Spanish-speaking countries, Costa Rica has many words and phrases that you're only likely to hear if you’re sunbathing on the beaches of Manuel Antonioor in a crowded marketplace in San José. Here are some of our favorites!

rope bridge in costa rica

¡Pura vida! = Great!

¡Pura vida!is definitely one of the most useful and most versatile phrases that you can learn to use in Costa Rica. Used by almost everyone, this phrase literally translates to pure life, but is typically an enthusiastic response to good news. Additionally, Costa Ricans use pura vida as a way of greeting each other, as a way of saying good bye, or as a way of saying thank you.

Mae, no tenías que pagar por mí, pero de todos modos, ¡pura vida!
Brother, you didn’t have to pay for me, but thank you anyway!

Tico = Costa Rican

Here’s another regionalism you’ll get infinite value from if you’re staying in Costa Rica. Ticois a shortened and colloquial way to refer to a Costa Rican, that is, someone who lives in or is from Costa Rica.

En nuestro equipo de fútbol hay dos bolivianos, un peruano, y los demás son ticos.
On our soccer team there are two Bolivians, one Peruvian, and the rest are Costa Ricans.

Mae = Dude

Maeis a colloquial way that one tico might refer directly to another tico. The best translations for this term of address are dude, bro, or man, although it can be used to refer to any person, regardless of gender, nationality, or relationship to the speaker.

Mae, ¿me prestas plata para el bus?
Dude, can you lend me some money for the bus?

Chante = Home

Un chanteto any other Spanish speaker might raise a few eyebrows, but if you use this word with someone from Costa Rica, they’ll know exactly what you mean. When a tico, uses chante they’re referring to home or to a house.

Nos vamos a reunir en el chante de Greta el martes a las siete.
We are going to meet at Greta’s house on Tuesday at seven.

Ruco = Horse

In Costa Rican slang, if you hear ruco, it’s time to saddle up. This word is what Costa Ricans use to refer to their horses. Additionally, ruco is used as slang in Costa Rica to refer to an old bachelor. So be aware of context and your audience when using this in front of your fellow ticos!

Para mi cumpleaños, mis papás me llevaron a una granja a montar rucos.
For my birthday, my parents took me to a farm to ride horses.

Mejenga = Pickup soccer game

Looking for something social to do while you’re in Costa Rica? Why not join in at a local mejenga? In Costa Rican Spanish, una mejenga is the equivalent of a pickup soccer game in English, that is, a soccer game that is unranked, where anyone that shows up can participate!

Este fin de semana, voy a la cancha a jugar en una mejenga y después todos vamos a salir.
This weekend I’m going to the field to play in a pickup soccer game, and then after we’re all going out.

Tuanis = Awesome

This useful little word is what Costa Ricans say when they want to express how awesome or cool they think something is. Feel free to use tuanisto describe anything you’re impressed with, whether it’s a great movie, some delicious food, or a good friend.

Qué tuanis es esa cafetería en la calle 15. Me encanta el ambiente y las bebidas están bien ricas.
The cafe on 15th Street is so cool. I love the atmosphere and the drinks are really yummy.

Jalarse una torta = To screw up

You’ll typically hear jalarse una tortaafter something goes terribly wrong. Although this phrase literally translates to to pull a cake, Costa Ricans use it when they want to express that they have screwed up or failed at something.

Yo quise hacer las rosetas pero me jalé una torta y las quemé.
I tried to make popcorn but I screwed up and burned it.

Goma = Hangover

If you’re already very familiar with Spanish, you may recognize this word as meaning glue or gum, but in Costa Rica, as well as in many other Central American countries, gomais used colloquially to refer to a hangover.

Me encantaría salir a desayunar con ustedes, pero me desperté con una goma tremenda.
I’d love to grab breakfast with you guys, but I woke up with a giant hangover.

arenal volcano

¡Qué tuanis!With this list in hand, you’re ready for your trip to Costa Rica! Enjoy your giant plates of casado, hiking up el volcán Arenal, and conversing with other ticos!