Speak Like the Natives: Spanish Words and Phrases to Help You Navigate Costa Rica
Traveling to Costa Rica as a non-Spanish speaker isn’t terribly difficult, as many people in Costa Rica do speak English. However, if you want to ingratiate yourself with the locals, understand a little of what they’re saying, and navigate a little more comfortably, learning a few key words and phrases can help you out immensely.
A “universal Spanish” does exist. However, because of differences in location and culture, most Latin countries have their own unique words and colloquialisms, which don’t either don’t translate at all or mean something very different in other countries. While the following words and phrases are in Spanish, some of them are unique to Costa Rica, so don’t try to use them elsewhere!
Means “hello” or “hi,” in both formal and informal settings
Mucho Gusto (moo-cho goos-toe)
Pleased to meet you
Que tal (ke tal)
An informal and friendly way of saying “how’s it going.”
Como estas (coh-moh es-tahs)
A slightly more formal “how are you.”
Estoy bien (es-toy bee-en)
Buenos Dias (bwen-ohs dee-ahs)
Good morning (or good day)
Buenas Tardes (bwen-ahs tar-dehs)
Buenas Noches (bwen-ahs no-chase)
Good evening (or good night)
Hasta luego (ah-stah loo-eh-go)
See you later!
Hasta Manana (ah-stah man-ya-nah)
See you tomorrow!
This is a more proper/formal way of saying goodbye, but it’s fine to use in informal settings.
Chao (pronounced chow)
This is used in much of Central and South America, and is a friendly and informal way of saying goodbye. Much like saying “see ya!” rather than “goodbye.”
Idiay (pronounced Ee-dee-ay)
This is unique to Costa Rica, and means “hi, how’s it going?”
Tico/Tica (pronounced Tee-Co/Tee-Ca)
“Tico” is a Costa Rican word for a Costa Rican man. “A” is used at the end of words to feminize them, so “Tica” refers to a Costa Rican woman.
A man/woman with light hair or eyes
This is Costa Rican slang for the city of San Jose.
This means “cool,” or “nice.”
Pura Vida (poo-rah vee-dah)
This means “pure life” or “full of life” technically, but in Costa Rica it means something along the lines of “perfect, couldn’t be better.”
Common Useful Words and Phrases
Excuse me (pardon me)
How much, or how many.
Donde esta (pronounced (don-day es-tah)
This means “where is . . . “
Por Favor (por fah-vor)
Hablas Ingles (ah-blas een-gles)
Do you speak English?
No Hablo Espanol (no ah-bloh es-pan-yol)
I don’t speak Spanish
I understand. (No entiendo is “I don’t understand”)
This means native, as referred to to food, clothing, or other items. “Comida tipica,” for example, means local cuisine, prepared in the common, traditional manner. This is a useful word if you’re shopping for locally-made items or looking to try authentic local cuisine.
Important Words to Know
Peligro (pronounced peh-lee-gro)
This means danger. You are more likely to see it on a sign that hear it said. However, someone might tell you that something is “peligroso,” which means it’s dangerous.
Cuidado (pronounced (quee-dah-do)
This means to be careful.
Ojo (pronounced o-ho)
While technically this word means eye, it’s also a common Spanish way of saying “look out.”
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