It’s no surprise that Costa Rica has proven itself to be a favorite vacation destination for travelers from all across the globe. With 12 unique microclimates, beautifully developed public spaces, and every option of lodging from luxury resorts to budget hostels, there’s truly something for everyone. What’s more, Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Latin America and has an extremely accommodating culture, welcoming tourists with open arms. Costa Rica is waiting for you, and when you arrive you’ll find nothing but beach relaxation and a happy, helpful culture.
Regardless of how well you prepare for your trip, you’re going to have the experience of a lifetime. This experience can be vastly improved, however, with just a bit of Spanish language learning. Costa Rica is well accustomed to working with language barriers, and you’ll find people to be very patient when communicating with you. You’ll even find restaurants and hotels in tourism hot-spots that speak primarily English. Regardless, you’re going to need to communicate in Spanish once or twice during your trip. Ordering off a menu and asking for directions is easy, and you’ll find countless sources online to help you with basic Spanish phrases. What you might not find is a Costa Rica specific glossary of words and phrases. Regardless of your level of Spanish, brush up on these 15 phrases. Understanding their usages and why they’re important will not only help you navigate the country, but may provide insight into the local way of life as well.
Pura Vida is the most commonly used phrase in the entire country. Translating to “pure life,” this phrase is used in almost any context. It can be a greeting, a goodbye, or used as the word “cool” or “nice.” Your tour guide will be pura vida, your beach trip will be pura vida, and the glass of local rum you drink from your beach-side hammock will most definitely be pura vida. Use this phrase as a goodbye or an exclamation, you’ll win some major points with your Costa Rican hosts. In fact, when in doubt, just say “pura vida.”
This simple phrase is an entire sentence: What does it cost? Costa Rica is not a bartering society, even in open aired markets and street-side vendors. Prices are low and you’re expected to pay them. Skip the pricier supermarkets and head into your local market. You’ll find a better variety of local foods and much lower prices. Ask for the cost and count out your money.
“Sin azucar” means “no sugar.” This may seem like a strange phrase to learn in a hurry, but you’re going to need it. Sugar is in everything, and in huge quantities. When you ask for your morning coffee, you’ll want to say “sin azucar.” When you buy an organic, fresh-fruit smoothie, you’ll want to say “sin azucar.” If you don’t, you might end up with an entire metric cup of sugar in your morning smoothie. For those with a sweet tooth, learn to say “poco azucar,” or “a little sugar.” This will still be more than enough to satisfy your cravings.
“Otra ronda” means “one more round.” You’re visiting a very communal society, so it’s a good time to bond with your travel group. Don’t order a single beer in Costa Rica, it will be much better to order a whole round for your table. Asking your waiter for “otra ronda” will provide you with another round of whatever you’re having, whether that be beer, rum, or natural juices.
You’re going to see the word “Casado” on every menu, and when you look it up in your travel dictionary, it will translate to “married.” In Costa Rica, however, this word refers to the best marriage of all, the union of rice, beans, meat, and vegetables. This is the common dish of Costa Rica. Ordering a Casado will bring you a huge plate of your choice of protein and enough sides to satisfy your after-hiking hunger.
“Para llevar” means “to go” or “to bring home.” You’ll need this phrase when you inevitably fail to eat the huge Costa Rican serving sizes. Don’t let any of your fresh, local food go to waste, this food has been prepared with the utmost respect and love. Instead, pass your unfinished plate to the waiter and say “para llevar.” He’ll bring your to-go box and you’ll be ready to leave. This phrase can also be used when placing a to-go order.
Agua de pipa
You won’t find this phrase in your Spanish to English dictionary because it’s strictly regional. In Costa Rica, this means “coconut water.” Pipa refers to a green coconut which produces the sweetest water. You’ll hear it yelled out by vendors on beaches and at every traffic stop. Be sure you can recognize this phrase, because you won’t want to miss out on an opportunity to buy this sweet and natural refreshment.
This word translates simply to “show me.” You’re visiting one of the most biodiverse countries in the world with a strong and happy culture, and you’re going to want to participate. Ask your hiking guide to show you animals and exotic flowers. Use the same phrase later that night when you’re asked if you can dance salsa at a local club. This phrase could be the beginning of a lot of fun.
La cuenta, por favor
Translating to “the bill, please,” you’ll need this phrase every time you visit a restaurant or bar. Unlike in the United States, Costa Rican restaurants focus on providing you with an incredible experience rather than just focusing on a high table turnover rate. You’ll never be chased from your table and you’re welcome to stay at a bar or restaurant as long as you’d like. When you’re ready to leave, request the bill, it will never be brought to you without this phrase.
¿Cuál es la contraseña de wifi?
As you may have guessed, this phrase translates to “what is the WiFi password?” Costa Rica is the most highly developed country in Central America, and WiFi is everywhere. Your hotel will have great service, as will the majority of restaurants and bars you visit. Use this phrase to update your travel blog or check in with your at-home supporters.
Como se llama?
You probably already know that this phrase can be used as “what is your name,” but it can also be used as “what is this called.” You’ll need to use it in both circumstances. You’re going to meet a lot of people on your trip, but you’re also going to run into some unfamiliar fruits, vegetables, exotic flowers, and animals. Use this phrase anytime you want to identify some tropical life you’re unfamiliar with.
Mae is the local word for “dude.” It can be used for men, women, and often household pets as well. You may not use this word a lot as you travel the country, but you will need to recognize it. Look for the mae in the tour agency polo for any further translation you might need.
Simply meaning “have a good trip,” this phrase will come in handy. You’re going to meet a lot of people during your vacation, and may bond with a couple different travel groups. Send them off in style with a “buen viaje!”
This is the Spanish equivalent to the French phrase “Bon Appetit!” You’ll use it when dining with Costa Rican locals, at any dinner parties, and even within your travel group. Eating is a main event in Costa Rica, and almost never is a meal scarfed down on the go. Prepare a nice meal, sit down, and wish your dining crew a “buen provecho.” This will be the perfect way to start a big Costa Rican meal.
According to the well-known Costa Rican journalist Carlos Cortes, “tuanis” is the word that best represents Costa Rica. The word simply means cool, nice, or awesome. Costa Rica has a very optimistic culture, and almost everything can be described as awesome. Use this local word as an exclamation and you’ll certainly impress your local hosts.
Remember, starting any of these phrases with a friendly smile and a greeting will go a long way. Costa Rica has a very polite and open culture, and using the word “gracias” constantly will earn you some points as you travel the country.