Ticos are pretty tranquilo about most things, and they tend to speak at a relaxed speed and enunciate clearly, especially when addressing a foreigner. Costa Ricans are known for saying “Mae,” which means “Dude,” but has become a form of verbal punctuation used in some circles in almost every sentence. A notable idiosyncrasy here is creating diminutives with “ico” instead of “ito” (“un poquitico”)—hence the words “Tico” and “Tica” to describe Costa Rican men and women. Ticos are said to have an odd way of pronouncing the “R” at the beginning of a word, as in “Rica”—the “R” is never rolled or trilled. All in all, rest assured that if your español is not buenísimo, most Costa Ricans will speak slow, proper Spanish to you.

If you're looking for a more comprehensive dictionary and language resource, pick up a copy of Frommer's Spanish Phrase Finder & Dictionary, or Frommer's Spanish Phrasebook and Culture Guide. Both are excellent pocket books with a wealth of information to make your travel interactions more rewarding.

Some Typical Tico Words & Phrases

Birra -- Slang for beer.

Boca -- Literally means "mouth," but also a term to describe a small appetizer served alongside a drink at many bars.

Bomba -- Translates literally as "pump," but is used in Costa Rica for "gas station."


Brete -- Work, or job.

Buena nota -- Right on.

Casado -- Traditional lunch with meat, rice, beans, salad (literally “married,” suggesting this is the kind of lunch a married man brings to work).

Chapa -- Derogatory way to call someone stupid or clumsy.

-- Slang term for the capital city, San José.

Choza -- Slang for house or home. Also called chante.

Chunche -- Knickknack; thing, as in "whatchamacallit."

Cien metros -- 100 meters, or one block

Con gusto, Con mucho gusto -- You're welcome, with pleasure.

De hoy en ocho -- In 1 week's time.

Diay -- An untranslatable but common linguistic punctuation, often used to begin a sentence. Can mean “Gosh,” “Well,” or “Wow.”

Estar de chicha -- To be angry.

Fria -- Literally "cold," but used to mean a cold beer -- una fria, por favor.

Fut -- Short for fútbol, or soccer.

Goma -- Hangover.

Harina -- Literally "flour," but used to mean money.

La sele -- Short for La Selección, the Costa Rican national soccer team.

Limpio -- Literally means "clean," but is the local term for being broke, or having no money.

Macha or machita -- A blond woman.

Mae -- Translates like "man" or "dude"; used by many Costa Ricans, particularly teenagers, as frequent verbal punctuation.

Maje -- A lot like mae, above, but with a slightly derogatory connotation.

Mala nota -- Bummer.

Mala pata -- Bad luck.

Mejenga -- An informal, or pickup, soccer game.

Pachanga or pelón -- Both terms are used to signify a big party or gathering.

Ponga la maría, por favor -- This is how you ask taxi drivers to turn on the meter.

Pulpería -- The Costa Rican version of the "corner store" or small market.

Pura paja -- Pure nonsense or BS.

Pura vida -- Literally, "pure life"; translates as "everything's great."

Qué torta -- What a mess; what a screw-up.

Si Dios quiere -- God willing; you'll hear Ticos say this all the time.

Soda -- A casual diner-style restaurant serving cheap Tico meals.

Tico -- Costa Rican.

Tiquicia -- Costa Rica.

Tuanis -- Most excellent, cool, great.

Una teja -- 100 colones.

Un rojo -- 1,000 colones.

Un tucán -- 5,000 colones.

Upe! -- Common shout to find out if anyone is home; used frequently since doorbells are so scarce.

Zarpe -- Last drink of the night, or "one more for the road."

Hotel Terms

Abanico -- Fan

Aire acondicionado -- Air-conditioning

Almohada -- Pillow

Baño -- Bathroom

Baño privado -- Private bathroom

Calefacción -- Heating

Caja de seguridad -- Safe

Cama -- Bed

Cobija -- Blanket

Colchón -- Mattress

Cuarto or Habitación -- Room

Escritorio -- Desk

Habitación simple/sencilla -- Single room

Habitación doble -- Double room

Habitación triple -- Triple room

Llave -- Key

Mosquitero -- Mosquito net

Sábanas -- Sheets

Seguro de puerta -- Door lock

Silla -- Chair

Telecable -- Cable TV

Ventilador -- Fan

Travel Terms

Aduana -- Customs

Aeropuerto -- Airport

Avenida -- Avenue

Avión -- Airplane

Aviso -- Warning

Bote -- Boat

Bus -- Bus

Cajero -- ATM, also called cajero automatico

Calle -- Street

Cheques viajeros -- Traveler's checks

Correo -- Mail, or post office

Cuadra -- City block

Dinero or plata -- Money

Embajada -- Embassy

Embarque -- Boarding

Entrada -- Entrance

Equipaje -- Luggage

Este -- East

Frontera -- Border

Lancha -- Boat

Norte -- North

Oeste -- West

Occidente -- West

Oriente -- East

Pasaporte -- Passport

Plata -- Money

Puerta de salida or puerta de embarque -- Boarding gate

Salida -- Exit

Sur -- South

Tarjeta de embarque -- Boarding pass

Vuelo -- Flight

Emergency Terms

¡Auxilio! -- Help!

Ambulancia -- Ambulance

Bomberos -- Fire brigade; firefighters

Clínica -- Clinic or hospital

Déjame en paz -- Leave me alone

Doctor or médico -- Doctor

Emergencia -- Emergency

Enfermo/enferma -- Sick

Enfermera -- Nurse

Farmacia -- Pharmacy

Fuego or incendio -- Fire

Hospital -- Hospital

Ladrón -- Thief

Peligroso -- Dangerous

Policía -- Police

¡Váyase! -- Go away!

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.