Costa Rican Phrases – Mastering the Costa Rican Way of Speaking

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Spanish is very different in different countries, although in 20 countries it’s their official language. It’s true. From personal experience, I’ve listened to people speaking Mexican Spanish and it’s much different than Costa Rican Spanish, which is different than Castellano Spanish, and so on and so forth.

Guess what? Every country has its own slang words and typical jargon which is different from the others. It’s a lot of fun to learn the different dialects. There are so many different Costa Rican phrases that will only make sense to people who grew up living in this country. In fact, some of these phrases and slang words are only used by Costa Ricans!

Below is a list of Costa Rican slang words and phrases that you may hear while listening to Tico’s conversations. I recommend checking out a handy Costa Rican Spanish guide if you’d like to learn the language before your next visit.

Costa Rican Phrases: My Favorite Tiquismos (aka Phrases)

Pura Vida

The literal translation of this phrase means pure life. In truth, this is one of the most famous Costa Rican phrases in history. The words Pura Vida are used in many contexts. They are used as greetings, as ways to thank someone, or anything that’s related to something good.

For example: the phrase Pura Vida can even be used if you’re talking to the president. It’s used in normal conversation as a greeting to say hello to somebody, and it’s used equally when saying goodbye to them on the telephone. Hola Puravida! Como estas? Pura vida. Como estuvo tu día? Pura vida gracias! Este muchacho es pura vida. 


The origin of this word is derived from the word maje. I like to use the word mae as a greeting when I’m talking to a friend. The most similar words to it in English are dude and bro because they provide the same type of feeling. For example: Que mae pura vida translates to what’s up dude. And mae vamos translates to dude let’s go.


Some ways to describe this word include awesome, nice, or cool. It’s a great word to use if you’re looking to call something super tuanis or really awesome. It’s also used when you get off the phone after hanging it up while making plans. For instance: Mae te veo al bar a las 6 esta bien? OK tuanis.

And if you wanted to say something like “that’s so cool” you’d say que chuzo or chiva.

A Cachete

The literal translation of the word Cachete is cheek. Locals in Costa Rica prefer using the phrase “a cachete” when they are saying that they are doing something good or something is good. For instance, if you were to ask a friend how well their business was doing, they would respond by saying “Mae, a cachete” which basically means that everything is great or doing great.

The phrase comes from “a cachete ileno”. The meaning of this phrase is “full mouth” it’s another way of saying that something is good. This is an incredibly fun Costa Rican phrase!

Detras del Palo

The literal translation of this phrase means behind the tree. It’s a phrase that people use when they know very little or absolutely nothing about a topic. An example: Mae estoy del palo que es eso means dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about and I am behind the tree. Another example: Mae usted esta detras del palo major cierra el pico means dude, you’re behind the tree keep the beak close.

Another similar phrase translates into taking a pee out of the can. It can be used interchangeably with detras del palo. The phrase is miando fuera del tarro.

Hasta aqui me presto Dios

The expression translates into Until now God borrow me. People tend to use this expression while telling a story in which you believe you were about to die. The Costa Rican phrase for “I thought I was going to die” is pense que hasta aqui me la presto Dios!

Buena Nota

The literal translation of this phrase is “good grade.” Most of the time, this phrase is used as a way to say thank you or to mention that a person is good or that they did something nice for you.

The translated phrase “thank you for bringing me the flip-flops” is Buena nota mae gracias por traerme las chaclas. Or the phrase “the guy is nice” translates to Ese mae si es Buena nota in Costa Rican.

This Costa Rican phrase is used most often when talking about people.

Que Pega

The actual translation of this word means “what a stick.” It’s used to describe someone or something that is quite annoying.

For instance: to say “that guy is so annoying” in the Costa Rican dialect would be to say Esa mae es una pega. Or to say “sucks going to the bank” you’d say Que peg air al banco.

Que Torta

This phrase actually translates into “what a patty” in English. It’s used when you lose something, make a mistake, screw up, break something, etc. People also use it when discussing an unwanted pregnancy.

For example: to say “my girlfriend is pregnant” you’d utter the phrase Mae me jale torta con la wila. Another example: “I forgot to bring the passports” is said in Costa Rican Spanish as Que torta se me olvido traer los pasaportes.

Lava Huevos

The English translation to this phrase is wash the eggs. This is another way of saying that someone is sucking up to somebody else.

A good example: to say “that guy is sucking up to the boss” you’d say Esa mae es un lava huevos con el jefe in Costa Rican Spanish.

Esta mamando

The literal translation to this phrase in English is “you are sucking.” This phrase is used when someone is saying something completely wrong or doing something wrong. Or it’s used when you aren’t sure about how to do something.

For example: to say “Alvaro Saborio sucks on the national soccer team” you’d say Alvaro Saborio esta mamando en la sele.

Tengala adentro

The literal translation is “keep it inside.” It means to don’t do it now, or think about it, or take your time.

For example: to say “don’t do it, wait for the results” you’d say Mae tengala adentro espere por el resultado.

Que pelada

The literal translation of this phrase in English is “what a peeled.” It’s best to use this phrase when you do something embarrassing or very wrong. Most of the time this happens in public.

A good example: To say “the national team played so bad” translates into Que pelada se pego la sele.

Que lechero

The word for word translation in English is “what a milkman.” People use this phrase when a person is incredibly lucky.

For example: to say “the guys so lucky he won the lottery twice” in Costa Rican Spanish you would say Ese mae si es un lechero gano la loteria 2 veces.

Que tigra

The actual translation in English is “what a female tiger.” This is a synonym for the word bored or laziness. To say “I am so bored” it translates to Que tigra me tengo. Or to say “I feel lazy to go to work” you’d say Que tigra ir a bretiar hoy.

Deme un toque

This translates to “give me a touch.”

Don’t use this phrase around your friends’ grandparents or other elders. Example: I’ll call you right back translates to Mae deme un toque ya lo llamo.

Perro amarrado

Meaning: tied dog

An example is “I owe money to the grocery store” which is tengo un perro amarrado en la pulpe.

Que Camote

Meaning: what a yam.

It describes craziness. To say “That guy is crazy” you’d use the phrase Ese mae esta camote.


It means parachute. It’s used to describe party crashers.


Translates to parrot.

It’s used as a term to describe cocaine. Be careful when using this phrase because you never know who might be listening.

Al Chile

It means “really” or “are you serious?”

Viejo Verde

Meaning: green old man.

It’s a phrase used to describe perverted old men.


Meaning: soft.

It means take it easy or calm down and its use in a heated argument or conversation. Sauve mae!


Translation: flour.

It’s the Costa Rican slang word for money. It’s similar how people say dough in English.

Pura Paja

A degrading phrase that means bullshit. It’s also used to degrade a man’s genitals.


Translates to glue.

This word is slang for a hangover. After partying all night, and you wake up with a terrible hangover, you might say tengo goma mae.

Rojos and Tejas

It means “Reds and roof tile.”

This is another translation for Costa Rican currency. One rojo stands for 1000 colones in English, which is two dollars and it’s a red bill. A teja is one hundred.

These are very common slang words amongst Ticos and they are regularly used while talking to each other. You will not hear these phrases being used at the bank though.

Choza or chante

If you ever hear anyone saying that they are going to their choza or chante, it means that they are going to their house.


The definition of the slang word is work. If someone tells you that they have to go brete, it means they cannot hang out because they are going to work. They want you to know that they aren’t blowing you off.


Translation: Thingamabob or thingy.

If you ever hear anyone ask you for the chunche, it means that they want you to hand them the thingy over there. It’s also El Chunche, which is Mauricio Montero’s nickname, the Costa Rican futball icon.

More Costa Rican Slang


This Spanish word means “eww, yuck, or gross!” If somebody tells you that your car is wacala, it means they think it’s gross and this is in a good thing. They may also say que asco.


It means fin in English and comes from the word aleta. For example, to say that your armpit smells bad, they would say que aleta.


This is a way to describe something that is cutesy or girly. Something with tassels like a pink bicycle that also has sparkles.


The literal translation is brush, but it’s used to call somebody a cocksucker. If somebody uses this word and says you’re being brocha with your boss, it means that you’re sucking up to them.


The literal translation of this word is goat. But as a slang term, it’s a way that ticos describe their girlfriends, but they aren’t describing them in a flattering way. Example: Hey mae como esta su cabra?


The word is literally translated into elbow. In slang terms, if somebody calls you this word, it means that you are cheap. And not just regular cheap. It means that you are really, really cheap.


This word literally translates into the word case. When ticos use it, they are using it to describe or reference a stadium. Futball is such an important part of their culture, so this word has great meaning to them.


If somebody were to call you jumas, they are saying that you are drunk. This is a slang Costa Rican phrase if I’ve ever heard one.


To call someone bombeta means that you are saying they are kind of crazy or they like to cause a ruckus. They might be somebody that likes to go for it.

Costa Rican Swear Words


Translates to shit.

Picha or Carapicha

Translates to dick or dick face.

Hijo de puta

This means a son of a bit in English.

Se despicho tere

Translated into Costa Rican Spanish, it means he fucked it up.




Obnoxious or annoying person.

Dolor de huveos

This means pain in the ass.

Hecho mierda

To be in bad shape or to feel like shit.





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