costa rican slang terms

Costa Rican slang terms are a-plenty, and the ‘Ticos” use them freely and often. With the most common terms (Tico, for instance) you’ll see these slang words used both verbally and in written text.

This article is the latest in our run of Spanish slang guides, a collection of basic slang for different Spanish-speaking countries.

If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, have these terms down before you go and you’ll find yourself communicating with much greater ease.


The first thing any visitor to Costa Rica should learn is the term “tico.” It means “Costa Rican” as in how a local refers to himself or a fellow citizen.

For example:

En Costa Rica, los ticos beben la cerveza de Imperial. — In Costa Rica, the locals drink Imperial beer.


If you have too many Imperials, you may find yourself a bit “goma” in the morning. This is how Ticos refer to a hangover.

For example:

Despues de la fiesta, tenía una goma. — After the party, I had a hangover.


When you have a “goma” you are likely to also be “añejo.” The word refers to one who is sloppy, disheveled, or not well put-together.

For example:

Debes haber festejado demasiado. Te ves añejo. — You must have partied too hard. You look like crap.


Ticos refer to their homes as “la choza,” local slang for the house. Use this word instead of “casa” to sound like you know what you’re talking about.

For example:

Estoy teniendo una fiesta de cena en mi choza en el próximo Miércoles. — I am having a dinner party at my house next Wednesday.

¿Qué es la vara?

How Ticos say “what’s up?” This phrase is casual and eternally cool.

For example:

¿Qué es la vara? Estoy en camino a tu choza ahora. — What’s up, man? I am on my way to your house now.”

El brete

How Ticos refer to being “at work.”

For example:

Estoy en el brete y luego nos vemos en el restaurante. — I am at work, but after I will meet you at the restaurant.

Pura Vida

The most well-known phrase of Costa Rica is “Pura Vida,” which means Pure Life. This term describes the attitude and experience of being in Costa Rica. It’s kind of like the motto of the Ticos.

For example:

El surf de esta mañana fue pura vida. — The surfing this morning was pure life.


When food is being casually discussed or desired, it will be referred to as “jama.” This word can refer to a meal, a snack, a quick energy boost, whatever.

For example:

Necesito algo de hama antes del juego de futbol. — I need some food before the soccer game.


This is how Ticos refer to the term “dude” or “guy/gal.” It’s not gendered — you’ll hear both men and women referred to as “mae.”

For example:

Ese mae siempre usa un gorra rojo. — That guy always wears a red hat.


This isn’t a soft drink. In Costa Rica, sodas are roadside cafes, typically run by a local family, that serve cheap food — the local equivalent of a diner. Prepare to eat french fries, as you may find them served with everything from sandwiches to Patacones.

For example:

Cenamos en un gran soda camino a Puntarenas. — We had dinner in a great cafe on the way to Puntarenas.


Costa Rican for “gas station.” Often, sodas and bombas are located very near to one another.

For example:

Necesito ir a la bomba. No tengo gasolina. — I need to go to the gas station. I don’t have any gas.

Por dicha

This is how Costa Ricans express that they were lucky or fortunate, generally in a casual way. Literally, it means “of bliss.”

For example:

Por dicha, no llegué tarde a cenar. — Luckily, I wasn’t late for dinner.


“Mejenga” refers to a game of street soccer. If you spend any time in San Jose or another densely populated area, you’ll likely see a “mejenga” taking place and may even find yourself kicking the ball around yourself.

For example:

¡Quiero jugar un mejenga esta noche! — I want to play a game of soccer tonight!

Me jalé una torta

If you get busted swiping a french fry from someone else’s plate, you may hear this term tossed in your direction. It literally means “to pull a cake” but is used by Ticos to refer to the act of making a mistake. Sometimes, more seriously than others.

For example:

El se jaló una torta por estacionamiento en un lugar para discapacitados. — He got into trouble for parking in a handicap spot.


Costa Rican for something that is really, really good. If you loved that soda on the way to Puntarenas, you might refer to it as “tuanis.”

For example:

¡Que tuanis este soda! Los papas fritas son muy bueno. — This soda is great! The french fries are very good.


Similar to tuanis, “rajado” refers to something that is great but is used to describe an event or happening moreso than a place.

For example:

El concierto another fue rajado. — The concert last night was really amazing.

Que chiva

Very similar to “rajado”, “¡Que chiva!” is used to describe something that is really outstanding — generally good, though it can sometimes be used to describe someone that is ready to blow. Think of this term as meaning “so outside the box that it is worth noting.”

For example:

¡Que chiva la Gallo Pinto! — This Gallo Pinto is so amazing!

Gallo Pinto

On that note, it’s important to be able to recognize Gallo Pinto because you’re going to see it just about every morning. This is the favorite breakfast of the Ticos — rice and beans, often served with egg and mayonnaise on the side.

For example:

Me gustaría Gallo Pinto por favor. — I would like Gallo Pinto, please.


When a Tico can’t remember what something is called, he will refer to it as a “vara” — the term loosely means “thing.”

For example:

¿Qué era esa vara que solías cocinar los huevos? — What is that thing you used to cook the eggs?

Before your trip, why not move beyond Costa Rican slang terms? Start with our Spanish Survival Crash Course. Each day for six days, we’ll send e-books and audio files to your inbox to help you get a basic foundation for the language, totally FREE!

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