Costa Rican Slang 101: Some Tico Words Everyone Should Know

Embarking on a new life in Costa Rica involves more than just packing your bags; it’s about immersing yourself in the rich tapestry of language and culture. Slang, a linguistic treasure trove, adds a unique flavor to conversations and reflects the heart of a nation. Just as “y’all” and “aloha” carry the spirit of their respective regions, Costa Rican slang unveils a world of expressions that can leave even seasoned travelers pleasantly bewildered. 

Some of these words are ones you will probably never need to know.  Others have become go-to’s in my conversational Spanish – to the point when I am speaking to non-Costa Ricans they often ask if I learned Spanish in Costa Rica.  To that, I answer: “Absolutely, mae!”

This list isn’t just our personal picks, we’ve researched across a lot of sites and we’ve only included slang that we found two or more citations.  But as with any list, we are picking those we like and we know we are for sure missing some, and others are included that even locals will dispute.  So, without further ado, let’s present some of the more common, and more interesting slang you may want to know.

Common words everyone should know

Gallo Pinto: rice and beans

If you visit Costa Rica then make sure you order yourself a traditional dish, like a “gallo pinto”, which is rice and beans.

Mae: dude, man, bro

Mae is one of those slang words you will hear 63 times within the first five minutes of engaging in conversation with a “tico”. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating by just a bit. But it should be noted that Costa Ricans use “mae” more than someone from the U.S. uses “bro”, “dude”, or “man” combined. And that’s exactly the sentiment. For Costa Ricans mae=bro. So, pura vida, mae.

Pura Vida

This one literally translates to “pure life”, but Ticos tend to use this word for everything – I mean everything! It’s almost more like a mantra than slang. It’s difficult to explain what it means, but “pura vida” can be used to say hello, bye, what’s up?, thank you, or express something really good.

Sodas: small restaurant

In Costa Rica, you’ll probably find yourself eating in “sodas”, which are family-run restaurants that serve homemade food for a few dollars.

Tico/Tica: Costa Rican

You can call people from Costa Rica “costarricenses” or just “Tico” or “Tica”. Often instead of using the diminutive -ito such as chiquito (small) Costa Ricans will instead use -ico, as in chiquitico.

A “mae” on the beach.

Common “Tico-used” words

Al chile: seriously

This word literally translates “to the chile.” It can be used often in casual conversation with the word mae as in al chile, mae (dude, it’s true). 

Añejo: messy (person) 

Costa Rican slang for someone who looks messy, or perhaps doesn’t take care of their personal hygiene.

Agüevado/a: feeling a little depressed, sad, or bored. 

Similar to feeling blue. This is often exchanged for bostezo meaning bored or boring.

Banazo: ridiculous

Refers to something that is absolutely ridiculous. It can be directed at a situation, thing, or person. 

Un blanco: cigarette

¿Me da un blanco? (Can you give me a cigarette?)

Bomba: gas station 

Brete: job

You will often hear this word when ticos are getting ready to do any type of work. This means homework, housework, or a job. It is used in verb form as well- “bretear.”

Buena Nota: good people/good things

Translates to good note, which I guess could refer to a good grade. This is when something is pretty awesome. 

Cabra: young woman/girlfriend

Weirdly, the literal meaning is “goat” in Spanish, but it’s a slang term some men in Costa Rica use to refer to their girlfriends or young women. 

Carga: really good at something

Caraga actually means load, but for some reason, Ticos use this word to describe someone who is really good at something.

Choza or Chante: house

Normally, “choza” refers to a hut, which is a house made of wood or palms that you usually see in rural areas. However, in Costa Rican slang, Ticos say to use this word for their houses in general.  So if you are invited over to a friend’s choza or chante, then he or she is inviting you to his or her house.

Chunche: thing

For Costa Ricans, the word “chunche” refers to an object that you don’t immediately name. Just like “thing”. New learners will love this word as it can replace the name of any object you don’t know in Spanish.

Dar pelota: ask for attention.

Despiche:  big mess

A despiche is when everything seems to fall apart or go wrong. Basically, it’s a big mess. Be careful when and where you use, it since its root “picha” is a slang word for penis.

Diay or Idiay: “Um”/Hey/And/What? 

This Costa Rican word is used for a myriad of things. It can be an expression of wonder at something outrageous someone has done (I just broke my foot). It can express confusion, and it is also used like “um” to fill in sentences. 

Embarcar: to get into trouble

Similar to que barco, this word translates as “to get on the boat.” Costa Ricans use it when someone has gotten into a mess that will be hard to get out of.

Estuche: stadium

Literally translating to “case,” Costa Ricans refer to their soccer stadiums as estuches.

Goma: hangover or hungover

Güila: kids, children, boy, girl

Hablar paja: talk crap

Jamar: to eat (can replace “comer”)

Jupa: head

If someone is stubborn, that person may be called jupón (big head).

Mejenga: a game of soccer on the street. (a pick-up game)

Meter la pata: to get into trouble

There are apparently a lot of ways to get into trouble in Costa Rican Spanish, and this is another. It literally translates as “to put your foot in it.”

Metiche: nosy

Pichazo: a lot

Again, be careful when you use it as this word is also derived from “picha”.  It’s used to mean a whole bunch of something. Such as qué pichazo de gente – what a ton of people. Literally “what a dickful of people.”

Por dicha: fortunately

“Dicha” means bliss, and so this phrase translates as “luckily” or “fortunately”.

Presa: traffic jam

Presa in Spanish has a couple of different meanings, as it can be feminine for being in jail, or can mean “prey” or a “dam”. In Costa Rican slang, it means being in a traffic jam.

Rajón or Rajona: bragger

Costa Rican slang for a person who likes to brag.

Rajado: really amazing

When something is “rejado”, it’s really amazing.

Rulear: to sleep

Socale: hurry up

Literally translating to tighten it up, you will often hear this word when people want to go faster (like in a car) or hurry something up.

Suave: calm down/slow down/hold on

If you say this to another person in an argument, it means “calm down.” If you and a friend get into a heated exchange, you can just say ¡Suave, mae! which means “Take it easy!”

Tata: dad

In Costa Rica, tata means “father.” Presumably, it’s easy for even infants and toddlers to say, but it’s still used by grown adults to refer to their fathers.

Tiquicia: Costa Rica

Many Costa Ricans refer to their own country as tiquicia. 

Tuanis: fine, cool, nice, ok

Another very popular Costa Rican slang word is tuanis which is often used to say “cool” or “good.” 

Un toque: a second

Literally meaning “one touch”, this slang refers to something that happens quickly. It is often used with suave un toque to mean “hang on a second.”


Although this word means “rod” in English, Ticos use this as slang when referring to an object, or thing that you don’t immediately name – whether you don’t know the name or simply forget its name.

A Choza or Chante in San Jose


Ahí los vidrios: see you there

¿Al chile?: Really?/Are you serious?

This phrase expresses surprise or shock in response to what someone says. It translates to “Really?” or “Are you serious?”

Ando tras del palo – I am totally lost

Literally means “I’m behind the tree”. this phrase is used when someone does not understand something. It’s not used for talking about directions or location.

Hablar papaya

When someone is talking nonsense, they are talking papaya (the fruit).*

H.P.: bastard

Costa Ricans are known throughout Latin America for using the phrase hijue puta liberally. Hijo de puta literally translates to son of a whore, but Costa Ricans don’t seem to find the phrase offensive and use it in front of children. H.P is the shortening of the full phrase.

Me jalé una torta

Costa Rican slang phrase that is used when someone makes a mess or does something wrong, and then gets in trouble for it. The literal translation is “pull a cake”.

N.J. (Nos Juimos): we’re outta here! (or) Let’s Go!

Shortened from nos juimos, a Costa Rican pronunciation for “nos fuimios” which means we left. You’ll hear this when it’s time for everyone to go!*

Por aquello: just in case

¡Qué barco!: over the top

Literally translating to “what a boat” this saying refers to someone who is doing something ridiculous or unbelievable. It is used to refer to people and not things.

¡Que chiva!: how cool, awesome

One of the most used expressions for cool by all ages in Costa Rica.*

¡Que pega!

In Spanish, to “pegar” means to “stick to”, so it makes sense that when a tico exclaims “que pega!” they are expressing their agitation with something or someone they find annoying. 

¡Qué guava!: what luck!

¡Qué jeta!: no way, wow

¡Qué madre!: bummer!

¿Qué es la vara?: what up, what’s going on

An Estuche in San Jose

Costa Rican slang is more than a linguistic quirk; it’s a testament to the warmth and inclusivity of the country. Beyond the words themselves, these expressions are an invitation to become part of the vibrant tapestry of Costa Rican culture. So, whether you find yourself in a “Presa” (traffic jam) or sharing a meal at a “Soda,” embracing the local slang is a key to unlocking the heart of this incredible nation. 

As we continue on our mission at Your Pura Vida to help you feel at home in Costa Rica, we invite you to share your experiences with these slang terms. Do you often hear them? Do you use any in your conversations? What gems are we missing? Your insights help us connect even more deeply with the community we cherish. 

And until then, as always: Pura Vida, Mae!