If you are worried about not speaking Spanish for your upcoming trip to Costa Rica, you’re not alone. We remember those days too and hear from lots of others who are unsure of how they’ll get by without much or any Spanish. The good news is that many Ticos (Costa Ricans) have some English skills, and others, especially those working in the tourism industry, are quite fluent. Costa Rica is a Spanish-speaking country, however, and you are bound to get some blank stares in certain situations. In this post, we’ll give you some of the most common Spanish words and phrases for your visit to Costa Rica.
Talking with the Locals
Before we start in on the specifics, there is something you should know about talking Spanish to Ticos. Costa Ricans are in general some of the friendliest people on earth. For this reason, they will usually go out of their way to help you. This applies to speaking Spanish as well so don’t feel stupid if the person you are talking to is correcting your pronunciation or word choice. In most instances, they really appreciate that you are trying and only want to help.
Another thing that goes along with this is that many Ticos are just as shy about their English skills as you are about your Spanish. If you have the confidence to try speaking some Spanish, you might find that suddenly they get up the courage to use their English too. If you both sound bad but somehow figure it out, everyone wins!
Below are some of the situations you’re likely to encounter on your next trip to Costa Rica.
Hola = Hello. This is the basic way to say hello.
Buenos días = Good morning
Buenas tardes = Good afternoon
Buenas noches = Good evening
Buenas = Shorthand way of saying hello, any time of day. It is more casual and works in the morning, afternoon, or evening. You’ll hear the locals use this all the time.
Chao = Bye. The basic way to say goodbye.
Adiós = A slightly more formal way of saying goodbye. We have also heard adiós used as a sort of greeting and goodbye. For example, if you are driving past someone walking on the street and want to greet them, you could say adiós instead of hola. The idea is that you aren’t staying around to chat.
Hasta luego = See you later, or literally, until later.
Hasta mañana = See you tomorrow (“until tomorrow”).
Asking for Things
Discúlpe = Excuse me (when you need to get someone’s attention).
Quiero… = I would like…
Necesito… = I need…
¿Tiene…? = Do you have…? Good to use if you’re looking for a certain item at a store (e.g., ¿Tiene Tylenol?)
¿Puedo…? = Can I…?
¿Puede…? = Can you…?
¿Dónde? = Where?
¿Dónde está…? = Where is…? Useful when asking for directions or where something is (¿Dónde está el baño? Where is the bathroom?)
¿Cuanto cuesta? = How much does it cost?
¿Acepta tarjetas de crédito? = Do you accept credit cards?
¿Habla Inglés? = Do you speak English? Some Ticos might reply un poco (a little).
¿De donde eres? = Where are you from? Los Estados Unidos is the United States; Canadá is Canada. Remember that America is used to describe North, Central, and South America.
Sí = Yes
No = No
Tal vez = Maybe
Claro = Of course
In a Restaurant
¿Para tomar? = What would you like to drink? This is usually the first thing a server will ask you.
Agua = Water. You might want una botella de agua (a bottle of water) or agua del tubo (tap water).
Una cerveza = A beer. Check out our post about the most popular local beers.
Vino = Wine. Vino tinto is red wine and vino blanco is white wine.
Café = Coffee. The server will ask you ¿Café con leche o negro? (Coffee with milk or black). Don’t worry, they always bring sugar packets.
Refresco naturale = A fruit drink with ice (hielo).
Batido = A fruit smoothie. Con agua means blended with ice and con leche means blended with ice and milk (milk shake).
Popular Local Dishes
Gallo pinto = Breakfast dish of rice and beans mixed together, served alongside eggs and fried plantain. Sometimes comes with fried local cheese (queso), toast (tostadas) or tortillas, and fruit (frutas). Gallo pinto literally translates to painted rooster.
Huevos fritos = Fried eggs
Huevos revueltos = Scrambled eggs
Casado = Lunch Plate. Casado translates to “married” and this traditional lunch dish truly has a marriage of flavors. The dish usually consists of rice (arroz) and beans (frijoles), a protein like meat (bistec/steak; chuleta de cerdo/pork chop; or pollo/chicken) or fish (pescado), and several side salads like green salad (ensalada verde), pasta salad (ensalada pasta), etc.
Arroz con pollo = Rice with chicken. This is a fried rice dish that is very flavorful. Instead of chicken (pollo), you might also see rice with shrimp (arroz con camarones) and other variations.
Sopa = Soup. Common soups are olla de carne (similar to beef stew), sopa de mariscos (seafood soup), and sopa negra (black bean soup, usually with a poached egg). Soups are typically served with a side of white rice.
Para llevar = To go (for your leftovers)
La cuenta, por favor = The bill, please. In Costa Rica, the server won’t bring this unless you ask for it.
Servicio = Service. This is the 10% added to the bill for tip. You can add more if you like.
Impuestos ventas = Sales tax (13%)
Estación de buses = Bus station
Parada de bus = Bus stop
Tiquete = Ticket (for the bus, ferry, etc). Not all buses use tickets but it is good to ask. ¿Necesito un tiquete? (Do I need a ticket?).
Taxi = Taxi
¿A donde va? = Where are you going? What’s your destination?
Voy a… = I am going to…
Pare aquí = Stop here
¿Esta es la calle a…? = Is this the road to…?
Lleno con regular, por favor = Fill it with regular (gas) please. Gas stations in Costa Rica are always full service.
La llanta necesita aire = The tire needs air.
We hope these simple Spanish words and phrases will help you feel more comfortable while traveling to Costa Rica. When we first visited almost ten years ago, we had zero knowledge of Spanish and got along fine. Just remember, the one term you need to learn is Pura Vida. This can mean hello, goodbye, and that’s great, but the real meaning is more of an attitude that you will discover once you arrive and will never forget.
If you’re looking for a lot more helpful words and phrases, we highly recommend the pocket-sized Costa Rican Spanish Phrasebook by Lonely Planet. This is what we used to carry with us when we were newbies and it got us out of a lot of jams.
Notice anything essential missing from our list? Add it to the comments below!
Looking for more resources for your upcoming trip? Check out these posts:
- Costa Rica Wildlife Guides: Our Picks – One of the biggest draws of Costa Rica is the magnificent wildlife. Be prepared with these books in your backpack.
- Driving in Costa Rica: What to Know Before You Go – Hit the road with confidence. This post shares some essential safety tips and lots of general info about what it’s like to drive in Costa Rica.
- Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials – It’s one thing to forget your toothbrush but have you thought about the must haves you’ll need for here in the tropics? This post will get you started.
- Money Matters: Currency, Exchanging Money, and Tipping in Costa Rica – Everything you need to know about Costa Rica’s currency, including the best ways to exchange money once you get here.