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Top Costa Rican Tico Slang


Preparing for an adventure to one of the most beautifully lush nations in the world? Perhaps still browsing or maybe even settled on a Costa Rica Beach Rental already, but are a little nervous about speaking Spanish? Don’t fret, Costa Rica is often English and International friendly plus we’ve thrown together a few phrases heard often, so you can get familiar before the flight. Phrases that if understood a little, can make a traveler feel right at home in this jungle paradise. From the well-known “Pura Vida” to charming favorites like “El zarpe”, let us take a tour through some of Costa Rica’s best surf breaks, most beautiful beaches, and diverse cuisine using local “lingo” as our guide!


First stop is easily “Pura Vida”. Visitors will see this phrase posted as early as immigration in the airport because these two simple words embody the entire culture of Costa Rica. Translating to “Pure Life”, its uttered as a salutation, confirmation, acknowledgement or description interchangeably, depending on context. The phrase can be correctly used in just about any instance because ,in every instant Costa Rican culture begs for us to slow down and appreciate the moment. Priorities are different in a paradise where every bird, bug, and bush has its own unique and worldly beauty. As a result, with everyone drinking in their perspective moments, things can often happen slowly here compared to the pace of a city. So, sit back, take a breath, sip a “cerveza”(beer), stir up a conversation and get distracted. It’s all Pura Vida “mae”!

But what’s “Mae?” “Another key piece of Costa Rican lingo, visitors will pick this word out of passing conversation frequently. Pronounced similar to the English “my”, “mae” is a slang term for a friend or the person the individual is speaking to. Used very similarly to North American “dude” or “bro”, some extreme cases of slang will start and end sentences with “mae”. Most Costa Ricans under a half-century old will let a “mae” slip in casual conversation on a daily basis, so it’s become synonymous with the Costa Rican culture, and a sure identifier for other native Spanish speakers that that person is Tico, the term used to describe a person from Costa Rica.


“Tico” sounds as though it could be slang as well, but this is the actual technical term for Costa Rican nationals. It’s used so widely that many company names will contain “tico” or “tica” or some form of play on words of either word. It can catch many tourists off-guard since this isn’t a term used internationally, though. You may even be taking a Tica-Bus to get to your Costa Rica Beach Rental, so feel free to add this word to your vocabulary.

 Another couple useful words, if you’re out experiencing Costa Rica’s nightlife, are “el zarpe” and “tuanis”. One might be able to win favor from the bartender if, as a tourist, they reply “tuanis” to being served an Imperial or Pilsen, the local favorite beers. A slang term, used similar to “cool” in English, this timeless local lingo has held strong where, in English, words like “hip”, “rad”, and “fly” have come and gone, replaced by “cool”, which will inevitably be replaced as well. Pronounced “two-on-ees”,that same bartender might reply with a sarcastic, playful “tuanis” if you tell him that Imperial is your “el zarpe”. “El zarpe” is a favorite among expats living in Costa Rica, likely because there isn’t an English word that zarpe(sar-pay) translates to. The term simply means one’s “last” drink, although it’s quite common, and often joked about, to order multiple “zarpes” in an evening.

ElZarpe Just a few of these fun Costa Rican specific words can help make your travel and stay more comfortable and delightful. Ticos are already world-famous for their kindness and hospitality, but each one of these terms are sure to elicit a smile from them along your way and during your stay with Costa Rica Beach Rentals. Stop in next time, where we’ll keep bringing you great tips and insights about things to do and what to know for your visit to the quintessential paradise of Costa Rica.


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