8 Costa Rican Words You Need to Know

ICADSCosta Rica, Culture, Language, Spanish, Tips for travel

If you are planning to visit Costa Rica any time soon we strongly suggest learning some of the country’s most common words. Today we’ll share eight, but trust us, there’s more. While we may give you the definitions to these words, make sure to also remember that your tone, pitch, and body language are essential to understand what people are saying. Soon, you’ll learn why!



This is an expression you have probably heard before. According to Matadornetwork.com, “it tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the Tico approach to life”. Its literal translation would be “pure life”, and it has many meanings, all of which are friendly: “great” or “fantastic,” “hello,” “nice to meet you,” “thank you,” or “you’re welcome.”

Here you have some examples:

  • A: How are you?
  • B: “Pura vida” and you? (meaning “great”).


  • A: Let me carry those bags for you.
  • B: Pura vida. (“Thank you”)


  • A: I just met your friend Mariam.
  • B: She is so pura vida, right? (“She is very nice”).



It is a synonym of “stuff” or “thing”. A chunche could be anything: from a pen to a coat or a bag. Costa Ricans use this word a lot when they do not know the name of an object, so it is easier for them to call it chunche. When hearing this word, body language is important. If someone is telling you something that includes the word chunche, he/she will be probably pointing out the object she/he refers to.


  • Can you bring me that chunche? (pointing to a notebook)
  • My backpack is full of chunches (full of stuff)-
  • My son has a lot of chunches in his room. (Referring to toys).



Although it is a short word, it has a lot of meanings. It is used in very different contexts:

As a greeting: It is very common for a Costa Rican to greet with someone with the word diay? (besides “Pura Vida”).

  • A: Diay, Mark, how are you? (Synonym of hello)
  • B: Pura vida, and you? (Synonym of fantastic)

What happened?: Using the word Diay after a statement could mean “I want to know more information about it” or literally “what happened.” In this case, the tone is really important because it will indicate if the person is asking for an explanation or not.

  • A: I couldn’t finish the exam on time.
  • B: Diay? (what happened).


  • A: Diay, why are you so late? (Asking for an explanation).
  • B: I’m sorry, I missed the bus.

-There is no explanation: Sometimes, when there is nothing more to say, ticos use the word diay. They also use it when they say something, but do not know why it happened.

  • A: I can’t believe this woman came 3 hours late!
  • B: Diay… (I don’t know what happened/ I have no explanation for this).



Chiva and tuanis are two different words with the same meaning: cool, great, or nice. So, you can say something or someone is “tuanis/chiva”. However, tuanis can be used as a greeting too! (Now you see the variety of greetings ticos have!).  The slang “¡qué chiva!” serves more used as an adjective for the words “cool and great”

  • ¡Qué chiva your shirt! (your shirt is cool)
  • Ariana is such a chiva (as a synonym of great) musician!


  • We are going to Puerto Viejo for a week.
  • ¡Qué tuanis! (fantastic).


  • Tuanis, mae? (how are you)
  • I’m great, and you??



This word is probably one of the most common words that ticos (mainly men) use. Mae refers to dude.

  • Mae, did you bring the beers?



Brete/bretear means work/to work. You can hear the phrase “Mary bretea in an office” (Mary works in an office) or “Mary has a lot of brete” (Mary has a lot of work to do).



Upe is a nice way to announce when you arrive at someone’s house. If a tico goes to a house and there is no bell, he/she will say “UUPEEE” out loud!



This is what Costa Ricans call their coffee. When you go to a restaurant, you will probably hear a tico asking for a yodo, no matter what time it is. Most Costa Ricans drink coffee at any time.



Now you have new words to add to your vocabulary. Soon, we will bring you more Costa Rican expressions. For now, start practicing these!

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