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Basic Spanish Phrases For Travel – Costa Rica

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As you head to Costa Rica on your next vacation, you probably want to at least learn to speak a few basic Spanish phrases to the locals- and I’ve got the perfect guide to Costa Rican Spanish- plus a handy free printable!

I’m positive I’m biased, but I think I learned Spanish in the best country in the whole world to do so! Costa Ricans are known throughout Latin America for their laid-back attitude and very clear pronunciation of Spanish. The combination of these two traits makes it the ideal place for anyone to practice their Spanish – from novice to fluent speakers.

Add in the fact that the tourism industry has been booming in Costa Rica for many years, so if you are visiting Costa Rica for the first time, you will find many ticos (as Costa Ricans call themselves) speak excellent English. 

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The ultimate list of Spanish phrases for Costa Rica with kids. 

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Still, it’s important when you learn a language to have a few words and phrases handy that you know you’ll be using frequently. In Spanish speaking countries, even trying to use just a few common Spanish phrases goes a long way to show respect to locals. 

Here are 16 simple and common Spanish travel phrases that any traveler to Costa Rica will find helpful as they explore one of the most beautiful countries on Earth.

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I’ve also included a quick explanation of when and how to use each phrase, so that you will be culturally appropriate when you practice your Spanish.  

If you feel like you’ve got a good handle on Spanish, check out this great post on Costa Rican slang. I guarantee you will find a few hilarious phrases you’ll have a lot of fun trying out!

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List of Common Costa Rican Spanish Phrases

  1. Buenos días –  (bwe-nos dee-as)  – Good morning

It is customary in Costa Rica to greet everyone with this phrase, even if you do not know them.  It is especially common to say this when you are walking into a room where there are already people (such as at breakfast) and before starting a conversation or asking a question.

2. Buenas tardes – (bwe-nas tar-des)     Good afternoon

The same custom for use of buenos días is also used for buenas tardes, which is also used as a leave-taking phrase.  “Afternoon”  in Costa Rica is considered until 6 p.m.

3. Buenas noches (bwe-nas no-ches)     Good evening/good night

Again, the use of buenas noches when entering or exiting a room and before beginning a conversation is customary in Costa Rica.

Hola (oh-la)     Hello

Hola is used in the same way that hello is used in the United States- it’s a very conversational Spanish phrase.

4. Por favor (por-fa-vor)     Please

You can never use this phrase too often in Costa Rica, which values gratitude and politeness!

5. Gracias  (grah-si-ahs)     Thank you

Another phrase that you really can not overuse.  

If you are considering a family trip to Costa Rica, check out our ten reasons to visit Costa Rica. We bet that after reading, your next international vacation will be a Costa Rica trip! 

6. ¿Cómo le va? (Koh-mo lay vah)     How’s it going?

Costa Ricans use this more formal question in all situations where Americans would use the phrase “How’s it going?”

7. Bien (byen)     fine, well

This is the most common response to the question how’s it going? Most Costa Ricans will not answer otherwise until they know you well.

8. ¡Pura Vida! -(pu-dah bi-dah)     Great, awesome, wonderful, no worries, good people

The Costa Rican national phrase, it means anything positive. It’s the most important Spanish phrase in Costa Rica. Use it liberally and watch others smile at you. 

9. Mucho gusto (moo-cho guhs-toh)     Nice to meet you,  you’re welcome

-When you first meet someone new, you will simply respond mucho gusto.  Also, when someone tells you “gracias”  you can also respond by saying mucho gusto.  Costa Rica is one of the only countries that regularly uses “mucho gusto” as both “you’re welcome” and “nice to meet you.”  

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Additional Basic Spanish Phrases for Travel

10. ¿Habla inglés? (ah-blah een-gles)     Do you speak English?

This is another one of those Spanish phrases for travelers that is especially helpful.

11. ¿Cuánto vale? (kwan-toh ba-leh)     How much is it?

-It’s a good idea to ask how much things cost in advance or agreeing to pay for them, and this phrase is the most common way to pose the question in Costa Rica. Costa Ricans generally do not use cuánto cuesta, which is more common in the rest of Latin America.

12. ¿A qué hora es …..? (ah ke or-ah es)  What time does… start?

Time is relative in Costa Rica, and it is a good idea to ask what time things will begin, but also be flexible within a half-hour each way.

13. ¿Dónde queda …? (dohn deh kay dah)  Where is…?

Distance can also be relative in Costa Rica, and it’s a good idea to ask about your mode of transportation too!

14. ¿Aceptan dólares? (Ah-sep-tahn doh-lah-rays)   Do you take dollars?

Many places will take, or even prefer dollars.  This doesn’t mean you will get you change back in dollars if you don’t have exact change.

15. ¿Puedo pagar con tarjeta? (Pwe-doh pa-gahr cohn tar-heh-tah)  Can I pay with a card?

Costa Rica is super modern in this respect, there are so many places that take cards.  Expect to show ID during the transaction and for Costa Rican merchants to pass along any transaction fees to you.

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Hi- I’m Christa! I fell in love with Latin America in my 20s, and I’m still head over heels! Here at Pura Vida Moms I celebrate what it means to be bicultural- Costa Rican recipes, bilingual parenting and family travel.

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5 Responses

  1. Thank you for this post on common phrases; very helpful! I tried to print the printable version mentioned at the end, but i kept getting an error message that the link no longer worked?

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Christa profile image

Hi- I’m Christa, and I’m on a mission to help the world fall in love with Costa Rica through food, travel and language. I’m a mom of two Latinas, bicultural, bilingual (English/Spanish), and 100% in love with celebrating parenthood in all its forms, (even the sucky parts). I’m so happy you found the site- WELCOME! Find out more about me here

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