Do I need to learn Spanish to live in Costa Rica?

In a word, Si! “Why,” you ask, “when there are so many gringos living in Playas del Coco?” If you plan to live in Costa Rica, you need to learn Spanish in Costa Rica. Let me explain a bit.


Because you will be happier, which is why you are moving to Costa Rica in the first place! Humans are social creatures that need to interact with those around them, and in Costa Rica ‘those around you’ speak Spanish. Speaking the local language will endear you to your neighbors and give you a sense of community. It will ease frustrations and help avoid misunderstandings. Most importantly, it shows respect for your adopted country.

So what’s the best way to learn Spanish in Costa Rica? There are many Spanish schools in Costa Rica.  In fact, you can enroll in one right in Playas del Coco, like Pura Vida Teaching or Instituto Estelar. The commitment of going to school forces you to learn at a pace much faster than just picking it up on you own in between surfing and napping.

how to learn Spanish in Costa Rica

But if you want to try home schooling yourself, phrase books and online tutorials can prove useful in the early stage, experts say, as they can give you the vocabulary building blocks you need to have basic conversations.

“The biggest barrier in the beginning is the lack of confidence,” says Benny Lewis, an engineer who has learned several languages. “That got better and better for me [as I spoke].”

Do you speak Spanish

Simply not being afraid to speak is necessary if you are going to make progress in a foreign language. You won’t make much progress if you don’t open your mouth. Don’t be afraid to take risks or make mistakes. At first you will speak a bit like Tarzan: “Me Joseph. Who you?” You might feel pretty stupid at first. However, Ticos are very patient and truly appreciate someone trying to speak their language. At the same time, they like to practice their few words of English, so show them the same consideration.

Experts believe that total immersion is key to mastering a foreign language quickly. Instead of studying grammar and memorizing lists of words, connect with the locals. You can, for instance, do volunteer work or strike up conversations at the supermarket, in restaurants, and at the beach. By conversing regularly with native speakers, you also have someone to check—and correct—your progress. This is really important so as to correct bad habits from the start. From then on, practice will make perfect, or almost perfect anyway. It doesn’t matter how basic your skills are, keep pushing yourself to speak. Many who have learned Spanish find that the experience is made up of climbs and plateaus. You will feel you’re making rapid progress at times, and then none at all for what seems like an eternity, only to suddenly enjoy another burst of fluency.

Methods to learn Spanish in Costa Rica

This doesn’t mean you don’t have to study. You should try to study Spanish at least an hour each day. Unfortunately, there are no miraculous short cuts, and you can’t learn through osmosis. Language learning is based on repetition—hammering something into your brain over and over again until you remember it. To learn grammar, use podcasts at sites such as or As you learn, be sure to consume media in the foreign language. If you are starting out, read illustrated children’s books, watch cartoons like “Peppa Pig” or watch familiar movies in Spanish (no cheating with subtitles!).

Carry a dictionary (paper or electronic) at all times. This will allow you to find the necessary word at a moment’s notice, which is especially important when you are having a conversation and don’t want to disrupt the flow of the conversation. Using the new word immediately in a sentence will help you to commit the word to memory. You can also be thumbing through the dictionary while waiting in traffic or in line at the bank. You could learn an extra 20 or 30 words a day this way!

Spanish questions

Change your language settings on all your electronic devices so that you can pick up words you know already in English but not in Spanish. Some find it helpful to listen to songs in Spanish, look up the translation to see what the words are, and then sing along.

Should you study Spanish in Costa Rica? Yes!  But don’t set your sights too high, like planning to be fluent in two months. You will likely be disappointed. Better to be modest and underachieve than to be a frustrated perfectionist. Remember why you moved to Costa Rica—to relax and enjoy the Pura Vida (look it up)!

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Is it possible to lose weight in Costa Rica, the carb-laden land of rice and beans? Are you doomed look like a mound of sand while sunbathing on the beach? Is contracting the random parasite the only hope of ever feeling your hip bones again? There is no need for dieting in Costa Rica. Chayotes and picadillos to the rescue.

While The Parasite Diet is certainly effective, it is not particularly easy to contract due the abundance of potable water in this country. And it is a miserable way to go, requiring you to stay indoors and restricting you basically to one room of the house, if you make it in time. If you know what I mean.

Actually, Costa Rica is a great place to eat healthy and lose weight. If you decide to live here, you might even be able to keep it off. If you are just visiting and you wolf down a Big Mac combo meal on the way home from the airport, maybe not.

Here are 4 reasons Costa Rica is a good place to diet, but remember you need some exercise as well:

1. Fresh fruits and vegetables are inexpensive and abundant. Since they are often sold by the side of the road, pulling over and rolling down your window makes buying fruit just like going through a drive-thru, if that is your customary way to obtain food. Pineapples, papayas, and watermelons are enormous, sugar-sweet, and sold year round. Mangos and cantaloupes are seasonal, but when they are “in” they are everywhere! Most larger towns have farmer’s markets on the weekend where you will find tables piled high with vegetables. Some US vegetables might be missing (like sweet potatoes), but their absence is compensated for by many local vegetables that may quickly become new favorites. And there is still a type of sweet potato called “camote”—it just isn’t very orange inside and the taste might vary a bit from what you are used to.

Costa Rica fruit market
Costa Rica Fruit Market

2. Picadillos! This is a local dish made up of finely chopped vegetables combined with a small amount of meat. Some local and lo-cal favorites are green beans and carrots or chayote with a bit of ground beef. Season your picadillo with lots of garlic and fresh oregano from your neighbors yard and YUM! Eat the whole pot-full if you like. Speaking of chayotes…

chayote picadillo


3. Chayotes! This vegetable is a dieter’s best friend. The chayote looks a bit like a big, green pear and grows gourd-like on a vine. They are prolific and therefore always inexpensive—you can buy 3 for less than $1.00 if your neighbor doesn’t give you a bucket full for free. An entire chayote (6” long) has only 39 calories. Peel it, remove the seed, and then chop it up into small cubes and saute it for the aforementioned picadillo. Or steam slices, coat them in egg and fry in a pan to make “chancletas.” Add them to a broth-based soup, blend them for a creamy curry soup, or bulk up a salad with steamed and chilled chayotes. Just don’t eat them raw. That’s weird.


4. Lean meats. You know those ribeye steaks marbled with fat that you can buy in the States? You can’t buy those here. Why? (Well you can but you pay an arm and a leg for it but ask me and I will tell you where you can get that type of beef cheaper than North America) Because our cattle roam a range that gets pretty sparse toward the end of the dry season. No feed lots for beefing up (get it?) the cows here! Our Brahmas are range-fed, roaming in search of green grass, just trying to stay alive until they can get to the slaughterhouse (the irony!). You may have to work to tenderize the meat a bit, because IT IS LEAN. Having said that it is actually better for you as it is grass feed versus gain feed, but that’s a whole different subject. I believe the pigs are raised in confinements, however the pork is still relatively lean. When I buy ground pork, I have to add fat to the pan to keep it from sticking.

lean beef

So, whatever diet you are doing—Atkins, Paleo, Keto, South Beach, or counting points with Weight Watchers—Costa Rica is your friend. It doesn’t hurt that all those beautiful baked goods you see in the bakery window have no flavor whatsoever. Just a heads’ up. Baking is not a Costa Rica forte in my opinion.

Remember along with the great options in food to help lose weight, don’t forget to enjoy the outdoors and get your body moving. Take a long walk along one of the great beaches here. Go for a hike in the rain forest or maybe even attend a yoga seminar. Just do it.

Now make yourself a fresh fruit smoothie and head to the beach! After swimming a couple of laps, lay down on your towel and…wait! Are those my hip bones I feel?

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