It’s the question on any first-time visitor’s mind, is Spanish necessary to get by? Costa Rica’s primary language is Spanish so it would really help if you could churn out a few words. If you’re travelling for a standard family surf vacation, you can probably get away without learning Spanish. Many expats get away without ever speaking a word of the language. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to pick up a few Spanish words. It opens far more doors and enables you to explore the country more intimately.
In destinations like Montezuma you won’t need to speak Spanish. It’s a popular tourist destination and all the locals speak English to communicate with the passing trade. This is especially true in the shops and beach bars you’ll encounter. The same thing applies to surf camps and yoga retreats high in the country’s forests and mountains.
Also, since this is a country which relies so much on tourism, many locals have learned at least a little English as it’s the standard language shared between most visitors.
You’ll have few problems interacting with younger people. Schools actively promote English lessons as they acknowledge it’s such an important part of the country. Foreign investment in surf & yoga in Costa Rica makes up for a large portion of the nation’s total income. Without the ability to speak English, it would deter many of these tourists from visiting.
It’s the older generations you’ll have problems dealing with. English study in the national curriculum is relatively new. Older people won’t have grown up with the language and will have little desire to learn it now. You might need a translator if you’re dealing with them.
There’s so much more to Costa Rica than Santa Teresa and Mal País. These are the destinations everyone knows about. If you want to dive deeper and get closer to the heart of the country, you have to explore the villages and small communities in the interior. It’s what makes the experience so magical.
These villages don’t rely on tourism and still focus on agriculture and handcrafts. They aren’t primitive or backwards, they just have little contact with foreigners because most stick to the coastline and major urban areas.
You should expect to learn some Spanish if you want to visit these places.
The good news is most English speakers will find Spanish one of the easiest languages they can learn. It doesn’t have lots of different tenses and conjugations and it isn’t difficult to pronounce. Most of the words roll off the tongue and even broken Spanish will endear you to the locals.
Many of your hosts will speak Spanish as well as English. Be proactive and ask them to teach you a few words of Spanish. Most will be delighted and appreciate the effort on your part. Even learning the basics like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can do a lot for you. You can let lots of pointing take care of the rest!