Costa Rica Culture – What is the Essence of Pura Vida?
Pura vida is the most famous saying in Costa Rican culture and, although its literal translation is ‘pure life’, it’s essentially the embodiment of many aspects of the local way of life. What does pura vida mean? A life lived simply, genuinely and with gusto: this is the core of this very iconic and enticing philosophy.
In Costa Rica, pura vida is so much more than a simple enjoyment life; understanding the origins and uses of this very popular phrase will gift you an insight look into the many unique aspects of Costa Rican culture.
Costa Rica’s Pura Vida – where did it come from?
Although the exact origins of the phrase are unknown, what is known is that it was popularized in Central America by a 1956 Mexican film, called (funnily enough) Pura Vida. Inhabitants of the entire Latin American region are familiar with the pura vida saying but, since the late 1950s, it has become synonymous with Costa Rica.
Of course, everything that pura vida embodies has been an inherent part of Tico culture long before the term was even introduced. The idea that you could have a phrase that explained, in essence, that you ought to just ‘chill and accept the things you cannot change’ resonated with Ticos and its use in Costa Rica has become the movie’s most poignant legacy.
How is pura vida used in conversation?
In Costa Rica, ‘pura vida’ is nowadays used in a myriad of ways which can be confusing to foreign visitors. Firstly, it is often used as a form of greeting. You’ll hear Ticos using the phrase instead of ‘I’m fine, thanks’ or ‘everything’s great’ when they’ve been asked how things are going.
Common uses include: hola, pura vida (when saying hello), salud, pura vida (when toasting with a drink) and ciao, pura vida (when bidding someone goodbye. It can also be used as an expression to denote that all will be fine, even if it isn’t, right now. In this sense, pura vida is like the famous Australian saying: she’ll be right! Oh well, it’ll work out, don’t worry…these are all expressions that can be easily swapped for PURA VIDA in Costa Rica. So it is also commonly used as a way to show acceptance of things that may be frustrating. Costa Rican bureaucracy? Ay…pura vida. Things don’t go according to plan? Oy, it’s just pura vida!
SO much more than two simple words!
Most of the time, however, pura vida is not used to replace something else. These are so much more than just two words. In Costa Rica, pura vida also gives a sense of belonging to a culture that places importance on the simple and genuine parts of life. It means you belong; you exalt and you embody the sheer essence of Tico culture.
The spectacular beauty of Costa Rican culture, people, wilderness and wildlife?
That is all PURA VIDA!
- When family is everything
The inherent love of spending time with family is one of the core traits of Costa Rica’s culture. In turn, it is also a core trait of the pura vida philosophy. Mind you, we’re not talking about getting together for special occasions! Since pura vida means every day is a special occasion, Ticos like nothing more than being with family, and as a family, every single day. Extended family living is the norm here and researchers have found this to be one of the many unique benefits of Costa Ricans’ impressive longevity. Grandparents are always included in everyday tasks and meals, as are cousins, aunties, uncles and even the odd lonely neighbor whose family lives abroad.
In Costa Rica, pura vida means including the people you love in your everyday life.
- When simple means so much
Consider this an intrinsic rejection of consumerism and materialism. In Costa Rica, pura vida is not poverty (as some foreigners may wrongly assume), it means not working hard simply to buy more unnecessary things you can do without. Simplicity and a distinct lack of the ‘keeping up with the Jones syndrome’ makes Ticos happy with fewer material possessions. Yes, you need a car, but you don’t need an exorbitantly expensive one that’ll make you work harder and spend less time on things that are TRULY important.
In Costa Rica, pura vida means appreciating the simple (and more important) things in life.
And to be honest…what more do you need when you live in paradise?
- Let the glorious outdoors feed your soul
Time spent out in the sun every day enjoying nature is a pivotal part of pura vida. This is what restores peace and tranquility, what refeeds your soul and what imcreases your Vitamin D and H (for happiness) levels. The worst thing you could do to a Tico? Lock him/her up in a high-rise apartment!
Yet pura vida isn’t only about ‘being” outdoors: it’s also about being active outdoors. Ticos love being on the move and you’ll notice that locals really don’t sit still for very long. Whether it’s working the land, going surfing, biking, walking, doing home repairs and whatnot: the key to pura vida happiness is to be active AND outdoors.
In Costa Rica, pura vida means soaking up the splendors of the sea, sunshine and sensational wilderness whilst keeping fit and active.
- Simple, wholesome, locally grown food
Wholesome meals made from organic ingredients grown on local fertile lands is another core principle of Costa Rica’s pura vida philosophy. The country is tropical and fertile so you’ll find a bevy of amazing fresh produce, alongside home-made breads, cheeses (and just a sprinkle of seafood and meat) on Tico’s dining tables.
In Costa Rica, pura vida means enjoying a slow-cooked, wholesome meal in beautiful company.
Read more about Costa Rica’s Love Affair with the Slow Food movement
Here at Costa Rica Rios, we’re in the habit of using pura vida a lot. Like, A LOT. Everything about our adventure tours embodies the enjoyment of life so you could say the phrase is used non-stop, on every single day of our tours. It just comes naturally when you catapult excited tourist down a zipline, tackle a hair-raising whitewater rapid or speed down the sheer side of a cliff on a mountain bike. If that’s not pura vida, we ask, then what is?!
First-time visitors find it peculiar to hear a term used so often, no matter where they are in Costa Rica. Yet, soon enough, they realize just how versatile the term can be and how it can encompass so many emotions and philosophies.
So join the Tico club and get some pura vida in your life on your next visit to Costa Rica!