Pura Vida Costa Rica….(pronounced poo-rah vee-dah)
“Pura Vida” refers to the very relaxed lifestyle where people do not worry about money, luxury or materialism; but just enjoy life.
Costa Ricans are very laid back, unhurried, educated, non-violent and friendly people.¹
When I started to work as a volunteer coordinator in 2011, I had to usually do an orientation about the country. Those first two statements were always something that I mentioned, but I didn’t really go too into depth.
Technically, “Pura Vida” translates into English as “Pure Life.” But in Costa Rica, foreigners can hear this Spanish expression in informal settings as a greeting, a farewell and as a way to express gratitude or satisfaction. It can also refer to someone who is nice and friendly.
Examples of how you can use it:
-¡Hola Cristina!, ¿Pura Vida? –Hi Cristina, ¿Pura vida?
-Muy bien, gracias a Dios. –Very well, thank God.
–¡Muchas gracias! –Thank you very much!
-¡Pura vida! -¡Pura vida!
-¡Nos vemos mañana! -See you tomorrow!
–Pura vida, ¡chao! –Pura vida, bye!
-¿Usted conoce a Cathy? -Do you know Cathy?
-¡Claro! Ella es muy Pura Vida. -Sure! She’s very Pura Vida.
In recent blog posts, I have been doing research into our culture. I’ve been exploring our main characteristics, the good and the bad ones, and our idiosyncrasies. I got curious about how this “Pura Vida” lifestyle ties into Costa Rican culture.
As local, there are questions that come to my mind. I’ve heard that I live in the “Pura Vida land,” and it makes me analyze some of the cases I have seen of:
- Foreign people who moved to Costa Rica to live and do business
- A big community of expats that grows every year
- Tourists who leave the country with a Pura Vida Costa Rica tattoo
- People who fell in love not only with the country, but also got married to a Tico/a (My mom, for example, and 2 of my best friends)
- People who left saying that Costa Rica changed their life!!!
I asked myself: Why do people decide to move to Costa Rica to retire? How is life out there for them to make that decision? For how long will they think that Costa Rica is Pura Vida? How strong was their relationship with Ticos to make them decide to move here?
Don’t get me wrong—we feel extremely proud when we see these things happen. It’s just something that we forget when we are sometimes surrounded by bad news, the constant nagging about how expensive Costa Rica is, crime rates increasing, social development standards and all those problems in our society.
So I want to dig a little deeper into the phrase “Pure Life” to understand why Costa Rica is called the happiest country in Latin America².
Origins of Pura Vida Costa Rica!
As I explain in the blog 17 Most popular Costa Rican slangs, the phrase itself became popular around after a Mexican movie called ¡Pura Vida! came to Costa Rica 1956.
According to José Melendez—a Costa Rican journalist who has researched about the origin of the phrase³—In the 1970’s, Costa Rica was one of the few countries in Central America that had no standing army.
Also, we were accepting many refugees from neighbors (Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador), who told stories of war, which seemed so different from life in Costa Rica.
So the optimism expressed by the phrase seemed ideal to be our slogan phrase.
“Pura Vida” is even found in Costa Rican Spanish dictionaries.
“Pura Vida Costa Rica”: Identity or mantra?
According to a study from Anna Marie Trester at New York University ³:
A person choosing to use this phrase thus is not only alluding to this shared ideology and identity, he/she is at the same time constructing that identity by means of expressing it. Language is a very important tool of self-construction.
The tourist sector uses the phrase Pura Vida for so many brand names, hotels and souvenirs. Sometimes seems that it is just a marketing strategy, but the reality is that people use the phrase to create a collective identity.
The author of the study that is mentioned before also wrote:
Remarkably, a vendor at a crafts market went so far as to say that “if a person leaves CR without buying a Pura Vida T-shirt, he/she wasn’t in CR.” This brings me to the last use of the phrase which I am calling the evocative, as it evokes a meaning that is shared, understood and agreed upon by the community. This use of the phrase really gets at the heart of the matter – why this phrase is so popular and what it really means to the people who use it. It is emblematic.
The Pura Vida Mantra:
I witnessed lava flow down Arenal, soaked in natural hot springs, zip-lined thru the jungle, understood (and enjoyed) eco-tourism, paddled a kayak to a remote waterfall, took on class 5 river rapids and toasted my Imperial (local beer) to amazing sunsets.
I truly began to understand the ‘pura vida!’ mantra. Yes sir, I lived. – Craig from Stayadventurous.com
Altogether, it’s been interesting when I hear people who like this national attitude and embrace it as a life philosophy. Pura Vida basically invites you:
- To encourage the appreciation of life’s simple treasures
- Also to slow things down
- To celebrate good fortune
- and to refuse to take anything for granted
People decide that they will take this attitude to their lives and try to embody the laid-back lifestyle. When they are stressed or sad, they will think of the “Pura Vida Costa Rica” mantra of everything is nice, “tranquilo.” They will repeat it to themselves and relax. How cool is that!
Deeper meaning of the words
In conclusion, Costa Rica is not a perfect country without corruption. We don’t have the perfect economy, and our nature conservation needs to be more.
Our idiosyncrasies include things like “Tico Time,” being always on the good side, avoiding conflicts, making fun. Everything is slow and we don’t get things done on time. BUT we have a culture, a lifestyle, a philosophy to give to the world that also is part of our identity: Pura Vida. This philosophy makes us happy and can make this world surrounded by negativity happy!
Happiness, well-being, conformity, and satisfaction is what “Pura vida” reflects; it identifies a Costa Rican wherever he/she may be.
- uVolunteer,2012. Orientation Presentation Costa Rica. Recovered from personal file.
- CNN Español. 20 March,2017. ¿Por qué Costa Rica sigue siendo el país mas feliz de Latinoamerica?. CNN Español. http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2017/03/20/por-que-costa-rica-sigue-siendo-el-pais-mas-feliz-de-latinoamerica/#0
- Trester, Anna Marie. 2003. Bienvenidos a Costa Rica, la tierra de la pura vida: A Study of the Expresssion “pura vida” in the Spanish of Costa Rica. In Selected Proceedings of the First Workshop on Spanish Sociolinguistics, ed. Lotfi Sayahi, 61-69. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project. www.lingref.com, document #1008.