Pura Vida: The Costa Rican Way of Life

Costa Rica…you’ve heard of it. You’ve maybe even been there. Or at least you know someone who has. But do you really know what its all about? The people, the culture…the way of life? After nearly nine years of traveling, guiding and off and on living in Costa Rica, I believe that the Costa Rican way of life can be summed up in two words, “Pura Vida.”

“Two little words huh?” you might ask. Well, let me paint you a picture.

Its early morning, the sun has just come up. The coffee farmers are already in their fields picking those beautiful red berries that bring us our precious caffeinated nectar. The ranchers have been out with their cattle and are headed into town for supplies for the day. The streets are filling with pedestrians and honking cars. People are on bikes with their kid or wife riding between their arms on the crossbar and the sodas are beginning to fill every table with locals sipping on fresh coffee while they await their order of gallo pinto. If you wander through the streets of this scene and begin to listen to how people converse with each other, you will hear those two little words over and over again.

As the coffee farmer was on his way to his field, he saw his neighbor who said hello and asked him how he was on this beautiful morning. His response was, “Pura Vida!”

As the rancher walked into town, he saw an old lady walking slowly down the sidewalk in front of him. He noticed that she dropped something. He promptly runs up to her and picks it up for her. When he hands it to her she says, “Pura Vida!”

In the soda with smells of fresh coffee and gallo pinto wafting out for blocks, you sit at a table and begin to hear the conversations around the room. Quickly you notice those two words are being used to describe a variety of sentiments: thank you, you’re welcome, things are good in my life, its nice to see you, don’t worry about it, hello, and even see ya later. And that is just the beginning. If you ask a Tico what these two little words mean, they will answer with pride something like, “Its just what we say.”

As a tourist, you arrive to Costa Rica and people will translate Pura Vida for you as meaning “Pure Life”. If you were to translate it directly then yes, that is what those words mean: as individual words. If I wanted to say “pure water,” I would say agua pura. If I wanted to say “life is good,” I would say la vida es buena. But when you put those two little words together and blend them with the Tico way of life, they take on a whole different meaning that actually can’t be translated into English. Suddenly, these two simple words come to life and you find that you can express something as complex as “life is short, live it up” to something as simple as “hello.”

Continue around the country, from laid-back surf towns to adventurous meccas like La Fortuna, and you will experience the same thing. Strangers saying hello to one another. Friends chatting with laughter about their lives. People going out of their way to help one another. Someone offering you a helping hand. Someone giving you a reason to smile, or laugh. Someone reminding you to slow down, take it easy… tranquilo, life is too short to stress. This is life in Costa Rica. This is the meaning of Pura Vida!

So if you’re ever wandering the streets of Costa Rica and someone says hello and asks you how you’re doing, smile and say, “Pura vida” and spread the positive energy that the Tico way of life is known for!

*Spanish Translations:

Tico – Common term referring to a Costa Rican. It is said to be derived from a manner of speech used by the “Ticos” in which they use –tico as a diminutive suffix on certain words. Instead of saying “chico,” (meaning boy or something little) is it common in the Spanish language to say the diminutive “chiquito” (meaning small boy or something very little). The difference is that a Costa Rican would say “chiquitico” using the –tico ending.

Soda – Typical Costa Rican restaurant

Gallo Pinto – a typical breakfast of rice and beans cooked together with spices and topped with eggs any style. Also commonly served with a slice of fresh cheese.

Tranquilo – Relax

Pura Vida – Read the article silly