There are so many reasons why Costa Rica is unlike anywhere else on earth.
It’s not just the incredible diversity of landscapes – volcanoes, rainforests, mangroves, and mile after mile of breathtaking beaches. It’s not just the government’s commitment to human rights, democracy, and the abolition of its army – way back in 1948. And it’s not just the laidback, kindness and witty sense of humor of its people – one of the 15 happiest countries in the world, according to the World Happiness Report.
It’s all of these things and more. Visit the country, and you’ll see how Costa Rica is a place whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Costa Rica is Pura Vida.
Firstly, what is the motto of Costa Rica? It’s Pura Vida.
If you’re coming for a visit, then you definitely need to know how to pronounce Pura Vida. Just pucker your lips and say, poo-rah vee-dah.
Literally translated, the Spanish expression Pura Vida means “Pure Life.” However, in Costa Rica, it means so much more.
So, what does Pura Vida mean, really?
It means “yeah, that’s great,” “right on,” “things are excellent,” “he’s/she’s a goodie,” and “Pura Vida, life is good,” in addition to just about any other upbeat exclamation you’d like to make.
The term Pura Vida even means “No, but that’s ok.”
If you’re chatting with a buddy, and really want to show off your impressive command of Tico slang, say “Pura Vida, Mae!” Which lightly translates to “Right on, dude!”
As the unofficial motto of the people, the expression essentially sums up the culture of Costa Rica. A country where family and friends come first, where stopping to chat with your neighbor is a given, and where strangers are welcomed with open arms (and usually a touch of Tico humor).
The Pura Vida Story
According to the University of Costa Rica, what is considered the most important Costa Rica Spanish expression actually originated in the 1956 Mexican movie “Pura Vida,” by Gilberto Martínez Solares.
Throughout the film, the protagonist takes artistic liberty with the saying and applies it whenever his luck takes a turn for the worse. Likely why the phrase was so easily adopted into Costa Rica’s dialect and generally optimistic worldview.
Later, according to the country’s largest daily, La Nacion, by 1970 the motto was used ubiquitously in Costa Rica and formally recognized (appearing in dictionaries) by the mid-1990s.
The Pura Vida life in Costa Rica
If you’re traveling in Costa Rica or have visited in the past, you’ll know precisely what the Pura Vida lifestyle is all about. It’s about really appreciating the moment and not letting the small stuff get you down.
From the Atlantic and the Pacific Coasts to the steaming crater of Rincón de la Vieja and the highest peak of Cerro Chirripó, you’ll find the phrase Pura Vida rolling off the tongues of just about everyone you meet.
What do Costa Ricans do for fun that’s Pura Vida?
If you haven’t gotten it by now, this should do it: What makes the saying Pura Vida so effective, is that Costa Ricans apply the mentality to everything in order to keep – even mundane – things, FUN.
Apart from that, the country is packed with beauty, excitement, and adventure. Surrounding the capital city, San José, you’ll find the idyllic Poás Volcano National Park, waterfalls worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, and countless coffee farms.
Leave the Central Valley, and you’ll discover six more big and boisterous volcanoes, bubbling hot springs, misty mountains draped in cloud forests, steamy lowland jungle rainforests, wetlands teeming with birdlife, and of course, world-class picture-perfect beaches and unbeatable surf.
Lastly, when coming for a visit, don’t forget to pack your Costa Rica essentials. The most important being a Pura Vida mentality, followed by sunscreen and a sun hat, your bathing suit, good shoes for walking and playing, and a light jacket for those chilly mountain nights.
Pura Vida, Mae!