Costa Rica is “pura vida”!

If someone asked me to describe my country in one or two words, I wouldn’t think twice about it.

Pura vida” would be the answer. The most commonly used phrase in Costa Rica literally means “Pure life”, but the saying goes beyond its simple translation: it’s a way of life. Contextually, then, it symbolizes the idea of simply enjoying life and being happy. As the Urban Dictionary states, it’s a synonym of “hakuna matata” and reflects the relaxed lifestyle of Costa Ricans.

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.

-¡Hola Tamara!, ¿Pura vida?              -Hi Tamara, ¿Pura vida?

-Muy bien, gracias a Dios.                   -Very well, thank God.

 

-¡Diay Felipe! ¿Cómo vas?                  -Hey, Felipe! How’s it going?

-Pura vida, ¿y vos?                             -Pura vida, and you?

 

-¡Nos vemos mañana!                          -See you tomorrow!

-Pura vida, ¡chao!                               -Pura vida, bye!

 

-¡Muchas gracias!                                -Thank you very much!

Pura vida!                                         Pura vida!

 

-¿Usted conoce a María?                    -Do you know Maria?

-¡Claro! Ella es muy pura vida.           -Sure! She’s very pura vida.

 

But where did Costa Ricans take this phrase from? According to a study of the expression by Anna Marie Trester, a film called Pura vida came to Costa Rica from Mexico in 1956, directed by Gilberto Martínez Solares. In the movie, “Pura vida” is the expression of eternal optimism used by a comic character, played by the actor Antonio Espino, who unfortunately can’t seem to do anything right. While a small population used it then, the phrase “Pura vida” was used nationwide by 1970.

Since this exclamation has become so popular in Costa Rica throughout the years, it is now common to find different kinds of businesses named “Pura vida”. Touristic ones such as hotels, language schools, travel and real state agencies, among others, make use of this idiomatic expression, even outside Costa Rica. Along with businesses and advertisement, the phrase is a must in souvenirs of all kinds. That’s the reason why “Pura vida” is even found in Costa Rican Spanish dictionaries.

Happiness, well-being, conformity and satisfaction is what “Pura vida” reflects; it identifies a Costa Rican wherever he or she may be. When you say, hear or see “Pura vida”, the facial expression of the person changes and a smile is drawn on his face. It is a very meaningful word for us “ticos” (Costa Ricans) because it reminds us of home and its beauty.

Just as Dr. Delise Dickard expressed in her article The simple bliss of ‘pura vida, even a tourist can understand what “pura vida” means by spending some time in this small country in Central America.

So, if you want to know what living a peaceful, simple, uncluttered life with a deep appreciation for nature, family and friends, just come to Costa Rica and experience it yourself! ¡PURA VIDA!

Read more:
The world’s happiest country celebrates peace and freedom
What do Costa Ricans eat for breakfast? – Gallo Pinto
Kiss, hug or shake hands? Greetings around the world

About the author

Nuria Villalobos
My name is Nuria Villalobos and I'm Costa Rican. I am a current professor of English as a Foreign Language at Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica, and a former ISEP (International Student Exchange Program) student in the United States. I speak Portuguese and I am currently studying the Teaching of Spanish as a Second Language. I'm passionate about languages, cultures, photography and meeting people from different places.
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35 Comments

  • Great post Nuria! I loved the video too. Now I really want to visit Costa Rica :) Pura vida!

  • My dh and I spent a couple of weeks in Costa Rica two years ago. We rented a little house and rented a car and drove around in the Central Highlands.

    We had a wonderfully relaxing time. We loved the friendly people, and were bowled over by the beauty of the country. We are going back in a few months for another run around and explore the Pacific Coast.

  • Nuria

    Thank you so much Lucy! You’re welcome to Costa Rica anytime, just let me know! :)
    I’m glad you enjoyed being here, MissFootloose! ;) Hope you have a great time traveling around the Pacific Coast, you’ll find the best beaches there!

  • Christina Kang

    I could know and recall what ‘Pura Vida’ means before reading this post!! :)
    Cuanto tiempo sin verte! ?Que pasa?
    Estoy muy bien~ Te echo de menos mucho!! jijiji^^

  • Nuria

    Christina???!!! What a wonderful surprise to hear from you after such a long time! OMG! How are you? Please send me an e-mail! Muchas gracias sis, te echo mucho de menos también!! :)
    It’s great to know you remember “Pura vida”! jijiji

  • Johan

    Ohhh my gosh…!!! Nuria its an incredible job. Honestly, the video has many important components that reminds us our priceless country. Moreover, this poster can clearly explain to everyone what “Pura Vida” mean…
    Congratulations!!!
    I´m very proud to have someone as capable as a teacher.

  • Muy interesante…I am glad to know the origin of the phrase that truly represents life in Costa Rica. I already looked for the movie on NetFlix – no dice, but would love to see it. Thoughts?

    Additionally, Costa Rica and its mantra ‘!Pura Vida!’ played a tremendous role in my life. Here is something I wrote for those interested in learning more…. : http://bit.ly/8zZJp1

    Stay adventurous,
    Craig

  • Nuria

    Thanks a lot for your nice words Johan! :) I’m glad you liked it! Pura vida!!!

    Craig, thank you for your comment! I would also like to see the movie, I’m gonna look for it in the video stores here in Costa Rica…but it’s a really old film…mmmm, maybe we can try Amazon?
    I loved your post about Costa Rica, so nice to know about your traveling…I hope some day I can write a similar post about my dream of traveling the world! ;) Let’s keep in touch!

  • Fabio

    Nuria, you are the best, thank you to express to the world the meaning for Pura Vida, our real expression to say that We our TICOS and we are really proud.
    Regards,

  • Nuria

    Thanks for reading Fabio!!! :) Pura vida!

  • It was great and refreshing reading this about our country. I think no one could have put it better.

    Thanks for such wonderful article

    May Ling

  • Sean O.

    In the movie “Easy Rider”, one of the bit-charaters uses this phrase. Always made me laugh after living in CR.

    Sean O.

  • Nuria

    Thanks a lot May Ling! :)
    Sean, I’ve never seen this movie but now I want to! I’m curious: Does the character use the phrase “pura vida” correctly? lol
    I’ll look for it! Thanks!!

  • I didn’t know the expression ‘pura vida’ before, but it is charming – nice to know that there are places where people are uncomplicatedly happy, unlike in western Europe where there is much cynicism

  • Nuria

    Thanks Robert!
    You’re welcome to Costa Rica anytime! ;)

  • Nice promo video! Costa Rica and the music make me happy. In 2012 Costa Rica ranking again high in worlds happiest people! Pura Vida! Jo

  • Nuria

    Thanks for your comment, Jo! Yes, we are ranked first again, pura vida! :D

  • Laura

    I went to Costa Rica about a year ago with People to People as a student ambassador and I thought it was amazing :) Just the way Costa Rican people are, they are so friendly and the life style over there is so simple and happy. I wish I could have stayed longer then the 2 weeks I was there but I learned so much in those 2 weeks and got to see a lot of the country. The saying Pura Vida is one of my favorite sayings I learned while there..and the Costa Ricans deffinately live it :) I wish everyone could learn it and travel there because it deffinately changed my life and made me appreciate everything in life more. Costa Rica is one of the happiest countries I think its because of Pura Vida, they live simply, surrounded by beautiful nature and they are just so nice. I’d love to go back there sometime!

  • Nuria

    Thank you so much for such wonderful words, Laura! ;) I am really happy you liked Costa Rica that much, and I hope you come back soon! You’re welcome anytime! Keep living the “pura vida” wherever you are! :D

  • Frank

    Just returned from Costa Rica and truly miss it already! Pura Vida is the Costa Rican way of life and what a joyous way to live. The people are the friendliest I have ever met. (and I live in Texas, which I thought had the friendliest people) I visited MonteVerde and Manuel Antonio and enjoyed both immensely…. If you have not been, go and if you have go back! I plan on it next year.

  • Nuria

    Thanks a lot Frank! :D So happy to hear you experienced the “Pura Vida” lifestyle here in Costa Rica, and that you plan to visit soon! Pura vida!! ;)

  • Isabel

    Great article! I’ve been to your beautiful country twice. First for a vacation & the second for Spanish immersion. As a Park Ranger, I felt blessed to have met so many wonderful and like minded people, that care so much about conservation & their community. My experiences in Costa Rica changed my life!
    Pura Vida!

  • Nuria

    Thanks for your comment, Isabel! ;) So glad to know you’ve had such great experiences here in Costa Rica! Hope you come back soon!! Pura vida!! :D

  • Melissa

    I’ve been in Costa Rica two months ago.. I just loved it :) The nature is so beautiful… But I’m from europe and sadly it’s very expensive to travel to costa rica, so I don’t know if I’ll ever be there again… I hope so .. Pura vida :)

  • Nuria

    Hopefully you’ll be back to Costa Rica sooner than you think, Melissa! ;) I’m glad you loved it here! Pura vida!!

  • Nuria, great article and video! I love your country and its Pura Vida way of life. Returning next week for my fourth trip this year, can’t wait! Pura Vida!

  • Nuria

    Thanks a lot Jack! ;) I didn’t make the video, btw. The credits are at the end of it…and yes, it’s a great video, I love it! I’m happy to know you like it here, hope you’ll keep coming back! :D Pura vida!!!

  • I am an American who has visited many countries, but ended up moving to Costa Rica for 11 years. I include my life in Costa Rica in my website which I just started building. Pura Vida.

  • Nuria

    Thanks for your comment, Dusty! It’s great to know you liked Costa Rica so much that you decided to move here ;) Would you share your website with us? It’d be nice to see it! Pura vida!!

  • Suzie Wesner

    Yes; nice to know there is a place to get away from Northeastern united States neurosis, and, anxiety and bullying. Good place to go to get away from it all. Costa Rica, pura vida!!!!!!

  • Suzie Wesner

    &, not to mention, they rank high in the happiness index………if there is such a thing! Lol, again, happiness to you all and./…pura vida! Ole!

  • Nuria

    Pura vida Suzie!! :) Hope you can make it to Costa Rica soon!!

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