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

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.