Pura Vida in Costa Rica – What It Means

about us

Hi! We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica is often considered one of the happiest countries in the world and we completely agree. One of the main reasons that Costa Ricans are so happy is because they are more relaxed than you are most likely used to.

They have a term to convey this relaxed, happy lifestyle. The phrase is Pura Vida. 

What does Pura Vida mean?

Directly translated Pura Vida means pure life. In Costa Rica the term Pura Vida is used more to say that everything is great, life is good, and nothing is worth getting stressed out over.

It is pronounced “poo-rah vee-dah”

When is the phrase used?

The phrase is used in almost every conversation.

– It is normal to use the words as a greeting.

– It is used to emphasize that something is not a big deal when something goes wrong.

Example: “My day was really stressful. Oh well! Pura Vida.”

– You can use it to respond if someone asks how you are.  

Example: A: “Hi. How are you?” B: “Pura Vida”

– You can use it as a response if someone is apologizing as a way of saying it is no problem.

Example: A: “I’m so sorry I am late! Traffic was crazy.” B: “Pura Vida!”

How can you respond to someone saying Pura Vida?

If used as a greeting or goodbye, just say “Pura Vida” back to them.

What you need to know about the Pura Vida Vibe in Costa Rica

I think sometimes tourists struggle to take on this mindset while visiting Costa Rica, and we get it! 

You of course want your vacation to be perfect and go according to plan.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go that way here. You may deal with bad traffic, rain storms, delayed activities etc. 

We find it works best to go into things with the mindset that sometimes will most likely go wrong and usually this ends up as a funny thing we can look back on.

For example, when we moved to San Jose we needed to sign up for WIFI. It ended up being a ridiculous and humorous experience.

First, we went to the internet provider and had to wait about 30 minutes for our number to be called to meet with an employee.

While meeting with the employee they asked us where we live. There are no addresses in Costa Rica so we had to explain our address like, “20 meters southwest of the soccer field. It is a pink house with a black gate.”

Luckily we brought a friend with us who could do this in Spanish. 

Then, about a week later some guys showed up at our house to install the WIFI.

I expected they would just hand me a router and connect it or something. No, no. These guys blocked traffic on the road, got on our roof, and started connecting wires across the road to the telephone pole. They then stapled wiring through the house.

It was probably about a six-hour project with a lot of breaks for snacks, chatting on the side of the road, long phone calls, etc.

About a week later the WIFI stopped working so we had to go back to the shop and wait again to talk with someone. They said they would send a technician out in about a week. So, again we were without WIFI.

When they finally came out to check, it turned out that they had stapled through one of the fiber optic cables and that is why the internet wasn’t working. They then had to cut the wiring where the break was and rewire the rest.

Ugh! It was a total headache (especially as someone who works from home), but also kind of humorous to watch how relaxed they were about it.  

And, this is just one instance. I could tell you stories all day long of funny Costa Rica-isms.

Where in Costa Rican Can You Fully Feel the Pura Vida Vibe?

I think almost every place in the country has this feeling but a few of our favorites are:

Nicoya Peninsula (specifically Montezuma and Mal Pais)

The Nicoya Peninsula is one of the few Blue Zones in the world. This means that people here regularly live to over the age of 100.

It is believed that a big part of that is due to their diet, being close to their families, staying physically active until an older age, and also taking time to relax.

San Gerardo de Dota

San Gerardo de Dota is not like any other place you will find in Costa Rica. It is a moody little cloud forest town in a canyon. The town lives off of tourism, but most tourists to the country don’t come here.

We love this area for hiking, birdwatching, eating trout, and cozying up by a fire.

People here always seem to be excessively happy and nice. And, for whatever reason, the service at restaurants here is beyond anything I’ve experienced at any other restaurants in the country.

Manzanillo

Manzanillo is on the Caribbean coast and has a bit of a different vibe than the Pacific side. We like it because the beaches are beautiful, there is good hiking, and it is a good jumping-off point if you want to head down to Panama.

People here seem to take everything in stride. Nothing is rushed and because not everyone lives off of tourism they don’t seem to have the same tourism pressures that some other parts of the country seem to have.

How can you adopt a Pura Vida lifestyle?

In our experience, it is somewhat difficult to keep the Pura Vida lifestyle outside of Costa Rica. We love the relaxed lifestyle here, but taking your time to get things done and staying calm doesn’t always translate to the more fast pace lifestyle you are likely used to.

A few things we have realized that work for us are:

– Taking on fewer commitments. This allows us to have more free time to just relax. In our experience, this has helped us a lot in feeling like we actually have the chance to enjoy life instead of rushing from one thing to the next.

– Living in Costa Rica has made us realize how much negativity is in the world and how that gets us nowhere.

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For example, one of our weekly activities is going to our local farmers market every Saturday morning. We love this activity because it is the perfect way to really see this lifestyle in action.

People aren’t typically dressed up to impress, everyone is smiling, people are friendly, and it is just an overall happy existence. 

– We are horrible examples of this because Thomas and I both live so far away from our families, but I think a big part of the happy attitude in Costa Rica is because family is so important.

It is very common for families to get together every weekend and for every birthday for big celebrations of happiness. 

So, instead, we try to at least talk to our families as often as possible and make an effort to see them when we can. I can say, my family definitely brings me joy.

Other Things to Note

  • If you would like to get some Pura Vida souvenirs you will have no problem finding tons of things at souvenir shops throughout the country or at the gift shops in the airport.
  • There is also a brand called Pura Vida Bracelets which you may have heard of. The owner was inspired by the string bracelets sold in Costa Rica and started his own company. If you would like a bracelet in this style, check out all the souvenir stands you’ll see throughout the country. This is the best way to support local artists. 
  • If you are nervous about speaking Spanish while traveling, check out our guide to Spanish.
  • Another term you probably want to know is “tico/ tica.” Ticos is the general term for all Costa Rican people. Tico is the male version and tica is female.
  • If you are interested in learning more about Costa Rica, check out our guide to the culture.

So, what do you think? Are you ready to embrace the Pura Vida good life? If you have any questions about planning your trip to Costa Rica don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

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