The Essence of Pura Vida

Pura Vida translates in many forms here in Costa Rica. To the American ear, it might simply translate “Pure Life,” but to Ticos, as locals are called, it is a way of life, and is used in different contexts during casual conversations. When asked “how are you,” a common response is “Pura Vida,” to emphasize how life is simply a blessing in itself. The persistence of Ticos here to recognize everyday blessings with this phrase is something very special about their culture. This phrase has helped me to better reflect and recognize the gifts that everyday life brings, and how fortunate a lot of us are. It is also one way I’ve recognized cultural unity in Ticos.


One of many public displays of the phrase “Pura Vida” in San Jose.

Besides hearing this phrase spoken frequently, I’ve also seen it translated in the way Ticos live their lives. A lot of the locals  I’ve encountered here operate their lives with a relaxed and friendly approach, and appear very accepting of people as they naturally come. They’re also big on greeting strangers passing them walking down the street. As a result, I’ve felt very relaxed with being myself here and admire the way locals value community with other people.


Locals taking time out to say “hi” and pose for a picture.

Another cultural aspect that I believe reflects the essence of Pura Vida is the country’s history and how there’s not an active military. For over 50 years, the country has been able to sustain itself without the need of a military, and this is something that the Ticos I’ve encountered are very proud of.  They’ve instead invested the funds that would have been used to sustain the military in making sure citizens are educated and have affordable, high-quality healthcare. I admire how Ticos have been able to sustain peace within their nation and with other nations for so long and I feel as though this  is another great example of  cultural unity.


The National Museum of Costa Rica which once served as military base Bellavista Fortress before the abolishment of the military.

One last aspect of Costa Rican culture that I believe captures the essence of Pura Vida  is the level of respect that is practiced here. For example, when simply saying “gracias,” the proper response is to answer “con mucho gusto,” which translates “with great pleasure.” As one of my professors explained, Ticos have a very formal way of speaking to each other. Also, being a guest in several homes, I’ve witnessed the pleasure Ticos get when hosting guests. With this observation, I’ve taken life lessons from Ticos and how much they value courtesy in their culture.

I am very happy for any future students who will experience all the great things that I and other students have experienced. It’s been  an eye-opening experience to be able to come here and learn so much about a different culture. In many ways as people we’re not so different from each other, even if we’re separated by borders, but we all have distinct cultural characteristics that make us special and unique, and I can say I’ve seen the special qualities in Ticos since I’ve been here. They truly capture the essence of Pura Vida.

Lois Charm is the Spring 2016 CEA MOJO Blogger in San Jose, Costa Rica. She is currently a junior at the University of Memphis.

One Comment on “The Essence of Pura Vida

  1. Whenever I hear the term “Pure Vida” I instantly think of Costa Rica and the serenity existent almost everywhere. When I first heard the term, it was on my favorite childhood movie “The Cheetah Girls”. It’s crazy how the conniptions have changed by being abroad. I often still feel the mantra with me even returning from the states. Thanks for sharing!

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