10 Ways to Truly Live the ‘Pura Vida’ Life in Costa Rica

10 Ways to Truly Live the ‘Pura Vida’ Life in Costa Rica

This laid-back Central American country’s official motto translates loosely to "pure life" or "full of life." But it's more than a phrase—it's a way of life.

If you summed up Costa Rica in two words, locals and tourists alike would agree: It’s all about “pura vida.” The catchy phrase means “pure life” or “full of life,” and is a greeting, a farewell, or an ‘it’s cool’ response to just about anything. The words reflect an emotion, an attitude, and the whole Costa Rican way of life: simple, carefree, and optimistic. It’s a concept that sounds pretty good, right? You should embrace it yourself—but how, exactly? Pura vida and no worries, friends. Here’s 10 easy ways.

Where Did The Phrase ‘Pura Vida’ Originate?

1. Watch the movie ¡Pura Vida! In 1956, Mexican director Gilberto Martínez Solares released his film titled ¡Pura Vida!. In it, the film’s main character finds himself caught in a web of misfortune. After being exiled from his hometown as a source of bad luck, he is accused of robbery and arson. Despite the adversity, he remains upbeat and positive. Thirteen times, he optimistically utters the phrase pura vida to refer to people or objects that work in his favor. The phrase was adopted by Costa Ricans in the late 1950s, gained popularity in the 1970s, and is today considered the country’s motto.

2. Wear a pura vida bracelet. Sure, the country’s motto has been commercialized over the years—there’s pura vida coffee, tequila, spas—but we can’t get enough of these pura vida bracelets. Founded in Costa Rica by two travelers from San Diego, the company started when the founders met two poor artisans and brought their bracelets back to California, only to sell out of all 400 within days. Now, they can be seen all over the world as not only a fashion statement, but a wearable symbol of the Costa Rican lifestyle.

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3. Learn the slang. Ticos use several local words that you may not hear anywhere else. Mae is a term that translates roughly to “dude,” though a mae can be a man or a woman. Guaro refers to alcohol, like saying “booze” in English. A tico is a Costa Rican man, a tica a Costa Rican woman. But the mother of all Costa Rican terms remains: pura vida.

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4. Take surf lessonsCosta Rica is known for some of the world’s best surfing thanks to its consistent, year-round waves. Hit the water at Playa Naranjo. Past Liberia on the country’s northern Pacific coast, the beach has strong offshore winds between December and March. Since it’s within Santa Rosa National Park, it’s also a great place to camp out. As one of the world’s most popular surfing hotspots, you won’t have to look far to find a surf instructor. And there are few things as peaceful as being out on the ocean, mastering a wave. ¡Pura vida!

Yoga on beach at sunset, Tamarindo, Costa Rica (Pura Vida)

What’s more pura vida than yoga followed by meditation on a Costa Rican beach? Photo iStock

5. Take up a daily yoga practice. Costa Rica is home to some of the world’s best yoga retreats. For a true getaway, Nicoya Peninsula is a great place to start as it’s virtually free of the tourist crowding and Americanization found in towns like Jaco or Tamarindo. Find a retreat on the coast or in the mountains and get your downward dog on, pura vida-style.

6. Eat healthy, delicious meals. The Costa Rican food scene is healthy, wholesome, and in no way fancy. Parallel with the pura vida lifestyle, it’s basic and beautifully simple. The typical and widely beloved breakfast is gallo pinto, or rice and beans. You’ll find that Ticos eat that combo day in and out, with chicken, beef, or fish as common additions. While the country does now have its share of fast food joints and international cuisine, we suggest keeping it simple—in true pura vida fashion—and going with the classics.

Explore and Discover How Pura Vida Feels

7. Relax in Costa Rica’s hot springs. Costa Rica boasts many accessible volcanoes and rainforests, and these afford some wonderful opportunities for relaxation. In the town of La Fortuna, right at the foot of the famous Arenal volcano, lie Arenal Kioro and Tabacon, both natural hot springs. And what could be more relaxing and pura vida than bathing in the middle of the rainforest, while taking in the sights, sounds, and wildlife all around you?

8. Head into the clouds. There’s a town in Costa Rica’s mountainous northwest that literally takes you up into the clouds. Monteverde is a world above: at 4,662 ft above sea level, this sky-high environment can be explored via hiking trails, tram, or canopy tour. And the high altitude affords several benefits. Being so close to the clouds means it gets a ton of moisture, which gives life to hundreds of species that live in its ecosystem. Here, mammals, birds, insects, and plants all coexist peacefully. Pura vida, no?

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Scarlet Macaw on Perch in Costa Rica (Pura Vida)

A scarlet macaw on a perch. Photo iStock

9. Go birding. The ARA Project is a conservation effort aimed at saving two particular species: the great green macaw and scarlet macaw or the Ara ambiguus and Ara macao, respectively. They’re worth visiting for their colorful beauty and their shrill squawking sounds. Macaws, the largest species of parrot, are endangered. ARA’s mission is to rehabilitate poorly treated birds and eventually reintroduce them back into the wild. At ARA, you’re up for a colorful, life-enriching experience.

10. Find a way to work pura vida into your everyday life. No trip to Costa Rica is complete without closely experiencing nature and wildlife. Add to the mix some well-deserved relaxation and soul-cleansing—and maybe a new bracelet or two—and you’re on your way to living a classic Costa Rican lifestyle. But don’t stop there. Take it home with you. Find your own ways  to make sure the concept of pura vida stays with you forever.

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