Pura Vida in Costa Rica: an attitude to life

“Pura Vida!” Pedro shouts in my ear and seems to be in a great mood. Have we met? Pedro is the guy that picks me up at San José airport and he immediately reminds me of Baloo, the bear, which could be due to the special way the words come out of his wide mouth, so full of life. All right then, let’s do that. Let the Costa Rica adventure begin!

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Pura Vida Costa Rica

A good mood usually suits me quite well. Except after 40 hours of travel or to be precise three long-haul flights, including an overnight flight that was cancelled due to a volcanic eruption in Costa Rica, which was why I had to return to New York. My condition upon arrival at San José Airport the next morning is hard to put into words what is probably not necessary, because my dark circles surely speak for themselves.

We jump in a Toyota pickup truck and drive off. “Pura Vida!” it shouts at me again, but this this time it is written on a huge billboard. “Welcome to Costa Rica!” And it suddenly shoots through my mind, that this probably is just the advertising slogan of the country. But why the heck did Pedro just welcome me with an advertising slogan? And what does that really mean anyway, “Pura Vida”?

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida Costa Rica: Welcome to the jungle

As it will turn out in the next six days of my trip, the phrase has a major importance throughout the Costa Rican culture. It stands not only as a form of greeting, that locals use to welcome me and others, but also for curious children that stare at this white man from head to foot with big eyes.

It stands for the start of an eventful day and the beginning of a sleepless night, for hugs and sales transactions, for arriving and departing passengers. For lovers and flirters. For a smile. For hope. For emotions. For pure life. As an expression of eternal optimism.

Pura Vida is anything but boring, because no visitor to Costa Rica will ever be bored. The small country is simply too full of adrenaline, full of excitement, full of adventure, that it’s hard to find a quiet moment.

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida Costa Rica: Nature can’t be greener 

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida Costa Rica: Ferns tall as palm trees and forests full of butterflies

Pura Vida is a jungle of green that could not be greener; it is trees full of butterflies and the air torn by the joyful cries of brightly colored birds and parrots. Pura Vida is when the picture-book toucan sits down on your arm, making himself comfortable.

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida Costa Rica is a toucan taking a rest in my arm. How cool is that?

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida in Costa Rica: With jungles full of serenading birds nestled on treetops

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida Costa Rica: the country is full of adventure 

Pura Vida in Costa Rica means huge waterfalls hidden in the jungle, so that one is tempted immediately to swim naked. (Note: I could barely hold back) Pura Vida is a dozen volcanoes, of which most are still active (see above). Pura Vida are valleys and mountains which alternate so harmoniously that when driving through the country it simply never gets boring to stare out the window excited like a little kid.

Costa Rica Pura Vida in Dominical
Rainforest that extent to the pacific ocean, that’s very pura vida 

Pura Vida means having one ocean on each side of the country and the possibility to drive from one to the other in just a few hours so you can go sunrise surfing in the morning and having a sunset surf on the other side on the same day. Pura Vida is the outrageously turquoise waters of the Caribbean on one side and the wild waves of the Pacific on the other.

Pura Vida are hours of action and adventure, for example when you tame the forces of the Rio Pacuare with nothing but a plastic paddle.

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Sometimes Pura Vida in Costa Rica means 4 hours of white water rafting, for example on Rio Pacuare

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida also means surfing the untamed Pacific coast

Pura Vida are hours of paving your way through the sultriness and mosquito clouds of the jungle, only for a spectacular view that makes it all worth. Or when there is nothing else to do on Sundays than riding on a horseback through the jungle to a waterfall. Pura Vida!

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida in Costa Rica is a Sunday horseback ride through the jungle to a waterfall

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida in Costa Rica: Chasing waterfalls  

Also very pura vida is the linchpin of the country, San José, a melting pot with an attitude of live and let live, be and let be. With the eternal traffic as pulser and a loud hustle and bustle in the pedestrian zone and with the market yelling at the famous Mercado Central, the capitals big shopping paradise that after a hundred years lost nothing of it’s charm.

Then again Pura Vida is something else, it stands for the Costa Ricans themselves, fun-loving people who like to get up early and stay up late, that let 5 be a straight number and are immensely proud of the great charms of their beloved Costa Rica.

Pura Vida Costa Rica
Pura Vida Costa Rica in Mercado Central, the old market of the capital San José

What confused me on arrival forms itself slowly into a picture. The empty word becomes a phrase, the phrase a life motto. Pura Vida is an expression of the leisurely lifestyle of the “Ticos”, as Costa Ricans are called. For them, time seems to play only a minor role. Friendship, community and a pleasurable life are much more important. A life in which one simply enjoys the moments of happiness, large or small. No matter what your current situation is, life for someone else can always be less fortunate than your own. That is reason enough to celebrate the day and the night.

Six days have been enough to immerse in this positive, life-affirming attitude, and I’m sure that I was able to take parts of it home with me. And after all this adventure a good mood suits me quite well these days. Back at the airport in San José, I turn back to my tour guide one last time and say good bye from afar with just two simple words: “Pura Vida!” I have the feeling that saying this I sound a bit like Baloo, the bear.

Planning a trip? Check out my favorite Costa Rica travel guides:

Once more I can only recommend the Lonely Planet Costa Rica as a travel guide. Especially for backpackers they always have some really useful advice like hostels, bus routes and so on. But there are some good alternatives as well.

Anekdotique was a guest of Minube travel planning app and the Costa Rican Tourism Board. Thank you! All opinions, exaggerations and bad jokes are my own.

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  1. Samantha says:

    Looks like you havd a very pura vida time here 😉 There’s sayings for everything here in Costa Rica, Ticos love to make sayings or “dichos” for every situation and pura vida just happens to be their most beloved. Hope you enjoyed your trip! And don’t worry, they literally say pura vida for everything, even to pick up the phone, say hi, say goodbye, say thanks. Pura vida!

    Reply
  2. Hi Clemens,

    Awesome! Costa Rica is the cleanest, greenest place I’ve ever visited on earth. Any stream I saw was clean, clear and crisp; even in some more of the urban areas. What a blessing to visit and hey, I love that image of the toucan resting on your arm.

    Pura Vida! Vive los ticos LOL…

    Ryan

    Reply
  3. Catherine says:

    Awesome! I think I recognize a lot of the places in the photos. Could you let us know where they were all taken?

    Reply
  4. Madi says:

    Great post! I have never been to Costa Rica but the more I read about it the more I’m dying to go! Your pictures are also breathtaking!

    Reply
  5. Andy says:

    Hey, I want to do a trip through osta Rica. Have you any ideas what I have to see in this beautiful country?

    Reply

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