What is the Meaning of Pura Vida?

We’ve had a lot of questions about the meaning and origins of the Costa Rican phrase Pura Vida. Our Costa Rica country correspondents give their thoughts on Pura Vida and what it means to them.

The Meaning of Pura Vida

JMA on pura vida
John Michael Arthur

If there were only one Spanish phrase to learn before coming to Costa Rica, it would be pura vida, because you can use it in almost any situation. It is used as a greeting and as a farewell; you can use it for “I’m doing well” or “Everything’s cool”; you can use it for “Oh well!” or “That’s life!” It also can be used for “You’re welcome” or “No worries”–or just about any exclamation like “That’s great!”

Pura vida does translate literally as “pure life.” But like most literal translations, that isn’t actually the best or most accurate English explanation, as you can see from the above examples. Growing up in the South there was a similar use of the word “pure.” It was common to hear your grandmother say something like: “That’s just but pure bull!” The idea was that it was “nothing but” bull.

I think the most accurate, equivalent translation of pura vida is: Nothing But Life.

Where did the phrase Pura Vida come from?

For me personally pura vida represents Costa Rica’s cultural tendency to focus on and appreciate the simple things in life. It also offers perspective on what’s truly important in life as a way of avoiding unnecessary stress (for lack of a better word) over things that really don’t matter that much. It’s the beauty of getting back to the basics.

jackie minchillo on pura vida
Jackie Minchillo

In terms of origins of this unofficial slogan for Costa Rica, well, nothing is certain, and I’ve asked a few Tico friends as well and been met with “huh, good question!”

But! One working theory is that the origin of the phrase as its used today is from the 1956 Mexican film “Pura Vida.” In the movie the main character was played by comedian Antonio Espino “Clavillazo” and throughout the film he uses the phrase to describe people, things and actions, but in every instance the meaning is essentially “good” or “nice.”

According to Victor Manuel Sánchez Corrales, a researcher at the University of Costa Rica, it’s a case of migrant words that settled in Costa Rican Spanish, and by the 1980’s Pura Vida specifically was widely used in Costa Rica as a result of its peaceful atmosphere which was in stark contrast to the rest of war-torn Central America at the time.

Costa Ricans embraced the phrase and by the mid-90’s it had started being incorporated into dictionaries as a Tico idiom.

Pura vida today is a way of life in Costa Rica and the slogan is a perfect fit, whether it originated here or not.

Expats all around Costa Rica have discovered that living the pura vida lifestyle has many benefits. Some of them explain exactly what it means to them in the article below…

Embracing the Pura Vida Way of Life in Costa Rica

By Nazareen Heazle

Pura Vida…it’s Costa Rica’s slogan, as well as being a way of life. The direct translation is “pure life” but it’s so much more than that. It’s living the good life…cherishing simple pleasures…spending time with loved ones…and enjoying a slow, relaxed pace of life.

And the good life is exactly what Costa Rica offers. There’s a climate and location to suit every taste…from the cool mountain towns, surrounded by coffee farms and a lush green landscape, in the popular Central Valley…to the warm Pacific-coast beach towns where dozing in a hammock in the afternoon sun, with the clear waters lapping the shore nearby is almost a requirement…to the rain forest surroundings of Lake Arenal, where a close-knit community of expats has been coming for years.

And it’ll cost you less than back home. You can stuff your shopping bags with a week’s worth of delicious fruit, vegetables, bread, meat, and cheese from the local farmers’ market for $40 and expats agree that a budget of between $2,000 and $3,000 a month (depending on where you live and the type of lifestyle you lead) will see a couple living very comfortably here.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what some of the expats already living around Costa Rica have to say about this retirement haven.

Gloria Yeatman and her husband Paul moved to the Central Valley town of San Ramon in 2009, and Gloria says they’ve never looked back.

“We love our lives here and have developed some great friendships with Ticos and other expats alike,” she says. “San Ramon is located at about 3,000 feet, so we have spring-like temperatures all year round. We just love having our doors and windows open all day.

What is the meaning of Pura Vida in Costa Rica
Expats in the Central Valley take full advantage of Costa Rica’s pura vida lifestyle.

“With rent, healthcare, and a car, our monthly budget usually stays below $2,000 for everything. Even though Costa Rica may be more expensive than many other Central American countries, we are finding it possible to live a good life for less here.”

For Ray Granade, life in the U.S. just got too fast-moving. He and his wife Kim moved to the Lake Arenal area in 2013. “We used to live in the fast lane but the small-town atmosphere here is good for us. I can confidently say that, overall, we are comfortable and happy for less money than we would be spending in the States.”

From their home in the hills they enjoy panoramic views of the lake as well as sunsets and sunrises. And on clear days, they can see all the way to Lake Nicaragua far to the north.

When Russ and Cindy Miller embarked on their Costa Rica adventure, they wanted an ocean view and preferred a more remote and mountainous location. They found it in the country’s Southern Zone.

“The beautiful mountains overlooking the ocean captivated us immediately…it was exactly what we were looking for,” says Russ. “Our life now is so much more laidback than in the States. From morning coffee on the patio to a nice glass of wine at sunset, everything feels more relaxed here.

“You’ll often hear Costa Ricans talk about pura vida…now, living here in the Southern Zone, I fully understand it.”

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