What is Pura Vida and Where Does it Come From?

April 19, 2024

"Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding."

– Albert Einstein

"Pura vida" is a phrase that is intimately associated with Costa Rica and its culture that literally translates to "pure life" or "simple life" in English. It is the quintessential Tico phrase that every tourist learns to use ubiquitously to mean “hello,” “thank you,” “oh, well,” and so much more! However, its meaning in Costa Rican society goes much deeper, embodying a philosophy of living life to the fullest while maintaining a relaxed, positive outlook.

Origin and Cultural Significance

Costa Rica famously abolished its army in 1948, under President José Figueres Ferrer. The decision to do so was rooted in a desire to ensure stability and focus national resources on development priorities like education, health care, and environmental protection. This strategic shift has contributed significantly to the peaceful and socially progressive character of the nation, and it aligns well with the "pura vida" lifestyle.

Not long after, the phrase "pura vida" was introduced to Costa Rican culture in the 1950s after the release of the Mexican film "¡Pura vida!" in 1956, directed by Gilberto Martínez Solares. The film features a character who remains optimistic despite unfortunate circumstances, frequently using the phrase "pura vida" regardless of the situation.

The repeated use of "pura vida" by this character in the film resonated strongly with Costa Ricans. It was adopted into everyday language and gradually became a staple of Costa Rican speech, encapsulating the country's cultural identity and optimistic outlook.

Today, the term "pura vida" has been adopted into everyday language in Costa Rica, used as a greeting, a farewell, and a way to express gratitude or contentment. It reflects an attitude that is both optimistic and non-materialistic, resonating deeply with the Costa Rican way of life, known locally as "Tico" culture. This ethos is not just a slogan but a real reflection of how Costa Ricans view life.

The reinvestment of military funds into areas such as education has helped Costa Rica achieve one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America and foster a highly educated populace. The emphasis on education and healthcare has played a crucial role in improving the overall quality of life, making Costa Rica one of the region's most stable and prosperous countries.

Living in Costa Rica

For foreigners dreaming of living in Costa Rica, the allure of a tranquil, tropical "paradise" is strong. The country offers stunning natural beauty, from rainforests and beaches to mountains and volcanoes, along with a reputation for environmental stewardship. However, like any country, it has its complexities and challenges, including economic disparities and environmental issues.

Foreigners considering moving to Costa Rica should be aware that while the "pura vida" lifestyle is appealing, integrating into a new culture always requires adjustments. Understanding and respecting local customs, language, and values are crucial for a fulfilling expatriate experience.


The psychological analysis of these events shows how a nation can channel experiences of conflict into a positive, peaceful identity, both psychologically and culturally. The abolition of the military created a foundational shift towards stability and optimism, which was culturally cemented by the adoption of "pura vida." This phrase not only became a symbol of Costa Rican identity but also a daily reminder and reinforcement of the country's commitment to peace, happiness, and simplicity.

In conclusion, "pura vida" encapsulates a philosophy that might seem idealistic but is deeply ingrained in Costa Rican culture and psyche. It offers a fascinating lens through which to view the country, especially for those considering making it their new home.

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