Pura Vida: 100% Costa Rica…or is it?
If you’ve ever walked into a Costa Rican gift shop, read a single article on Costa Rica or even just talked to a Costa Rican, there’s a sure chance that you’ve heard or seen the expression “Pura Vida” in some way, shape or form. These two simple words, literally meaning “pure life”, are the perfect description of the lifestyle and attitude of Costa Rica and its happy inhabitants: appreciating the small things, enjoying the simple life, and always having time for a beer on the beach with family.
It’s easy to see that this beloved country slogan far surpasses its casual stateside counterparts like “The Show Me State” for Missouri or “Georgia is for Lovers”. Beyond its most basic translation (pure life), Pura Vida can be used in a wide array of expressions, similar to Hawaii’s “Mahalo”, making it simple for Ticos and tourists alike to embrace the Pura Vida spirit in their daily lives and even in their daily vocabulary.
Here are just a few of its meanings in everyday conversations: “Hi”, “Good to see you”, “It’s all good”, “See you later”, “You’re welcome”, plus many more. The lesson here is that if your Spanish is still a little rusty, when in doubt just say “Pura Vida”. You really can’t go wrong.
Pura Via’s popularity has even made a name for itself in the Urban Dictionary, which appropriately compares it to the “Hakuna Matata” of Latin America.
Something so iconic and integrated in Costa Rica culture must surely have rich, historic roots going back to the era of Juan Santamaria or maybe even the huge and mysterious Pre-Columbian spheres, right?
Lo siento, amigo. As it turns out, Pura Vida was born out of pop entertainment less than 60 years ago.
Believe it or not, Costa Rican historians attribute the phrase’s origins to the 1956 Mexican comedy, aptly named Pura Vida. In the film, the lovable but luckless lead character Melquiades Ledezma is played by the infamous comedian Antonio “Clavillazo” Espino, who stumbles through a series of unfortunate events. Throughout his adventures, Melquiades repeatedly uses the expression “Pura Vida” to refer to people, things, and general sentiments about life despite his unlucky circumstances. In fact, he says it 13 times, which could be considered ironic given his problematic journey if you’re the superstitious type.The film does end on a positive note though, with the misunderstood protagonist winning the lottery for a million pesos.
After the release of the movie, the expression started to take root in everyday Costa Rica lingo. Whether it was just a catchy phrase that people liked to say or a subconscious verbalization of the resilient, life is good attitude of Ticos in general isn’t known or necessarily important. What is undeniable is that Pura Vida just stuck and was a perfect fit.
It later became even more appropriate and socialized during the 80s as the rest of Central America was dealing with political unrest and generalized angst while the tiny Army-less country of Costa Rica continued on peacefully, business as usual.
Then, and not surprisingly, when Costa Rica’s tourism grew in the 90s, Pura Vida took on the rockstar status that it has today, being integrated into everything from bikinis to tour operator names.
Regardless of Pura Vida’s non-quite-Tico origins or how it evolved, it’s impossible to argue that Costa Rica has truly cultivated and embodied the soul of this happy-go-lucky phrase, making it one of the most beautiful and relaxed places on Earth.