The Pura Vida Experience

Pura Vida  /poo-ruh vee-duh/
Spanish for “pure life.” Costa Ricans use this expression to mean many things: Hello! How are you? You only live once, eh? What bad luck. Have a nice day!

Ok, so pura vida can mean practically anything depending on your tone of voice. I personally use it most along the lines of “Why not? Seize the day!” This pura vida attitude is particularly helpful when traveling – you never know what good things might come your way when you’re open to them.

In my experience, most Costa Ricans, a.k.a. costarricenses, a.k.a. ticos, either tend to shy away from foreigners or embrace them with eager curiosity. I suppose this attitude toward extranjeros (foreigners) isn’t too different from most other countries I’ve been to; what’s different is that the ticos’ idea of hospitality seems to include extending invites into their homes…10 minutes into knowing you. Here are just a few examples of what I’ve experienced.



Doña Flor
Pura Vida! I did a trek into the rainforest with a hired ecologist. Come dinner time and passenger drop-off, I found myself at said tour guide’s mother’s house instead of my hotel for a cooking lesson! The cook’s name is Doña Flor, and by the time I left, she’d already insisted I stay at her house upon my next visit. (Doña Flor, you’d be so proud – I made picadillo for dinner the other day.)


In downtown San José, I asked a woman on the street for directions. Instead of merely pointing me on my merry way, she said she’d take me herself, claiming it was easier than trying to give me directions. I assumed she was walking that way and would escort me with little effort on her part. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in her car and she was driving me to my destination. (I was in search of a restaurant that wasn’t far away at all.) It never occurred to me that I’d had no sense of self-preservation for climbing into a stranger’s car, and apparently neither did she for inviting a complete stranger into her car. I was in a very relaxed state of keep calm and pura vida. It’s the tico way, and it’s very contagious.

Within less than a 10-minute drive (more than half of which was spent at stoplights), Melba had told me about her children living in the USA, her native Colombia, and her home in the nearby town of Grecia. And then she offered to host me at her house if I wanted to leave my hotel. (Again, no sense of self-preservation, or incredible hospitality? Let’s agree on the latter.) As I was leaving in two days’ time, I politely turned the offer down. However, we exchanged information and have kept in touch. And now I have another house to stay in when I return to Costa Rica!


Daya is a tour guide I met during a tour of San José, bumped into while touring Doka Plantation, and met again during another tour of her native Cartago. By that point, we’d become well acquainted enough to talk about boys and life. Yet it surprised me when, one morning before the start of a tour and I was the only tourist present, we dropped into a market stall so she could purchase a pejibaye for me to try. (She’d mentioned the fruit previously and was shocked I still hadn’t tasted it.) As the fruit is something “you should prepare with mayonnaise,” we popped into a nearby soda (local eatery) where she showed me how to “properly” eat this strange fruit. At this soda, she also fed me with a tamale (which is usually only eaten at Christmas time) and an empanada. She introduced me to agua dulce (“sweet water”), limonada con hierbabuena, and patacones. We shared a meal as good friends might, and began joking about starting our own tour agency.


Needless to say, Costa Rican hospitality has surprised and impressed, and ingrained in me this sense of pura vida. Others I’ve befriended on this trip –expats, locals, and tourists alike– appear to have also embraced pura vida pretty quickly. Can you feel the good vibes? #PuraVida