The History of Pura Vida

Life is what you make of it ~ Pura Vida
Life is what you make of it ~ Pura Vida

Pura Vida. These two simple words, literally meaning “pure life”, are the perfect description of the lifestyle and attitudes of Costa Rica and its happy inhabitants: appreciating the little things, enjoying the simple life, and always having time for a cold beer or visit to the beach with family and friends. 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 tourists to embrace the Pura Vida spirit while on their travels. For some, it has even infiltrated our everyday vocabulary, and so if your Spanish is a little rusty, and you want to fit in like a local, when in doubt just say “Pura Vida”!

Something so iconic and integrated in Costa Rica culture surely must have rich, historic roots going back to the era of Juan Santamaria or maybe even to the 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.

c0554cc1fd08dd158a1412fa92793c77After the release of the movie, the expression started to take root in everyday Latin American lingo, and especially resonated with Costa Ricans. 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, this last is not known, nor is it necessarily important, what is undeniable is that the phrase Pura Vida stuck and was a perfect fit for the reflected values and attitudes of the people who live here.

The phrase later became even more appropriate and commonly used during the 80s in Costa Rica, as the majority of Central America was dealing with political unrest and generalized angst, the tiny Army-less country continued on peacefully. Not surprisingly, when Costa Rica’s tourism grew in the 90s, the phrase took on the rockstar status that it has today, being integrated into everything from bikinis to tour operator names.

Regardless the origins of the phrase, it’s impossible go unnoticed that Costa Rica has truly cultivated and embodied the soul of the happy-go-lucky phrase, making it one of the most beautiful, happy, and relaxed places on Earth.


Más Tico que el gallo pinto 

More Costa Rican than spotted rooster

This expression combines two essential Costa Rican terms: Tico, which is what Costa Ricans call themselves in slang, and gallo pinto, literally translated  this means “spotted rooster,” but is also the name of the traditional rice-and-bean breakfast dish of Costa Rica.

Por dicha / qué dicha 

Fortunately or how fortunate

Costa Ricans readily express appreciation for their good fortune and that of others with this term.

“How are you?”                             “I’m taking a nice, long vacation.”

“Fine, por dicha.”                          “Qué dicha! Have a great time.”


Hello, anyone home?

This is a friendly way to announce yourself when you arrive at someone’s home. You will hear this on the regular in a Tico neighbourhood.


About the Writer Lindsey Vast

lindseyLindsey is a travel writer and entrepreneur known for her humorous twist on life. Additionally, she is the Founder of Pura Events Costa Rica (, the best online events calendar in Costa Rica.