¡Viva La Pura Vida!
‘Taking the time to appreciate the world and our existence within it.’
Beth Evans | 3 December 2017

Much more than a catchphrase to draw in tourists by the millions, Pura Vida is actually a commonly used phrase in Costa Rica. It is used by locals to say anything from hello to goodbye - simply expressing the exuberance and joy of living. The phrase translates to “pure life” and it is much more than just a saying: for the Ticos - the people of Costa Rica - it is a way of life. Costa Rica was placed 12th in the 2017 World Happiness Report – could this mentality be the key to their success?

A good equivalent would be Hakuna Matata from Disney’s The Lion King – it represents a stress-free, laid-back view of life, where you surf the waves of life’s natural ups and downs. The concept requires an appreciation and a gratefulness for the good in life, and encourages you to not dwell on but learn from the negatives. This life philosophy applies to almost every walk of their lives - emphasising well-being, happiness, purity, and looking out for other people, animals and the planet.

In addition to kindness and hospitality, the attitude of La Pura Vida plays a part in many different aspects of Costa Rican life. For example, during our visit last summer, my family and I learnt that one of the key components of a Costa Rican diet was rice and beans, served three times a day: on offer at any buffet be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. The Ticos swear by this combination to get you into the “blue zone” and make you live until 100. The diet is also based almost entirely on locally sourced foods, helping to reduce carbon footprint and ensuring local businesses can thrive. They are proud of their country and their local products, from bananas to coffee, hence the distinct lack of global brands such as Starbucks across the country. Locals can also be heard to refer to “Tico time,” which turns out to be simply a nice way of saying perpetually late; with such a laid-back view of life, the Ticos would regularly turn up several hours late for meeting friends, perhaps one of the more inconvenient sides of the phrase.

On a broader scale, however, the effects of this view of life are perhaps much more beneficial. Costa Rica’s prioritisation of the conservation of the natural world has allowed it to become one of the world’s leading countries in this area, with 98.1% of its energy in 2016 coming from renewable resources, and with the country having a goal to become carbon-neutral by 2021. Costa Rica has also introduced a tax on hydrocarbons, the money from which is then used to fund the national system of payment for environmental services, creating a positive, upward spiral. In addition to this, Costa Rica’s conservation efforts are exemplary, with 25% of the land in the country being protected and with the small country having 20 national parks, twice as many as the UK despite being little over a fifth of the size. Of the 1.7 million tourists who visit the country each year, 80% of these partake in ecotourism activities, meaning tourism that is aimed at aiding conservation efforts. These efforts to conserve the environment benefit Costa Rica in more ways than one, as they also create the appeal that brings so many tourists to their country - greatly boosting their economy.

Finally, Costa Rica is a very peaceful country, favouring tolerance and diplomacy over hostility and warfare, and therefore having taken the bold move of abolishing its army in 1949. As a result of this, the government is now able to spend much more money on healthcare and education in the place of military spending, leading to a literacy rate of 96% and a life expectancy of 79.3 years. The country is also home to many peace organisations such as the American Court of Human Rights, the University for Peace of the United Nations, and the Earth Council.

So, what can the rest of the world learn from Costa Rica and their Pura Vida? We can learn that environmental efforts and peaceful foreign policies are not only viable but also bring about huge benefits. Perhaps we can also learn to take a step back from life every once in a while to relax, appreciate the beauty of the world and our existence within it, looking past the small stresses of daily life to see the bigger picture, and accepting the negative whilst embracing the positive.

See this article translated into Spanish: https://inkstudents.co.uk/article/la-pura-vida

Original Image by Beth Evans.

James Routledge 2016