Pura Vida: Life Lessons in Costa Rica

Years ago, my parents traveled to Costa Rica and brought me back a red t-shirt sporting the words “Pura Vida.” I understood the literal translation, “pure life,” but I didn’t quite grasp why my parents felt the need to bring this particular message back to me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the shirt, but I questioned the authenticity of the phrase. So, when I learned this past spring that I would be traveling on a Language Immersion tour in Costa Rica, I naturally I thought about that t-shirt sitting in my dresser. While packing my suitcase I couldn’t help but wonder if I would encounter this phrase on tour, or was it simply another overused slogan found in a tourist shop.

Arenal Volcano

Ted/Via Flickr

When I arrived in Tamarindo on a hot, sunny afternoon I overheard my Tour Director, David, finalizing a few tour details. Our tour had just begun and before hanging up the phone, I heard him say those two words I was searching for – Pura vida. As our bus drove past fields of cattle and sugarcane, David explained to our group that this phrase is like the Costa Rican version of “aloha.” Its meaning translates into both hello and goodbye, but also simply means that life is good.


As our trip continued it became clear that not only were these words present everywhere in Costa Rican culture, but as David put it, our tour was the “pura vida” group.” Good luck seemed to follow us everywhere. We arrived in Costa Rica at the beginning of the rainy season, but somehow it managed to rain only at night or while we were on the bus, never preventing us from zip lining or horseback riding on the beach. As we drove toward La Fortuna, David excitedly leapt out of his seat and began pointing. The fog had settled and suddenly you could see Arenal volcano appearing through the mist. He could hardly contain himself. He explained that many people will visit this area and because of the weather they’ll never see the volcano. Pura vida!

One night, towards the end of the trip, it seemed as though our luck had finally run out. Suddenly, the torrential rain that we had been avoiding most of the tour was now relentlessly pouring down on us. After dinner I made a run for my hotel room. I looked forward to curling up in bed with my book while listening to the rain outside. But before I could settle in, a different noise caught my attention. Outside in the courtyard the students, in their sopping wet, multi-colored rain jackets, were dancing and laughing in the rain. Watching them from my dry and cozy room I smiled to myself and thought: Why not fully enjoy Costa Rica’s rainy season with new friends at the foot of a volcano? At that moment the real meaning of pura vida was clear to me. I can now tell you with absolute certainty that it is not just another touristy t-shirt slogan; it’s a way of life.

Take your students out of their comfort zones and into an experience that makes them more open-minded, more confident and ready for life in the 21st century. Wherever you go, your Tour Director will be with you every step of the way and expert local guides will explain the significance and secrets of the world’s most amazing locations. Authentic cultural activities and shared learning moments make every tour an unforgettable educational experience.

Celia at EF Tours

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