Understanding the True Meaning of “Pura Vida” in Costa Rica

July 18, 2014
Understanding the True Meaning of “Pura Vida” in Costa Rica

You’ve probably heard the famous mantra of Costa Rica, “Pura Vida”, and even perhaps been drawn toward its meaning, “The Pure Life,” without fully understanding what it’s all about. At least that’s how it was for me before my incredible journey into the heart of the Costa Rican jungle, and my (very) hands-on experience with Costa Rican life through the eyes of an incredibly warmhearted native family.

I was 21 and feeling burnt out from school.  I was aching to get my hands on an adventure so I could start the next semester with my wanderlust at least a little bit satiated. My father and brother both had wonderful experiences with Outward Bound when they were my age, and I had always wanted to join the program and experience my own adventure.

For those who are unfamiliar with Outward Bound, it is a program that specifically designs outdoor wilderness excursions for people of all ages. There are many different expeditions available; for example, my brother did a rock climbing Outward Bound in Wyoming, whereas my father participated in a sea kayaking and canoeing excursion in Maine. Both said they had incredible experiences, and I was eager to join in the fun and have my own taste of excitement.

With incredible beauty surrounding you from all angles and warm smiles greeting you at every turn, Costa Rica is an easy place to feel at home.

As soon as I began researching, I was excited to find that Outward Bound was no longer only a national organization, but had branched off into other countries that had already been calling me for years. When I saw the words “Outward Bound Costa Rica” on my Google sidebar, I was floored and began the initial steps toward signing up. I registered for a program that was what they called “multi-elemental.” We would start with a trek through the heart of the Costa Rican jungle, followed by a homestay with a native family, and end at the stunning beaches for some good old fashioned surfing. Oh, and let’s not forget the white water rafting stint as well! Knowing that Costa Rica was famous for its stunning pipeline waves and its jungles teeming with everything from monkeys to toucans (I saw both!), I was sold. My adventure began.

understanding the meaning of pura vida
Hiking though Costa Rica’s jungles

Once I arrived, it wasn’t hard to see the appeal: Costa Rica literally translates to “The Rich Coast,” and it’s rich in more ways than one. With incredible beauty surrounding you from all angles and warm smiles greeting you at every turn, Costa Rica is an easy place to feel at home. But as I came to find, it goes much deeper than that.

With our heart-racing experience in the white waters over, and our difficult trek through the steamy jungle, I found myself settled in a house in a beautiful valley, unreachable by car or truck. Here is where I discovered the true meaning of this “Pura Vida” saying that I had heard so many times.

It blossomed in my heart as I stared out at the mountains, and as I laid silently in a hammock that was hanging in the middle of the living room because there was no furniture in the house. As my mind was unencumbered by the background noise of television, radio, and idol talk, and filled instead with the sound of meandering rivers, cascading waterfalls, and the cry of tropical birds, I came to experience an inner peace that I could only assume was Pura Vida.

understanding the meaning of pura vida
Julia experiences Pura Vida while lying on her homestay family’s hammock.

As I watched the family unabashedly display playful affection with one another and listened to their laughter, untinged with any of the sarcasm we so often use as humor in America, it settled over me like falling dust. As I caught sight of the youngest son ride freely up to the house on his horse, returning from an afternoon ride through the surrounding valley, I couldn’t help but marvel at the difference in their lives compared to mine, and feel overwhelmed at all that I could take away from their life—the Pure Life—and bring back to my own often hectic one.

I came to experience an inner peace that I could only assume was Pura Vida.

That was four years ago, and as an adult trying to make my way through the hustle and bustle of life, I often have to stop and remind myself of what’s really important. To me, all of it was embodied in that little house in the middle of the valley by the waterfall: Family love, appreciation of nature, and a simple existence. All of it is embodied in living the Pura Vida.

understanding the meaning of pura vida
Enjoying the beach in Costa Rica

Tips: If you are interested in participating in an Outward Bound, you can visit their website here.

If you are looking for a Costa Rican adventure, there are many available. Some even go down to Bocas Del Torro, Panama for scuba diving excursions. You can visit Costa Rica Outward Bound’s website here.

They also have available internships that are suitable for any adventurous soul! Good luck.

About Julia Gordon

AvatarJulia left the United States one month after graduating college to teach English in Thailand. She was there for a total of a year and never got sick of soaking in the colorful culture of Southeast and Central Asia. She caught the travel bug during a two month camping stint in the Utah desert, and since then has lived abroad in 3 countries and visited over 18……with no plans to stop!

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