Livin’ La Vida Rica: 3 Reasons Costa Ricans Enjoy the Pura Vida

Kate Ytell is a student at the Graceland University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Kate is currently studying abroad with ISA in Heredia, Costa Rica.

The view from my homestay that greets me each morning.

Inhaling deeply, I let the tropical air fill my lungs as I absorb the mountainous landscape. Lush green is highlighted by the white wisps of low-laying clouds and glimpses of a bright blue sky. It is easy to let the words pura vida slip from my lips as I exhale. After only a week and a half in the small Costa Rican city of Heredia, it is becoming increasingly clear to see how this phrase manifests itself in the day to day life of the average Tico.

1. Pace of Life

When I first arrived in Heredia, an unexpected amount of noise and activity greeted me on the streets. People walking every which way, others shouting to passersby the names of their wares, cars zipping by, honking and following a set of traffic rules in which most stop signs hold no more value than that of a lamppost. Heredia was supposedly a small town; wasn’t it supposed to be a little bit quieter and a little bit less crazy? With so many things going on around me, I felt like I was in the middle of a huge metropolis. After about five or six days, the shock began to wear off, and I began to see a little more clearly. Heredia is, in fact, small. Nearly everywhere you might need to go is within walking distance. The multitudes of people on the streets were doing just that — walking to wherever it was they needed or wanted to be. And they were walking at their own pace.

Out and about in Heredia

As I rushed around at my usual speed, I quickly realized that I was passing almost everyone. The Ticos were taking their time, strolling along with their shopping bags and chatting with friends. Here, people’s watches are set on tico time, which means things happen when they happen. The sidewalks are often noisy and are constantly moving, but they are free of rush and pressure. The cars, though, move fast, and crossing the street can seem like a game of Frogger. But remember, there’s no big rush to get to the other side. Pedestrians yield to the traffic and wait patiently to cross. When the traffic slows, Ticos pick up the pace and hustle to the other side, where they resume their leisurely stroll, enjoying the sun, tempting smells wafting out of restaurants, and occasionally stopping to sit a while on the bench of a colorful park. Which brings us to…

2. The Great Outdoors

One of the many green spaces tucked amongst the bustle of the city.

Heredia is known as the ‘City of Flowers’, and green parks accented with bright blossoms can be found scattered about the city. At any given time, you can find Ticos enjoying these open spaces, having a coffee with friends or watching their kids run around in the grass. As I said before, nearly everything is easily within walking distance, and this also means more time enjoying the fresh air. I spend at least one hour each day walking, more if I have errands to run or classes that are spaced far apart. If you need to be somewhere in the main part of Heredia, it is easier and faster to walk than to join the traffic on the small, congested streets. That being said, the bus system in Costa Rica is well established, and the quieter countryside and abundant natural wonders are easily within reach. For instance, I caught a bus and spent a day at Volcán Poas with a group of friends last Saturday, only one of many options if you are looking for a day trip. Costa Ricans have every excuse to spend more time outside, and they do just that. Fresh air and a bit of exercise get those feel-good endorphins pumping. It’s no wonder why Costa Ricans have been identified as some of the happiest people in the world.

The breathtaking natural beauty of Volcán Poas National Park and the surrounding countryside.

3. Good Eats

Costa Rica’s breathtaking landscapes also happen to foster a prime environment for fresh fruits and vegetables, main staples in a Tico’s diet. As a fruit and veggie lover, I have been in absolute heaven. I can walk to the nearby market and find every edible plant I could ever imagine, plus some I could never have dreamed up. Fruits and vegetables are cheap, fresh, and accessible, as are rice, beans, and corn tortillas, which add some substance and make for a well-rounded meal. With these foods within easy reach, Costa Ricans enjoy a generally healthy diet. Obesity is certainly far less prevalent here than in the United States. Fewer health problems mean fewer worries. And might I add, my taste buds have never been happier.

The mercados are your best friend. Cheap, healthy, and delicious! What more is there to want?

Less rush, more time outdoors, and plenty of vitamins add up to equal what Costa Ricans know as pura vida, a way of life that allows you to relish in each minute, taking things as they come. I am learning an immeasurable number of things each day, and I am learning to do it all with the mindset of pura vida. Leaning back in my chair on the balcony at my homestay, I take in the expansive mountain vistas that are the backdrop to life here. I can hear the chatter of neighbors in rapid Spanish and a dog barking in the distance. An occasional horn interrupts the twittering of birds. I smile, because I already know I will be taking a lot more home with me than just a suitcase full of souvenirs.

The family dog, Pipo, enjoying a good scratch behind the ear. Ahh, life is good, his doggy grin seems to say.

4 thoughts

  1. Hey! Glad you’re loving it there!!! I studied abroad with ISA last doing for 4 months. I went to Universidad Latina de San Pedro though in San Jose. But still, just wanted to share a little advice! You definitely have to go to Manuel Antonio! It was by far the best beach we went to. The private beach in the park was so cool with little monkeys running around trying to steal anything they could and the water was crystal clear blue. The public beach outside the park was awesome too and the water just as good but with nice big waves! And there is a restaurant called “el avion” that was built from a plain wreck so they say. It is good food and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. We saw the best and most beautiful sunsets there. If you need help getting there, I’m sure Jennifer can help you! We went from tracopa bus terminal in San Jose. Not sure if you have to take a short ride to San Jose first then find the tracopa bus station. Then you take a bus to quepos/Manuel Antonio. Quepos is the town right next to Manuel Antonio and you can get back and forth with their public bus that runs back and forth. Such a great place!
    Enjoy every single second there!!!

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