Thoughts Regarding Elements of the Costa Rican Pura Vida Culture

As I exited the airplane on the evening of May 31, 2019, I was filled with nervous excitement. All the planning I had done for the past few months had come to fruition, and I was heading directly towards a truly life-changing experience. As I crossed over the threshold from the arrival bridge, I paused, taking in the welcome that Costa Rica had prepared for its visitors. The ‘Pura Vida‘ (Pure Life) lifestyle sentiment begins right there! I have visited other countries before. Usually there is a large overhead welcome sign in the official languages of the country. Instead, Costa Rica first welcomes you with a forest background message and a bench you can sit upon. This is repeated, with a city view at street level, then the overhead “Bienvenido” (welcome) sign.  Not only are you not in Kansas (or Arkansas) any longer, you are shown from the beginning that you are in a country that truly believes in a balanced lifestyle.

On my first full day, I saw something that I took for granted at first. During the downtown Heredia tour, our ISA staff guide Melissa took us to Heredia Park, the center of the city, and location of the famous city sign. In addition to the park, there is a Catholic church. The next week when I began to ponder the deeper significance of this common design in Costa Rica.  While riding the city bus on a shopping trip, my homestay host repeated something that I knew Melissa said, but had not listened closely enough to make the connection I have made now. Every city in Heredia has a park built in front of a church, but it is not just in downtown areas. Every major neighborhood has this design, dating from when Costa Rica was first colonized. The Church was an integral part of colonization.

Normally, when we look back at the methods of colonization used, and the Church’s role in that period of imperial expansions, we do so negatively. Now I was presented with a way to think with a new perspective. The Church built its cathedrals and churches here, always collocated with a park. Part of the purpose of the park was to draw the families into the church while providing a space where they could engage in family activities together out of the home. Traditionally, especially at that time, Sunday was a church day, and because of that, a day of rest for the people. In my opinion, by providing the parks, the Church was also saying to the people: take some time to rest, to play, to enjoy life!

To me, this is an important part of the Pura Vida lifestyle. Basically, in order to lead a pure life, you must take time out for rest and regeneration. This is one aspect of culture that the U.S.A.  still lacks in a truly meaningful way. I include myself in this statement! In the U.S.A., many of us rush through the day, trying to get as much done as possible, even while on vacation. We even have #teamnosleep as a banner of pride for getting as much of some experience in as possible, sacrificing a basic bodily need. Sleep is where our bodies and brain have the time to heal us, to clear out worn-out cells. Sleep is when we grow. When you sleep, the brain is able to move those wonderful memories out of short-term memory into long-term. I believe that rest we take as a part of Pura Vida is a part of our self-purification process that we should make an honest endeavor to sustain. So, Costa Rica, you have truly opened my eyes, and given me a piece of culture I can use for the rest of my life! Thank you!

 Pura Vida!


Naomi Fletcher is a student at University of Arkansas Little Rock. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and is currently studying abroad with ISA in Costa Rica. 

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