Pura Vida—It’s a typical Costa Rican phrase.
Directly it translates into “pure life”, but there’s so much more to the expression than that.
A more accurate rendition might be ‘to live life to the fullest’, or—like Urban Dictionary so eloquently puts it— hakuna matata.
Pura Vida is a greeting used in passing. It’s an adjective for something excellent. It’s a way of life that embodies the relaxed, happy and peaceful Ticos (Costa Ricans).
It didn’t take us long to discover the Pura Vida lifestyle. We first heard it as a welcome from the man at the farmers’ market who sold us his homemade cheese and then as a goodbye from the woman at the taco stand that didn’t really sell any tacos. We’ve observed the Pura Vida mindset in the friendly handshakes and animated smiles from everyone who passes us on the street. Now that we are in the tourist-center of La Fortuna, we’ve even seen the expression on souvenir shops, hotels and t-shirts.
We know we haven’t seen much of Costa Rica…yet. And we’re only starting to understand what the expression Pura Vida symbolizes to a Tico. However, we’re certain that if ever there was a town that encompasses the Pura Vida lifestyle, it’s San Ramon.
San Ramon is a small University town located amidst valleys, mountains, and cloud forest. The only sizeable town near our housesitting gig, this was our go-to for buying groceries and interacting with civilization. There’s not a ton to see and do in San Ramon, but it’s this lack of tourism that makes San Ramon such a gem in the first place.
One of the best things to do in San Ramon is walk. The city centers on the San Ramon Church, an ideal place to start from (partially because of its centrality but mostly because of the numerous ice cream shops flanking its sides).
San Ramon consists of small stores and restaurants, a lively bus stop and a central market. It has everything a town needs, and we certainly understand why a handful of foreigners have decided to retire in the area.
Apart from the practical necessities of San Ramon, the highlight of the town is its weekend farmers’ market. I love farmers’ markets, no matter where they are, but this one certainly had a special charm to it. It’s quite possible to get anything you might need here, with rows of vendors selling everything from colorful produce and locally made cheeses to freshly cut flowers and organic dark chocolate. The products are priced incredibly fairly whether you’re a Tico or a gringo, and making our purchases without having to barter was a welcome respite from the markets we typically frequented in Asia. But what really got us about the San Ramon farmers’ market was that it oozed of Pura Vida. There was something about the charming welcomes between locals and the heartwarming smiles we received; something in the way my deteriorating Spanish was patiently praised. Each person we met seemed to have plenty of time to strike up an animated conversation with us, inquiring about our lives and how we had made it to San Ramon, talking about the community and the beauty of the area. It kept us strolling up and down the lanes even after we had long finished making our purchases, seeking to soak in a little bit more of the lively ambience while we could.
We look forward to experiencing more of the Pura Vida lifestyle in Costa Rica, though our expectations have been set quite high after San Ramon.
Have you experienced the Pura Vida lifestyle—in Costa Rica or elsewhere? How would you characterize it? What’s your favorite thing to do in small towns?