Pura Vida: The Basics of Costa Rican Culture

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Pura Vida: The Basics of Costa Rican Culture


When you’re traveling to a new country, it’s always good to have a sense of the local customs and etiquette. Costa Rica and the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle are no different. Below are some of our helpful tips on navigating the country for the first time and the basics of Costa Rican culture.

Pura Vida

If there’s one phrase you should know before stepping foot in Costa Rica, it’s ‘Pura Vida’. Literally translated as ‘Pure Life’, this phrase embodies the heart of Costa Rican philosophy and attitude. It’s a call to enjoy life, stay positive, and be grateful for what you have. It’s not unusual to use ‘Pura Vida’ as a greeting, a thank you, or even a way to say goodbye. Immerse yourself in this mantra and you’ll find yourself embracing the Costa Rican way of life in no time. You may not hear this much if you’re visiting Puerto Viejo and the Caribbean Coast, but it’s a sure thing everywhere else.

Ticos and Ticas

You’ll probably hear the term Tico to Tica during your visit. Costa Ricans affectionately refer to themselves as Ticos (men) and Ticas (women). It’s not derogatory, and this term signifies a sense of national identity that’s rooted in a friendly and informal culture. Costa Rica’s hospitality is some of the nicest in the world!

Anna and I grabbing some lunch at the restaurant
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Embracing ‘Tico Time’ at our favorite bakery in Jaco

Understanding Tico Time

While punctuality is appreciated for tours and activities, casual events might run on ‘Tico Time’ and may start a little later than planned. This laid-back attitude towards time is part of the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle. It’s best to embrace the slow nature of service and not let it frustrate you. The pace of life is simply different than many of us are accustomed to back home.

Tipping at Restaurants

In Costa Rica, a 10% gratuity is automatically added to every restaurant check. While you don’t have to tip anything else, it’s very much appreciated to leave a little more if you’ve had excellent service. Make sure to check the menu which will highlight if the price includes the service gratuity.

Anna and I grabbing some lunch at the restaurant
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10% Service not included in the prices here

Conservation and Sustainability

Costa Rica is a global leader in environmental conservation, and this dedication is reflected in its culture. Whether you’re hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park or relaxing in the white sands of Flamingo Beach, remember to respect the local environment and contribute to sustainability where you can. Pack your trash in and pack it out afterward. Many beaches are lined with trash cans and recycle bins. Use them! We recommend a light and water-resistant backpack like this 15L Osprey Daypack.

Let’s go!

Understanding the basics of Costa Rican culture and etiquette will make your stay more comfortable and enrich your overall experience. So embrace the ‘Pura Vida’, enjoy the local food, and most importantly, respect this beautiful country and its warm and welcoming people.

Are you planning your first trip to  Costa Rica? Don’t miss our complete packing guide for what to bring.

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Cody & Anna

Cody and Anna Traxler

We’re Cody and Anna, and we’ve fallen in love with Costa Rica over the past decade. We’re not experts in every part of the country, but our countless adventures have inspired us to create this travel guide. Our goal is to share our experiences and help you jet off on your own unforgettable journey. Enjoy Ultimate Pura Vida and start planning here 🤙

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