!Pura Vida!: Bizarreness and Conventionality in Costa Rica

While my visit to Costa Rica is drawing to an end, the adrenaline rush of being here has hardly worn off; both the physical and the mental. Today, I got a tattoo to commemorate my incredible experience in this enchanting country. I got a tattoo of a sloth and under it reads “pura vida.” “Pura vida” means “pure life,” and is a mantra my peers and I have collectively adopted after hearing many of the locals we’ve befriended proclaim it. It’s essentially the Costa Rican version of “YOLO” or “live and let live,” as carefree vibes are implied with its every utterance. During my trip to Costa Rica, I have noticed that many of the locals also have tattoos. I’ve seen everything from a wolves to flowers to a snake slithering out of a ghostly woman’s mouth. I found this interesting, considering the culture itself overall seems to be fairly conservative. A majority of the people here are devout Catholics, and I bared witness to this upon visiting the Basilica (Costa Rica’s most popular church), as there was a long line of congregants waiting in the church’s courtyard to worship “The Virgin” and bless their homes by filling up juice cartons and milk jugs of holy water that flowed out of multiple fountains within the church. Additionally, I’ve noticed that the Costa Rican culture neither openly supports the LGBTQ+ community nor openly disregards or shames it. It seems as though the subject is taboo here, as I have seen no homosexual couples holding hands or expressing affection toward one another and have not seen any pride flags or LGBTQ+ paraphernalia being displayed around the country. Interestingly enough, when I was teaching at the private school Colegio de Monterrey, there was what appeared to be a Transgender pride flag displayed in a few places within the school. I snapped a picture in excitement, thinking that maybe a student had come out or the school had it’s own version of a Gay-Straight alliance. However, I learned that the purpose of this flag was to advertise one of the students running for student government; the pink, blue, and white color scheme was affiliated with the student’s campaign, not Transgender or LGBTQ+ pride. I was disappointed to learn this, but was even more disappointed to learn from one of the school’s faculty members that a student who came out as gay a few years ago was bullied into leaving the school by their peers.


I was surprised by cultural aspects other than the abundance of tattoos that contrasted the country’s overall conservative attitude. For example, Costa Rican radio stations are completely uncensored. Also, you’ll see various abstract murals painted around San Jose that are as wild as the music on the radio! Additionally, the notorious red-taxi drivers are known to yell at you for getting into an Uber, the reason being that Uber is currently illegal in Costa Rica. We were surrounded by both Uber and taxi strikes while on our trip; the taxis are upset that Uber is taking their business, but the argument is that Uber is much cheaper and fairer than taxi services (Taxi drivers are able to get away with purposefully driving around the block or taking a longer route to charge their passengers more money). My friend and I were harassed by a taxi driver who cursed at a woman that defended us. When we drove by him after getting in our Uber, he started harassing my friend through the open window about the price we paid for the Uber. My other friends were also yelled at by a lady driving by when getting into an Uber. It was quite stressful, but also exhilarating!


Evidently, Costa Rican culture has fascinating, contrasting aspects to it. Overall, it’s people are extremely kind, helpful, and patient with those of us who don’t speak Spanish fluently, but are trying our best. I even recieved several compliments on my weird, turquoise hair during my stay! It’s interesting to see how Costa Ricans’ strong Catholic faith coexists with their carefree attitude of “pura vida.”

Oh, and in case you’re inspired to get your own “pura vida” tattoo during your next visit to Costa Rica, I’d recommend going to Retro Tattoos and Piercings! Ask for Elizabeth!

Originally written on May 31st, 2019

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