Pura vida, literally translated, is spanish
for 'pure life', however for the residents of Costa Rica
it has many more connotations that a gringo
(or non-latino caucasian
) would not understand.
In Costa Rica, pura vida has become a universal term which can mean anything good, anything that reflects the happiness that people get from simply living.
For example, you might hear it used as a greeting, as a toast when at a bar or dinner table, or as an expression of congratulations. You might hear it used when someone wins a bet on horse racing, or you could hear someone say 'pura vida' when they get a date with a beautiful girl or a handsome guy.
It can sometimes replace words that you would not expect - for example someone might reply 'pura vida!' when asked what they thought of a movie, a party, a new job or even this season's coffee harvest.
I'm not willing to speculate at this point about more exotic situations where it could possibly be used.
Pura vida has come to epitomise the Costa Rican way of life in many ways. Costa Ricans tend to be more relaxed generally than the people in my country, and in my experience, although they work hard, they take time out to enjoy the rewards of life as well. Much like Cubans, the simple act of living seems be something special to them sometimes.
This is reflected in their willingness to dance at any opportunity. When I was in Costa Rica I found that everyone there dances; from the oldest pipe smoking hombre to the youngest kids. In fact, the older people dance the best, simply because they have been dancing their entire lives. Salsa dancing is popular in Costa Rica, along with other latino styles.
I recommend that if you visit Costa Rica, you immediately start using the term 'pura vida' whenever possible. It will endear you to many people, because you will be making an attempt to understand their culture, and differentiate you from other, less caring tourists.