Costa Rica is a magical country. It’s an island paradise with the best sunsets, the happiest people and anyone who visits falls in love with the place. Or at least I did. People who visit Costa Rica realize it’s not actually an island and get told that if you live here you will lose weight, become happy and stress free and live in a magical pura vida state for the rest of their days.

Lessons learned living in Costa Rica

The slowed down and relaxed pace of life makes it perfect as a holiday destination and it’s easy to imagine how awesome living here will be when sitting on white sand beaches watching the sunset over perfect blue water with a drink in your hand.
And so I made that dream a reality and learned that, despite what was promised, I wasn’t necessarily happier, I wasn’t stress free and I didn’t lose weight. Here are some other things I also learned –

1. Pura Vida is for tourists.

It basically only exists in souvenir shops to sell tourist shot glasses and t-shirts and does not mean “pure life” no matter how many times you say it. When you first arrive you hear the locals say “pura vida” all the time and think it quaint and a great philosophy on life. They say it to mean hello, goodbye, yes, no, maybe, you’re welcome, thanks, I’ll call you later, relax or in any other imaginable human interaction to mean basically anything. Once you have been in Costa Rica for awhile you realize that pura vida is a resignation that life will never change and the sooner you learn to shrug your shoulders and mutter “pura f*#king vida” the better for everyone.

2. How to cycle into a herd of intimidating cattle.

I know the word “intimidating” in front of the word cattle might seem strange to some but believe me when I tell you they are. Sitting in a car protected by windows and doors you can stare with curiosity at the cattle and imagine how many hamburgers they will make as you slowly creep forward and make them move around you.

Lesson learned - riding through cattle

On a bike you are half their size, you are outnumbered and they have horns. And big scary horns too which makes it even worse as they get skittish and unpredictable. I soon learned to follow the direction of the cowboy riding behind them on which side of the road to move to and that as long as you stop riding until the first few cows have gone past you can then start riding past the others while exchanging Pura Vida’s with the cowboy.

3. To actually listen and respond when someone asks como esta?

Unlike in the western world where someone asks how you are then immediately moves on to other topics without waiting for a response they do not do that in Costa Rica. They do actually expect a response and to be asked in return before proceeding with any further conversation.

4. Tico (Costa Ricans) Time exists.

If nothing else Costa Rica will teach you patience. They call it pura vida which is usually just a passive aggressive way of saying maybe later. It might happen tomorrow, or next week, or next year or maybe never but pura vida baby so sit back and chill with the rest of them.

5. Ticos love roads to nowhere.

There will be at least 3 roads going in the direction of your destination but only one will actually get you there. The others will frustratingly dead end for no apparent reason and you will spend kilometres on rough roads backtracking to find an alternative route.

Lesson Learned in Costa Rica - roads to no where

6. Ticos have no sense of distance.

Everything is measured in meters however when they say the shops are only 400meters away it could in reality mean anything from 100 – 900 meters instead. This  becomes an issue when trying to find a specific location when the address given is “300 meters east of the Tennis Court” and after 300 meters you don’t know if you have missed it already or still need to go further.

7. That reason, logic and common sense are not valid ways of thinking or decision making.

Sad but true. I don’t think a western person could ever fully appreciate how decisions are made in this country either at a government level or all the way down to an individual level but they are certainly not made with any sort of reason or logic that I could figure out. Pura Vida.

By now you are probably accusing me of being a bitter expat who is trying to change the country to resemble home but I don’t consider myself bitter about Costa Rica and still love the country. I get frustrated at it’s obvious failings as it seems so easy to fix and the benefits to it’s local inhabitants so obvious but I understand its a process and this is what I signed on for by choosing to live here.
I am actually sad to be leaving as there is something captivating about the country and I am already scheming to return but for now – Pura Vida.

Carry On,