Exploring the Real Brand of Costa Rica
My family and I were in Costa Rica earlier this year; it was the dream vacation spot for my ten-year old, who loves sloths. My wife did all the planning with the help of a tour booking company, and I admittedly didn’t spend much time researching the country before we went (outside of my general awareness of the high number of snakes that call Costa Rica home – which scares the crap out of me). Despite the snakes and other things that can kill you, I have to say it is one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever had the good fortune of visiting.
If there were only one Spanish phrase to learn before going to Costa Rica, it would be pura vida, because you can use it in almost any situation.
Pura Vida is used as a greeting and as a farewell; you can use it for “I’m doing well” or “Everything’s cool”; you can use it for “Oh well!” or “That’s life!” It also can be used for “You’re welcome” or “No worries”–or just about any exclamation like “That’s great!” Of course, its literal translation is “pure life”.
What I noticed is that locals say it with an unabashed passion. They believe it; these aren’t just words for them. And you know what? It’s infectious; a couple days there and you feel and believe it, too.
Yet if you go to the tourism websites for Costa Rica pura vida is not stated as part of the tourism brand; “Essential Costa Rica” is. While I am OK with the inclusive and all-encompassing feel of the Essential theme, I feel pura vida is really at the essence of what it is like there. More importantly, months after the trip I remember everything about pura vida. How it made me feel. How fitting I felt it was. Thinking of Costa Rica as “essential” has not entered my mind once.
Costa Rica’s cultural tendency is to focus on, and appreciate, the simple things in life. It also offers perspective on what’s truly important in life as a way of avoiding unnecessary stress (for the lack of a better word) over things that really don’t matter that much. It’s the beauty of getting back to the basics. As a vacation destination, the whole notion of getting back to the simple things in life is spot on. Add the fact that Costa Rica is a naturalist’s dream locale, not to mention an incredibly peaceful country, and you start to wonder if pura vida wouldn’t be a more fitting brand choice for the country.
So where did it come from? In my research I discovered that it may very well have come from a 1956 Mexican film entitled Pura Vida. In the movie the main actor uses the phrase prolifically to describe everything he loves – people, things, you name it.
But regardless of its origins, Costa Ricans have embraced the phrase. They live it. They believe it.
And isn’t that what a brand is all about?