After several days of relaxing on Costa Rica’s west coast and enjoying both paddleboarding and body boarding, our final day has approached all too quickly.
Pura vida: the pure life. In Costa Rica, you’ll see this saying everywhere. T-shirts, billboards, and everything from surf shops to coffee shops. Ticos will bid you “pura vida” in place of “good bye.” Pura vida is the mantra by which Costa Ricans live.
It’s easy to see where it comes from. Costa Rica is a peaceful country and hasn’t had a military since 1948. It boasts both the highest standard of living and highest literacy rate in Central America. It is also home to 615 species for every 10,000 km (6213 square miles)—all packed into a country half the size of Kansas. Imagine. Hundreds of those species exist in no other place on earth. These facts make Costa Rica arguably the most biodiverse country in the world—and Costa Ricans have parlayed that status into a successful ecotourism industry that has increased tourism revenue for the country.
But any pure life—especially one that bases so much of its values upon something as delicate as ecology—requires balance, and balance is a hard thing to maintain. During the 20th century, more than one-third of Costa Rica’s rainforests were lost to deforestation (some sources claim that amount was actually 80%). More than half of that deforestation was to create pasture for cattle ranching when Costa Rica became a major source of beef to North America in the 1960s. The Costa Rican government proudly claims that “27% of the country is set aside for conservation,” but neglects to mention that not all of that 27% is actually under government control. Half of that number is privately owned—and since the government fails to impose stringent laws and guidelines regarding its use, that means that a great deal of rainforest is still at risk. And the success of ecotourism? Well, as one owner of a reserve wryly explained: “everyone in Costa Rica thinks they’re an environmentalist.”
On the other side of that delicate balance, Costa Rica has a number of privately owned haciendas (estates) whose owners have willingly chosen to preserve the land in its natural state in the interest of conservation. The country also has a number of NGOs focused upon conservation work (such as Reserva Playa Tortuga); in fact, some of the best conservation and education efforts in the country are a result of private parties and non-profit organizations, which speaks to the sincere passion that many people in Costa Rica have for protecting their natural resources. After the country’s deforestation reached a peak, it has declined dramatically and efforts to protect and preserve the country’s natural resources has earned Costa Rica a spot in the top 10 countries of the world that have shown excellence in environmental performance. And the cherry on that sundae: USA Today declared Costa Rica the “happiest country in the world” for the second year in a row, a finding that is based upon “measuring ecological sustainability against well-being and life expectancy.”
So, Costa Rica must be doing something right. After spending several weeks here and coming to appreciate the country with all of its natural beauty, its uber-friendly people, and some of the best darned customer service I’ve ever experienced anywhere, I can honestly say that I hope it doesn’t change much in the years to come. I hope that it continues to fight for the things that really matter and manages to maintain that delicate balance.
As always, thank you for joining me in another wonderful trip. Until next time…pura vida!