Costa Rica is Central America's jewel. It's an oasis of calm among its turbulent neighbours and an ecotourism heaven, making it one of the best places to experience the tropics with minimal impact. It's also mostly coastline, which means great surfing, beaches galore and a climate built for laziness.

Costa Rica's enlightened approach to conservation has ensured that lush jungles are home to playful monkeys, languid sloths, crocodiles, countless lizards, poison-dart frogs and a mind-boggling assortment of exotic birds, insects and butterflies. Meanwhile, endangered sea turtles nest on both coasts and cloud forests protect elusive birds and jungle cats.

Thrill seekers can fly through forests on zip lines, peer into boiling volcanoes, surf oversized waves and dive with dolphins and whales - all in the course of a normal day. Then again, if you have some serious chilling to do, you can always lounge in a hammock and enjoy the pure life, or pura vida - a national expression that sums up the desire to live the best, most hassle-free existence.

Full country name: Republic of Costa Rica
Area: 51,100 sq km
Population: 4.1 million
People: 96% Spanish descent, 2% African descent, 1% indigenous, 1% Chinese
Language: English, Spanish
Religion: 75% Roman Catholic, 14% Protestant
Government: democratic republic
Head of State: President Abel Pacheco de la Espriella

GDP: US$32 billion
GDP per capita: US$8,300
Annual Growth: 1%
Inflation: 9.1%
Major Industries: Tourism, electronics, coffee, bananas, sugar, food processing, textiles and clothing, construction materials, fertilizer, plastic products
Major Trading Partners: USA, Germany, Italy, Japan, Guatemala, Mexico



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