192-Part Guide To The World: Costa Rica

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The Independent Travel

Official Name: Republic of Costa Rica

Official Name: Republic of Costa Rica

Language:Spanish is the official language. Creole English and Indian dialects, such as Bribri, which is understood by about 10,000 people, are also spoken.

Population: Estimated at 3,500,000: 96 per cent are of Spanish descent, 2 per cent of African descent, 1 per cent are indigenous Indians and 1 per cent are Chinese.

Size: 19,729 square miles. The country is split in two by a series of volcanic mountain chains which run from the Nicaraguan to the Panamanian border. The country also benefits from both a Caribbean and a Pacific coast.

National Dish: Costa Rican cuisine is tasty rather than spicy-hot and is centered around beef, chicken and fish dishes, with rice, corn or beans and fresh fruit as supplements. Common dishes include casado (rice, beans, stewed beef, fried plantain, salad and cabbage), olla de came (soup of beef, plantain, com, yuca, nampi and chayote), sopa negra (black beans with a poached egg) and picadillo (meat and vegetable stew).

Best Monument: Costa Rica protects much of its land with national parks, forest reserves and Indian reservations. Quetzals, indigo-capped hummingbirds, macaws and toucans, together with another 850 recorded bird species, attract nature lovers from all over the world. There are also over 1,400 tree species, four types of monkey, sloths, armadillos, jaguars, tapirs and a number of dazzling butterflies.

Most Famous Citizen: Oscar Arias Sanchez, a Costa Rican politician and former president, was the leading promoter of the Central American Peace Plan and was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1987.

Best Moment In History: The introduction of coffee in 1808 was an important development for Costa Rica. It led to independence, wealth, class structure and a much more outward-looking perspective. And it was the coffee-growers themselves who became the future presidents of the country

Worst Moment In History: Much of the town of Cartago was destroyed in 1723 by the eruption of Mt Irazu, but its hard-working survivors rebuilt the town.

Essential Accessory: American dollars and scorpion repellent. Dollars are much more popular than the Costa Rican currency of colones, especially in the tourist areas. And on no account forget to check your shoes and bed sheets in case of scorpions. They can certainly give you a bit of a fright while you are in the land of nod.

What Not To Do: Do not pet the wild dogs that roam around the towns and cities - they have been known to bite unsuspecting tourists. Should you fall foul of man's best friend's teeth, help is at hand from the local clinic. For a reasonable fee they will clean you up, fill you with pills and vaccinate you with a smile. Also, watch out for strong currents while swimming or surfing.