| ||INFORMATION STATION|
|Facts at a Glance|
| ||Full country name: Republic of Latvia|
Area: 64,589 sq km (25,190 sq mi)
Population: 2.42 million
Capital city: Riga (pop 874,100)
People: Latvian 57%, Russian 30%, Belarusian 4%, Ukrainian 3%, Polish 3%, other 3%
Language: Latvian, Russian, ethnic languages
Religion: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox
Government: parliamentary democracy
President: Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Latvia is the middle child of the Baltic family, both in geography and in area. It's larger than Estonia to the north and smaller than Lithuania to the south, while all three Baltic States are dwarfed by their eastern neighbours, Russia and Belarus. Latvia borders the Baltic Sea to the west and north-west. The Gulf of Riga, a thumb-shaped inlet of the Baltic Sea, pokes into Latvia's northern coast. The Vidzeme Upland in eastern Latvia boasts the country's highest point, Gaizina kalns, which rises to a dizzy 311m (1020ft).
About 40% of Latvia is forested, and elk, deer, wild boar, wolves, lynx and brown bears are prominent forest inhabitants. Beavers and otters live in the inland waterways and seals along the coast. Latvia is also home to 6500 pairs of white stork (six times as many as the whole of Western Europe). Latvia's sole national park, situated in the Gauja river valley east of Riga, has great scenery, walking trails, castles and a wildlife centre. There are a number of nature reserves, three of which are situated in the Kurzeme region in western Latvia.
From early November until the April thaw, temperatures rarely rise above 4°C (39°F) and the sun shines only a few hours a day. June to August daytime highs are normally in the 14-22°C (57-71°F) range. July and August are the warmest months but are prone to persistent showers.
| ||GDP: US$9.7 billion|
GDP per head: US$4100
Annual growth: 3.6%
Major industries: motor vehicles, machinery, household appliances, pharmaceutical, food, textiles, agriculture
Major trading partners: Russia, Germany, the UK, Sweden, Finland
Member of EU: no
|Facts for the Traveler|
| ||Visas: Many nationalities require a visa, and a few require an invitation as well. Citizens of Andorra, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the USA can travel visa-free for stays of up to 90 days; citizens of many countries do not require a visa if they already have one for Estonia or Lithuania|
Health risks: Tick-borne encephalitis (get vaccinated if you intend to spend a lot of time in forested areas); do not drink unboiled tap water
Time: GMT/UTC plus 2 hours
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
|Money & Costs|
| ||Currency:Lats (plural: lati)|
Budget: US$2-10Mid-range: US$10-25Top-end: US$25 and upwards
Budget: US$5-10Mid-range: US$10-80Top-end: US$80 and upwards
Travelling in Latvia is pretty expensive, and accommodation is likely to be your biggest expense. Fortunately, overland transport is still relatively cheap. Travelers on a tight budget can get by on US$30 per day, though adding a few more sit-down meals and more upscale accommodation can easily double that. The cost of a luxurious lifestyle in Latvia is equivalent to that in any Western European country.
Cashing travellers' cheques can be difficult outside Riga, Daugavpils and Sigulda, though every town has somewhere to exchange hard currency. US dollars and Deutschmarks are the easiest to exchange, but other Baltic and Western European currencies aren't far behind. Most ATMs accept major credit cards, as do most shops, hotels and restaurants.
There's an 18% value-added tax (VAT) in Latvia, so be sure to check prices to see if it's been included. While tipping isn't compulsory, it's common to tip waiters 5% to 10% by rounding up the bill. If waiters 'try it on' by telling you that they don't have change, don't have a bar of it. There's some bargaining at flea markets, but discounts are likely to be minimal.
|When to Go|
Spring and summer (April through September) are far and away the choicest times of year to visit. These months see better weather, more daylight, fresher food and plenty of folk festivals cropping up nationwide. The weather during this period is suitable for most outdoor activities - as long as you don't mind the slushy and chilly weeks at either end. Winter weather (from November through late March) can be extreme in Latvia, but this period also sees the most theatre performances and concerts and is a skiers' dream. July and August is the peak tourist season, when hotels are often fully booked.
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