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 INFORMATION STATION
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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


Environment
 

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.




Economic Profile
 GDP: US$9.7 billion

GDP per head: US$4100

Annual growth: 3.6%

Inflation: 3%

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)
Relative Costs:
Meals

  • Budget: US$2-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-25
  • Top-end: US$25 and upwards




  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$5-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-80
  • Top-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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    © 2003 Lonely Planet Publications Pty. Ltd. All rights reserved Although we've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by any person resulting from information published on this site. We encourage you to verify any critical information with the relevant authorities before you travel. This includes information on visa requirements, health and safety, customs, and transportation.