Costa Rica profile
For decades Costa Rica has stood out for its stability and has benefited from the most developed welfare system in the region.
It has no standing army, and its citizens enjoy one of the highest life expectancy levels in the Western hemisphere and better living standards than most of Central America.
Traditionally dependent on coffee, banana and beef exports, Costa Rica has diversified its economy. The opening of a large computer chip plant in the late 1990s was a fillip to the economy, but its fortunes have been subject to the fluctuating world demand for microchips.
At a glance
Politics: Costa Rica's first female president, Laura Chinchilla, succeeded elder statesman and nobel laureate Oscar Arias on 8 May 2010
Economy: One of Central America's most affluent countries; Costa Ricans voters narrowly approved a free trade deal with the US in 2007
Profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
Tourism is Costa Rica's main source of foreign exchange. Its tropical forests are home to a profusion of flora and fauna, including 1,000 species of orchid and 850 species of birds, such as macaws and toucans.
The Caribbean coast with its swamps and sandy beaches is also a big draw. But Costa Rica is trying to shake off its reputation as a destination for sex tourists.
Costa Rica has been used as a transit point for South American cocaine and there have been allegations that drug-tainted money has found its way into the coffers of the two main political parties.
Once dubbed the "Switzerland of Central America", the country's self-image was badly shaken in 2004 when allegations of high-level corruption led to two former presidents being imprisoned on graft charges.