Costa Rica (rich coast) is one of the loveliest of all Latin American countries, as several thousand North American retirees who live there attest. The country is also for bird lovers; the 850 species of birds found there outnumber those of the United States and Canada. There are 700 species of butterflies and 320 amphibean and reptile species. Eight percent of the land has been set aside for conservancy.
The country is mostly Spanish in background, without the large Indian population of most of the rest of Latin America. The wide gulf between haves and have-nots does not exist and the government is by far the most democratic of Latin countries. The nation of 2.4 million prides itself on having no army, only guards and police who are political appointees. North Americans are well liked. San Jose sits at thirty-eight hundred feet and most of the population live on the central plateau at similar altitudes. Unfortunately the country is deeply in debt and dependent largely upon the sale of coffee and bananas for its foreign exchange.
Nicaragua borders Costa Rica on the north, and like Costa Rica and Panama, is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the east by the Caribbean. Managua, the capital, has 450,000 people. The coastal plains are partly swampland on the east. The interior is wooded mountains. Lake Nicaragua is one of the world’s largest lakes; it contains alligators and fresh water sharks. Dominated for decades by the Somoza family, which was overthrown by a revolution, the country in 1984 was in political turmoil. The total population of Nicaragua is about 2.2 million. The best road through the country is the Pan American Highway, which runs south from Mexico through Central America to Panama.