Costa Rica is located in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua in the north and Panama in the south. The country averages 248 kilometers (155 miles) between its two coasts; the Caribbean Sea on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west.
Occupying only 0.1% of the world's land mass, Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of plants and animals, containing 5% of the world's biodiversity. With no military or navy, but this abundance of wildlife, it has been said that the soldiers are the leaf cutter ants, the pilots are the macaws, and the navy ships are the whales.
In 1949, when the government abolished the army, all would-be military expenses were allocated to education and health care. As a direct result, the literacy rate rose to 95% and still continues to be one of the highest in the Americas.
Costa Rica is well-known for the premium that it places on peace, education, and democracy. A democratic republic with a strong constitution, it is seen as one of the most stable countries in Latin America. Costa Rica has avoided the violence that has plagued Central America; it is seen as an example of political stability in the region, and is referred to as the "Switzerland of the Americas".
Offering all the comforts of home in a relaxing tropical paradise, Costa Rica has become one of the fastest growing tourism destinations on the planet. In 2005, the number of visiting tourists increased 19%, reaching 1.5 million people. A favorable exchange rate, coupled with substantially lower costs of food, utilities, hired help, and entertainment, enable many North Americans to live very comfortably.