Bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, the tiny republic of Costa Rica has coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
One of the most prosperous and politically stable countries in the region, Costa Rica is the only Central American state without a permanent standing army, after it was abolished in 1948.
It also enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the region, although a significant percentage of Costa Ricans - or Ticos - continue to live below the poverty line.
Known for its beaches, mountain ranges, volcanoes and varied wildlife, Costa Rica's rich biodiversity makes it a popular destination for eco-tourists. Traditionally a producer of agricultural goods such as coffee and bananas, its economy has diversified and tourism now ranks as the country's number one earner.
President: Carlos Alvarado
The centre-left candidate Carlos Alvarado won the March 2018 presidential election by a surprisingly wide margin over his evangelical pastor rival, Fabricio Alvarado.
Carlos Alvarado, who served as minister of labour and social security minister in the outgoing administration of President Guillermo Solís, called on other parties to join him in a government of national unity.
Costa Rica has a lively press and broadcasting scene. It also has the best record of respecting freedom of expression in Latin America, says Reporters Without Borders.
There were more than 4 million internet users, comprising around 86% of the population, by 2017.
Key dates in Costa Rica's history:
1502 - Christopher Colombus sights Costa Rica. Spanish colonization begins in 1522. By 1563, Spain has established the colonial capital of Cartago.
1821 - Costa Rica declares independence from Spain and joins the Mexican empire.
1823 - Costa Rica becomes a province of the Central American Federation along with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
1838 - Costa Rica becomes a fully independent country after the disintegration of the United Provinces of Central America.
1849-59 - Juan Rafael Mora leads the fight against William Walker, an American who with an army of mercenaries, tries but fails to take control of the region.
1948 - Former president Rafael Angel Calderon loses the election by a slim margin and refuses to accept newly-elected president Otillio Ulate. A bloody 44-day civil war ensues and a temporary government led by socialist landowner Jose Figueres emerges.
1948-49 - A new constitution is adopted, which includes the dissolution of Costa Rica's armed forces.
1955 - Border skirmishes with Nicaragua are resolved through mediation by the Organization of American States (OAS).
1987 - President Oscar Arias Sanchez wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. He wins a second term in 2006.
2010 - Laura Chinchilla becomes Costa Rica's first female president.