Latvia covers 64,600 km², almost as much as The Netherlands and Belgium together, or just over one fourth of the UK. But the population is only two millions, of which almost half live in Rīga. So, visitors will find the country thinly populated, leaving room for a rich and interesting nature. Latvia holds good mammal populations; about 900 Wolves, 750 Lynxes, 5,600 Otters, 80,000 Beavers, >12 Brown Bears and an unknown number of Golden Jackals. Also birds are well represented, with the following number of breeding pairs for selected species: Hazel Grouse 12,000, Black Grouse 10,000, Capercaillie 2,500, White Stork 10,500, Black Stork 900, Lesser Spotted Eagle 2,800, Osprey 150, Corn Crake 57,000, Crane 600, Great Snipe 200, Marsh Sandpiper 30, Terek Sandpiper 10, Little Gull 2,000, Whiskered Tern 10, Black Tern 3,000, White-winged Tern 300, Tengmalm’s Owl 1,500, Ural Owl 2,500, Pygmy Owl 1,200, Kingfisher 1,500, Hoopoe 300, Roller 50, Black Woodpecker 8,000, Grey-headed Woodpecker 3,000, Middle Spotted Woodpecker 2,000, White-backed Woodpecker 2,500, Three-toed Woodpecker 2,500, Citrine Wagtail 200, River Warbler 100,000, Blyth’s Reed Warbler 10,000, Great Reed Warbler 20,000, Barred Warbler 6,000 and Common Rosefinch 50,000.
Latvia is a low-laying country, often with an undulating landscape, rich in forests, lakes, meandering rivers, beaver dams and bogs. The 500 km long sandy beach along the Baltic Sea and Riga Bay makes the country to a summer resort, where Jurmala is famous.
Latvia’s history is dominated by occupation; from 1200 to 1918 by Germans, Poles, Swedes and Russians and from 1940 to 1991 by Russians. Few people have been forced to fight so hard for their independence as the Latvians. At the end of WW I, Latvians had to fight against both the Russian and German army, at the same time as they got no support from Western Europe. When the Russians returned in 1940, the war lasted until 1956 when the last defenders gave up. The years of occupation have left fortifications, buildings, ruins, battle grounds and cemeteries all over the country but there are also several remnants from the time before 1200. Latvia was a prosperous country at the start of WW II, but has far from recovered after the devastating Russian occupation. This gives, however, a rich mix of old and new, of poor and rich, of traditional and modern.