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Welcome to Latvia!

An overview.

 

Between 55.40 and 58.05 latitude and 20.58 and 28.14 longitude, Latvia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising East European platform. About 98% of the country lies under 200m elevation. The damp climate resembles New England's. With the exception of the coastal plains, the ice age divided Latvia into three main regions: the morainic Western and Eastern uplands and the Middle lowlands. Latvia holds over 12,000 rivers, only 17 of which are longer than 100 km (60 miles), and over 3,000 small lakes, most of which are eutrophic. Woodland, more than half of which is pine, covers 41% of the country. Other than peat, dolomite, and limestone, natural resources are scarce. Latvia holds 531km (329 miles) of coastline, and the ports of Liepaja and Ventspils provide important warm-water harbors for the Baltic littoral, although the Bay of Riga itself is rather polluted.

Today, Latvia is slightly larger than Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Its strategic location has instigated many wars between rival powers on its territory. As recently as 1944, the U.S.S.R. granted Russia the Abrene region on the Livonian frontier, which Latvia still contests.

 

Geography, Population and Climate

Official name:

Full country name: Republic of Latvia, abbreviated: Latvia

Location:

The Eastern Baltic Sea cost in North East Europe, bordering with Estonia in the north, Lithuania in the south, the Russian federation in the east and Belarus in the south-east.

Time:

GMT +2 hours

border countries:

Belarus 141 km, Estonia 339 km, Lithuania 453 km, Russia 217 km

Land boundaries:

total : 1,150 km

Natural resources:

minimal; amber, peat, limestone, dolomite, hydropower, arable land

Climate:

Owing to the influence of maritime factors, the climate is relatively temperate but changeable. Average temperatures in January range from -2.8 degrees C in the western coastal town of Liepaja, to -6.6 degrees C in the inland town of Daugavpils. The average summer temperature is +20 deg. C. Summer is warm with relatively mild weather in spring and autumn.

Area:

Total:

64.589 sq. km

Land:

63,589 sq km

Water:

1,000 sq km

Coastline:

531 km

Population:

2,348,784 (July 2003 est.)

Official language:

Latvian (belongs to the Indo-European language group, similar only to Lithuanian)

Capital:

Riga (pop. 839.700)

Main cities:

Daugavpils (pop. 120.200), Liepaja (pop. 100.000)

Administrative division:

7 cities, 69 towns, 26 districts and 483 local municipalities

Cultural and historical division:

Kurzeme (western part), Zemgale (southern part), Vidzeme (middle and northern part, including Riga), Latgale (eastern part).

  • Understanding regions of Latvia

Latvia is divided into historical and cultural regions:

Vidzeme, meaning "Middle land", is also known as Livonia, though it comprises only a small part of traditional Livonia. Present Vidzeme is the Latvian part of Swedish Livonia and Rīga.

Kurzeme (Courland), roughly the counties of Liepāja, Kuldīga, Talsi, Saldus and Ventspils.

Latgale (Latgallia), the part of Livonia still in Polish hands after the Treaty of Altmark in 1629.

Zemgale (Semigallia) comprises approximately the counties of Dobele, Jelgava and Tukums. Traditional Semigallia also includes the northern part of Šiauliai County in Lithuania.

Sēlija (Selonia), often considered a part of Semigallia, Selonia comprises the eastern part of the 1939 province of Semigallia, an area completely located south of Daugava. Traditional Selonia also includes a portion of north east Lithuania. Named after the

Selonians.

  • The rivers of Latvia

There are more than 12 400 rivers in Latvia, but only 880 of them are longer than 10 km. 17 rivers are longer than 100 km. The largest rivers are Daugava (352 km in Latvian territory), Lielupe, Gauja and Venta.

  • The lakes of Latvia

There are about 3000 lakes in Latvia. Most of them are rather small. Approximately 40 % are located in eastern part of Latvia. The deepest lake is Dridzis (65,1 m), the largest - Lubans (80,7 m), while Ezezers is rich in islands (33 islands) and is situated in Latgale. There is also Usma lake in Kurzeme with the oldest nature reserve on the island - Moricsala (founded in 1912).

  • Flora

Latvia is located in the mixed forest area. Apart from conifers - fir-trees and pines, there are also deciduous trees - oaks, lindens and maples, alders, birch-trees and aspen trees. There are more than 1600 species of flowering plants and filicides in Latvia. The most typical flora of the country is forests, meadows and bogs. The forests cover more than 40 % of the territory of Latvia, although nowadays, intensive timber cutting takes place in Latvia. Most of the forests are coniferous forests (pine-trees). There are very few deciduous forests in Latvia.

  • Fauna

The fauna of Latvia has characteristics of the mixed forest area. Significant birds' migration routes (Pape Lake) cross the territory of Latvia. We can find 60 species of mammals in Latvia. The animals that can be haunted live in the forests – elks, deer, does and wild boars. The number of beavers has increased significantly. You can often observe them while paddling. The most popular predators of Latvia are wolves, foxes and lynxes. Due to pollution, the population of seals in the Riga Gulf is endangered. There are also quite many small rodents – mice, rats, hedgehogs, moles etc. Latvia is rich in 300 species of birds, 190 of which nest in Latvia. The national bird of Latvia is a wagtail. The most widespread water birds are ducks, swans, and different species of seagulls that live near the sea.

There are 29 typical sea fish in the fish fauna of Latvia, 14 species live both in the sea and in the freshwaters, while 28 species live only in rivers and lakes. Economically, the most important sea fish are the Baltic sprat, sprats and flounders. The salmons spawn in the rivers of Latvia (Salaca, Venta, Gauja).

  • The environment protection in Latvia

There are four territories with a status of natural reserve in Latvia, where any economic activities are prohibited. The oldest natural reserve (founded in 1912) is established in Moricsala in Usma Lake, Ventspils district. There you can find the rare hornbeam, as well as yew, that have been registered in the Red Book. There are also 222 species of butterflies. Slitere National Park (recently – a reserve) is situated in the north – west of Latvia, maritime lowland (founded in 1921). There you can find 38 protected species of plants and many rare birds which nest there.

Grini reserve was founded in 1936, is situated in Liepaja district, at the sea and is famous for its unusual forest type. Krustkalni reserve was founded in 1977 and is situated in Madona district. In this reserve, you can observe almost all types of forests that exist in Latvia. The relief of the reserve is uncommon - rich in springs and 13 lakes.

Teici reserve was founded in 1982 and is located in eastern Latvia's lowland. Teici reserve is famous for its protected bog ecosystems. It is the largest reserve according to its area. Gauja National Reserve was founded in 1973. There are the largest sandstone detritions in the territory of the park, which is situated on the banks of Gauja. It is also famous for many protected architectural monuments (in Turaida, Cesis, Straupe) and archaeological monuments (Araisi Palace) etc.

Kemeri national park is the most recent of the parks. There is the high bog – moor and valuable sulphurous water sprigs. There are many natural conservancy areas in Latvia, which aim at maintaining and protecting rare or uncommon natural elements that are typical of a respective district.

  • Relief of Latvia

Upsurges and lowering of bedrock form the relief of Latvia. Quaternary cornice played an important role in the formation of the relief, as well as the Baltic Sea. Although Latvia is not rich in mountains, there are many place names with a name “kalns” or “kalnins” (mountain) in them. The highest point in Latvia is Gaizinkalns in Vidzeme highland (311,5 m above the sea level, 61,6 m – relative height).

  • The Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea is one of the most recent and shallowest seas in the world. The deepest point (470m) is to the north of Gothland. The coastline of the territory of Latvia is 490 km long. Irbe strait links Riga Gulf with the central part of the Baltic Sea (between Kolka horn and Saaremaa island). The Baltic Sea is a typical inland sea with about 250 inflowing rivers. Therefore, it has the least salty water in the world (approximately 7 – 8 per mille). The sea currents and waves shape the coast of the Baltic Sea and Riga Gulf. There are about 40 fish species in the Baltic Sea. After the autumn storms, it is possible to find small ambers at the seafront.

 

 

Travel tips

  • How to get here; it's easy – like to any place in Northern Europe. There are fligts, ferry and bus lines directly to Riga form most European countries. You can also get here by car, motorbike or whatever.
  • Political situation; Latvia has joined European Union in 2004.
  • Ethnical tension between Latvians and Russians; it's mostly a political myth produced by mass media. In everyday life you will not face any hatred on national basis. Do try to speak English before trying out your Russian. You'll make the most friends, if you learn a few words of Latvian.
  • Criminal situation; it's safe to be a paddler in Latvia. Of course there are some places and characteristic people to avoid in Riga and other big cities.
  • Communications; we recommend cellular operator LMT for paddler, because LMT has the widest network coverage out of cities.
  • Currency and prices;

Currency – Lats (Ls). 1Ls = 0,7 Eur.

Approximate prices (in shops);

Bread Ls 0,14 – 0,40 = 0,20 - 0,57 Eur

Milk Ls 0,39 = 0,56 Eur

MC Hamburger (we believe you will Eat better food than junk in Latvia) Ls 0,6 = 0,86 Eur

Snickers, Mars, etc Ls 0,28 = 0,40 Eur

Meal (dinner) Ls 1,80 – 5,00 = 2.50 – 7 Eur

Beer (in bottles) Ls 0,28 – 0,50 = 0,4 – 0,71 Eur

Mineral water (1,5 l) Ls 0,40 = 0,57 Eur

Cofee (0,5 kg) Ls 3,25 = 4.60 Eur

Cigarettes Ls 0,50 – 0,90 = 0,71 – 1,30 Eur

Vodka (local brands, 0,5 l) Ls 1,98 – 2,90 = 2,83 – 4 Eur

Photo film Ls 2-3 = 2,86 – 4,29 Eur

•  Chinese un hamburgers are not the cheapest meals in Latvia

  • Don't buy maps until you get to Latvia. Maps are plentiful and cheap in Riga, and they are more reliable than anything available abroad.

 

For paddler

 

•  At the moment we are the only service (wide supplement of inventory, transportation, etc.) provider covering all territory of Latvia. You can entirely rely on us.

•  Routes; overhelming majority of Latvia rivers in summer fit into Class 1 or Class2. There is no need to be an experienced paddler with an extra equipment to start.

•  In last years whiteriver creeking (during spring's and winter's high water) has become popular in small rivers of Latvia.

•  Consider possibility of sea kayaking in summer. Somewhere sandy, somewhere rocky, but always majestic beaches, sunrises and sunsets will become your unforgettable Baltic love.

•  Clothing; Light- to mediumweights are worn during summer months. Medium- to heavyweights are needed during winter. Rainwear is advisable all year. You'll also need mosquito repellent if you're going to the countryside (and you probably will if you plan some paddling in Latvia) in the summer.

•  Campfire; commonly it is allowed to set campfire near rivers. Exception is nature reservations. You can freely set camp, but shall be careful with campfire at beach. Theoretically it's prohibited (you can be fined). Avoid setting camp in populated beaches. We advise seaside of Kurzeme district for your paddling and sightseeing pleasure.

•  Always be careful – consider wind, extremely dry weather or other factors - bring fire under control.

•  Private property; river and beach belongs to everybody and can not be private de jure.

How to find it out if bank of river belongs to somebody? You see house, sign “Private”, dogs or angry man screaming something. You have rights to step out and walk in rivers frontier zone, if it's private.

However, you are no allowed to make camp, are not allowed to make fireplace and stay for long time, e.g. for night if land owner has objections. In practice these problematic places are;

- in close of the owners house

- if owner of the land is crazy

- whenever you become rude (leave trash, behave very loudly etc.)

- if owner's business is related to tourism and he has set commercial camp places on his land.

• We have a network of free camp places for our clients on most river routes.


Campo > Latvia overview

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