Originally under the colonial rule of Spain, Costa Rica achieved complete independence in the mid-1800s and, after abolishing its army in 1949, has become the only Latin American country to maintain a democracy since 1950.
Situated in Central America, between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south-east, the country may be smaller than the state of West Virginia, but it has some beautiful stretches of coastline to the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.
With a key focus on environmental issues, the country has won admirers for its green initiatives. It has pledged to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021, while the New Economics Foundation (NEF) voted it to be the greenest country in the world in 2009. Its main language is Spanish, while the national dish is 'Gallo Pinto' (black beans and rice, seasoned with onion, sweet pepper, cilantro and Lizano sauce).
The national football team have enjoyed relative success over the years, with the likes of Hernán Medford, Paulo Wanchope, Luis Marín and Walter Centeno all contributing to raising the profile of the country. The side won the CONCACAF Championship/CONCACAF Gold Cup three times (in 1963, 1969 and 1989) and shocked the world to reach the last-16 at the FIFA World Cup in 1990 - while they have also qualified twice more for the Group Stage in 2002 and 2006, and are on course to follow suit in 2014.
The capital San José is the nation’s largest city and is serviced by the Juan Santamaría International Airport. If you are after some culture, The National Museum is a 19th-century building which contains well-organised exhibits on Costa Rica's history and culture, while the Teatro Nacional is one of the country’s best architectural feats.
Outside of the cities there is some incredible scenery. Shrouded in clouds, the stunning Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a sight to behold, while a trip to one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica, the beautiful Arenal, can be accompanied by a nice Hot Spring.
Although it is officially in the rainy season, the temperature of Costa Rica in July is an average of 27 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit), so there are plenty of chances to head to the beach. The best is probably in the Manuel Antonio National Park on the central Pacific coast, while the Samara Beach, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, is also one to visit.
Originally built in 1924, the National Stadium was expanded to a capacity of 25,000 in 1941 and was renovated in 1976 before it was eventually demolished on 12th May 2008 to make way for the one that appears today. Building began in 2009 and work was finally completed two years later.
The Tico Times reported on the stadium’s opening on March 26, 2011: “With two giant, jagged overhead panels running its length like a crown, Costa Rica’s jewel, the National Stadium, will officially open its doors to the public. The mammoth stadium, built to accommodate 35,000 fans, is the largest, and by far the most modern, event venue constructed in Costa Rican history.”
In 2011, the stadium played host to concerts from Shakira, Miley Cyrus, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. The following year saw Judas Priest, Whitesnake, Elton John and Lady Gaga perform. Now, they will welcome the mighty Whites!
Getting there: The stadium is located toward the west of the city of San José at just over 3km from its historic centre. It is situated on the western edge of La Sabana Park, with the occasional train to Sabana station an option if you don't want to take a taxi.
The 12 team Costa Rican Primera División consists of two competitions: the Apertura tournament called the Torneo de Invierno (from July to December) and a Clausura called the Torneo de Verano (from January to May). The top four go into a Play-Off against each other, with L.D. Alajuelense winning the Invierno and Herediano the Verano last season.
We open our tour against C.S. Cartaginés on Sunday 14th July at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica (4pm local time; 11pm BST). The club, which is the oldest in the country having been founded in 1906, had a shocking Apertura tournament but came second in the 2012/13 Clausura and are currently managed by former international Javier Delgado Prado.
Bryan Ruiz’s old club, L.D. Alajuelense, are next on the agenda on Wednesday 17th July (8pm local time; 3am BST). Winners of the Invierno title in the 2012/13 season, they brought Bryan through the ranks before selling him to K.A.A. Gent in 2006 and are currently managed by Oscar Ramirez who also led them to fifth place in the Clausura.
Finally, we play the most successful club in CONCACAF history, Deportivo Saprissa, on Saturday 20th July (8pm local time; 3am BST). The club have won the title a record 29 times in their history but could not claim another as they slipped down the table to finish in second in the Apertura and third in the Clausura under current boss Rónald González Brenes.