Official name: Republic of Latvia
Area: 64,589 square kilometers (24,938 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Gaizinkalns (312 meters/1,024 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 210 kilometers (131 miles) from north to south, 450 kilometers (281 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 1,150 kilometers (713 miles) total boundary length; Belarus 141 kilometers (88 miles); Estonia 339 kilometers (211 miles); Lithuania 453 kilometers (281 miles); Russia 217 kilometers (135 miles)
Coastline: 531 kilometers (330 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Latvia is located in northeastern Euroh2, east of the Baltic Sea, south of Estonia, north of Lithuania, and west of Russia. Latvia is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia and consists of twenty-six counties.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Latvia has no territories or dependencies.
Summers in Latvia are generally cool, but winters are mild. The country has a moderate, maritime climate with high precipitation. January temperatures range from -3°C (31°F) in Liepaja, on the western coast, to 7°C (44°F) in Daugavpils in the southeast. In July, they range from 17°C (62°F) in Liepāja to 18°C (64°F) in Daugavpils.
Latvia's coastal climate means the country experiences cloudiness, high humidity, and precipitation most of the year. On average, only 72 days are sunny, 44 days are foggy, and it rains or snows 180 days. Measured in Riga, annual precipitation ranges between 56 and 79 centimeters (22 and 31 inches).
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Along with Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia is one of the Baltic states of northeastern Europe. Its capital, chief seaport, and largest city is Riga, which is found on the shores of the Gulf of Riga, a deep indentation in the country's northern coast. Approximately 75 percent of Latvia is a rolling plain used for farming, part of the vast European Plain. The remaining 25 percent of the country consists of uplands with moderate-sized hills, which are also used for farming.
Continental glaciers formed the Latvian landscape during the Quartenary period and the Pleistocene ice age.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Along the Baltic Sea, the Latvian coastline runs uninterrupted until the Gulf of Riga juts into it on the north, where it forms the Kurzeme Peninsula on the western side.
The Gulf of Riga is shared by Latvia and Estonia. Its north-south measurement is about 145 kilometers (90 miles); from east to west, it ranges from 72 to 129 kilometers (45 to 80 miles).
Sea Inlets and Straits
The western entrance to the Gulf of Riga is the Irben Strait, located between the Kurzeme Peninsula and Estonia's Saaremaa Island.
The Kurzeme Peninsula is located in northwestern Latvia, bordering the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga. The Latvian coast runs 531 kilometers (329 miles). It is known as a beautiful coastline, with many sandy beaches.
6 INLAND LAKES
Latvia contains many lakes both large and small, particularly in the southeast. Major lakes include Usma, in the west; Burtnieks, in the north-central area; and Lakes Lubāna and Rāzna in the east.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
Latvia's largest river, the Daugava (called the Dvina in neighboring Belarus), is one of the most important rivers of the Baltic region. Starting in Russia, the Daugava flows into Belarus and continues northwest through Latvia, finally emptying into the Gulf of Riga. Its total length is 1,020 kilometers (632 miles).
Lesser Latvian rivers include the Venta, in the west, which has its own 2-meter- (6-feet-) high waterfall; the Lielupe, in central Latvia; the Gauja, in the northeast; and the Aiviekste, in the east.
There are no deserts in Latvia.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
Most of Latvia is low, level terrain, which is part of the European Plain. It is largely suitable for farming, but the heavy annual precipitation means that much of Latvia's agricultural land requires drainage. The most fertile area is the central Zemgale Plain south of Riga. Other lowlands include the Middle and the East Latvian Lowlands, and the coastal lowlands. Large parts of all of these lowlands are covered by forest.
Forty-six percent of Latvia consists of forests and woodlands of pine, spruce, aspen, and birch; lumber and wood products are important Latvian exports. Blueberries, mushrooms, and cranberries grow in abundance on the forest floors. The country supports many thriving species of wildlife, including elk, deer, moose, wild boar, and fox; also wolves, lynx, beaver, otter, black storks, and eagles. The coast has a significant population of seals.
Latvia has three upland regions consisting of hills formed by glacial activity. The Kurzeme Uplands lie in the west, and are split into eastern and western portions by the Venta River. The highest elevation in the country, Gaizinkalns (312 meters/1,023 feet), is found in Vidzeme Uplands, east of the Gulf of Riga. This upland is the largest area that is more than 200 meters (660 feet) above sea level in the Baltic region. Further south and east is the Latgale Upland.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Latvia has no mountains or volcanoes.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
There are a few small caves found near Gauja National Park. The country lacks the geological features, such as regions of limestone, necessary for large caves.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Since Latvia consists mainly of lowlands, there are no significant plateaus in the country.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The Daugava River is an excellent source of hydroelectric power. Dams have formed reservoirs at Kegums, Plavinas, and near Riga.
14 FURTHER READING
Barlas, Robert. Latvia . New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2000.
Grabowski, John F. The Baltics. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001.
Kahn, F. S. Riga and Its Beaches . Ashbourne, UK: Landmark, 2000.
Noble, John. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania . London: Lonely Planet, 2000.