Costa Rica is an anomaly in Central America. Like its neighbors, the country traces its cultural heritage back to indigenous groups that occupied the land before the Spanish colonial period, but its modern history is quite distinct. Political choices to embrace democracy, abolish the national army, and protect rather than develop its natural assets have put the country in an economic and social position in which the quality of life here generally exceeds that of most Central American countries. Costa Rica has repeatedly been designated among the happiest countries in the world by international development researchers. Visitors come from around the world to discover the secret of pura vida, or pure life.