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Republic of Nicaragua
República de Nicaragua  (Spanish)
Flag Coat of arms
MottoEn Dios Confiamos   (Spanish)
"In God We Trust"
AnthemSalve a ti, Nicaragua  (Spanish)
Hail to thee, Nicaragua

(and largest city)
12°9′N 86°16′W / 12.15°N 86.267°W / 12.15; -86.267
Official language(s) Spanish1, Miskito speaking and other minorities and english
Recognised regional languages none
Ethnic groups  69% Mestizo
17% White (majority being of Spanish, German, Italian, French, or English ancestry)
5% Amerindian)
9% Black
Demonym Nicaraguan
Government Presidential republic
 -  President Daniel Ortega (FSLN)
 -  Vice President Jaime Morales Carazo
Independence from Spain 
 -  Declared 15 September 1821 
 -  Recognized 25 July 1850 
 -  Revolution 19 July 1979 
 -  Total 130,373 km2 (97th)
50,193 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 7.14
 -  July 2009 estimate 5,891,199 (110th)
 -  2005 census 5,148,098 
 -  Density 42/km2 (133nd)
114/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $16.709 billion[2] 
 -  Per capita $2,698[2] 
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $6.365 billion[2] 
 -  Per capita $1,028[2] 
Gini (2007) 40.1 (medium
HDI (2007) 0.699[3] (medium) (124th)
Currency Córdoba (NIO)
Time zone (UTC-6)
Drives on the right
Internet TLD .ni
Calling code 505
1 English and indigenous languages on Caribbean coast are also spoken.
2 Significant proportion of information obtained from CIA World Fact Book

Nicaragua (pronounced /ˌnɪkəˈrɑːɡwə/ nik-ə-RAH-gwə) officially the Republic of Nicaragua (Spanish: República de Nicaragua, pronounced [reˈpuβlika ðe nikaˈɾaɣwa]  ( listen)), is a representative democratic republic. It is the largest country in Central America with an area of 130,373 km2. The country is bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west of the country, the Caribbean Sea to the east. Falling within the tropics, Nicaragua sits between 11 degrees and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere. Nicaragua's abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems contribute to Mesoamerica's designation as a biodiversity hotspot. The capital city of Nicaragua is Managua. Roughly one quarter of the nation's population lives in the Nicaraguan capital, making it the second largest city and metropolitan area in Central America.

The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century and the territory became associated with the Viceroyalty of New Spain and later the Captaincy General of Guatemala. Alongside the Spanish, the British established a protectorate on the eastern seaboard beginning in the middle of the 17th century, and ending roughly two centuries later. The eastern seaboard retains its colonial heritage; English is commonly spoken and the culture in Atlantic regions identify themselves as being more caribbean. In 1821, Nicaragua achieved its independence from Spain and joined the Federal Republic of Central America in 1823, later leaving the Federal Republic in 1838. Nicaragua increasingly became a subject of substantial interest because of its geographic position for a canal that would service the Windward Passage. Eighteen years after leaving the federal Republic, it also became the epicenter of William Walker's Golden Circle in Central America. Since its independence, Nicaragua has undergone periods of political unrest, military intervention on behalf of the United States, dictatorship and fiscal crisis—the most notable causes that lead to the Nicaraguan Revolution. Although the Somoza family ruled the country in the form of a dictatorship for forty years, Nicaragua was the first country to sign the UN Charter in 1945.[4] Prior to the revolution, Nicaragua was one of Central America's wealthiest and most developed countries. However, the revolutionary conflict, paired with Nicaragua's 1972 earthquake have both reversed the country's prior strong economic standing. Despite the harsh economic effects of both phenomenons, post-revolution Nicaragua has maintained democratic practices and has experienced economic growth and political stability. In 1990, Nicaragua elected Violeta Barrios Torres de Chamorro as its president, making it the first country in the Americas to democratically elect a female head of state.

The population in Nicaragua, reaching almost 6 million, is multiethnic. Segments of the population includes indigenous native tribes from the Mosquito Coast, Europeans, Africans, Asians and people of Middle Eastern origin. The main language is Spanish, although native tribes on the eastern coast speak their native languages. Nicaragua is widely considered the epicenter of the voseo pronoun form in Central America. Its location, along with the Nicaraguan Diaspora, has influenced Spanish among the other nations of Central America. The mixture of cultural traditions has cultivated a substantial amount of diversity in art, cuisine, literature, and music.

The Central American Volcanic Arc runs through the spine of the country, earning Nicaragua its colloquial name: La Tierra de Lagos y Volcanes, which in English translates to: The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.



The origin of the name "Nicaragua" is somewhat unclear; one theory is that it is a portmanteau coined by Spanish colonists based upon the name of local chief Nicarao at that time, and the Spanish language word for water "agua". Another theory is that it may have meant "surrounded by water" in an indigenous language. In both cases the name appears to reference either the country's two large freshwater lakes, Lake Nicaragua (19th largest in the world) and Lake Managua, or the fact that it is bounded on the east and the west coasts by oceans.


Pre-Columbian history

6,000 year old human footprints preserved in volcanic mud near the lake. They are called "Huellas de Acahualinca" in Managua, Nicaragua.

In Pre-Columbian times, in what is now known as Nicaragua, the Indigenous people were part of the Intermediate Area located between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultural regions and within the influence of the Isthmo-Colombian area. It was the point where the Mesoamerican and South American native cultures met. This is confirmed by the ancient footprints of Acahualinca, along with other archaeological evidence, mainly in the form of ceramics and statues made of volcanic stone like the ones found on the island of Zapatera and petroglyphs found on Ometepe island.

The Pipil migrated from Central Mexico after 500 CE.[5]

At the end of the 15th century, western Nicaragua was inhabited by several indigenous peoples related by culture to the Mesoamerican civilisations and by language to the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area.[6] They were primarily farmers who lived in towns, organized into small kingdoms. Meanwhile, the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by other peoples, mostly chibcha related groups, that had migrated from what is now Colombia. They lived a less sedentary life based on hunting and gathering.[7]

The people of eastern Nicaragua appear to have traded with, and been influenced by, the native peoples of the Caribbean, as round thatched huts and canoes, both typical of the Caribbean, were common in eastern Nicaragua. In the west and highland areas, occupying the territory between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific Coast, the Niquirano were governed by chief Nicarao, or Nicaragua, a rich ruler who lived in Nicaraocali, now the city of Rivas.

The Chorotega lived in the central region of Nicaragua. These two groups had intimate contact with the Spanish conquerors, paving the way for the racial mix of native and European stock now known as mestizos.[8] However, within three decades an estimated Indian population of one million plummeted, as approximately half of the indigenous people in western Nicaragua died from the rapid spread of new diseases brought by the Spaniards, something the indigenous people of the Caribbean coast managed to escape due to the remoteness of the area.[8]

The Spanish Conquest

Colonial architecture of the city of Granada, Nicaragua

In 1502, Christopher Columbus was the first European known to have reached what is now Nicaragua as he sailed south along the Central America isthmus. On his fourth voyage Columbus sailed alongside and explored the Mosquito Coast on the east of Nicaragua.[9] The first attempt to conquer what is now known as Nicaragua was by Gil González Dávila,[10] whose Central American exploits began with his arrival in Panama in January 1520.

González claimed to have converted some 30,000 indigenous peoples and discovered a possible transisthmian water link. After exploring and gathering gold in the fertile western valleys González was attacked by the indigenous people, some of whom were commanded by Nicarao and an estimated 3,000 led by chief Diriangén.[11] González later returned to Panama where governor Pedro Arias Dávila attempted to arrest him and confiscate his treasure, some 90,000 pesos of gold. This resulted in González fleeing to Santo Domingo.

It was not until 1524 that the first Spanish permanent settlements were founded.[10] Conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba founded two of Nicaragua's principal towns in 1524: Granada on Lake Nicaragua was the first settlement and León east of Lake Managua came after. Córdoba soon found it necessary to prepare defenses for the cities and go on the offensive against incursions by the other conquistadores. Córdoba was later publicly beheaded following a power struggle with Pedrarias Dávila, his tomb and remains were discovered some 500 years later in the Ruins of León Viejo.[12]

The inevitable clash between the Spanish forces did not impede their devastation of the indigenous population. The Indian civilization was destroyed. The series of battles came to be known as The War of the Captains.[13] By 1529, the conquest of Nicaragua was complete. Several conquistadores came out winners, and some were executed or murdered. Pedrarias Dávila was a winner; although he had lost control of Panama, he had moved to Nicaragua and established his base in León. Through adroit diplomatic machinations, he became the first governor of the colony.[12]

The land was parceled out to the conquistadores. The area of most interest was the western portion. Many indigenous people were soon enslaved to develop and maintain "estates" there. Others were put to work in mines in northern Nicaragua, few were killed in warfare, and the great majority were sent as slaves to other New World Spanish colonies, for significant profit to the newly landed aristocracy. Many of the indigenous people died as a result of disease and neglect by the Spaniards who controlled everything necessary for their subsistence.[10]

Colonization to Independence

Corn Island off the Atlantic Coast was a British protectorate until it was ceded along with the rest of the Mosquito Coast to Nicaragua

In 1536, the Viceroyalty of New Spain was established. By 1570, the southern part of New Spain was designated the Captaincy General of Guatemala. The area of Nicaragua was divided into administrative "parties" with León as the capital. In 1610, the Momotombo volcano erupted, destroying the capital. It was rebuilt northwest of what is now known as the Ruins of Old León.

Nicaragua became a part of the Mexican Empire and then gained its independence as a part of the United Provinces of Central America in 1821 and as an independent republic in its own right in 1838. The strip of the Caribbean coast known as the Mosquito Coast was claimed by the United Kingdom and its predecessors as a protectorate from 1655 to 1850; this was delegated to Honduras in 1859 and transferred to Nicaragua in 1860, though it remained autonomous until 1894. José Santos Zelaya, president of Nicaragua from 1893–1909, managed to negotiate for the annexation of this region to the rest of Nicaragua. In his honour the entire region was named Zelaya.

Founding members of the Deutsche Club in Nicaragua

Much of Nicaragua's independence was characterized by rivalry between the liberal elite of León and the conservative elite of Granada. The rivalry often degenerated into civil war, particularly during the 1840s and 1850s. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, a United States adventurer named William Walker (later executed in Honduras) set himself up as president of Nicaragua, after conducting a farcical election in 1856. Costa Rica, Honduras and other Central American countries united to drive him out of Nicaragua in 1857, after which a period of three decades of Conservative rule ensued.[14]

In the 1800s Nicaragua experienced a wave of immigration, primarily from Europe. In particular, families from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium moved to Nicaragua to set up businesses with money they brought from Europe. They established many agricultural businesses such as coffee and sugar cane plantations, and also newspapers, hotels and banks.

Throughout the late nineteenth century the United States (and several European powers) considered a scheme to build a canal across Nicaragua linking the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. A bill was put before the U.S. Congress in 1899 to build the canal, but it was not passed, and instead the construction of the Panama Canal began.

United States Intervention (1909 - 1933)

In 1909, the United States provided political support to conservative-led forces rebelling against President Zelaya. U.S. motives included differences over the proposed Nicaragua Canal, Nicaragua's potential as a destabilizing influence in the region, and Zelaya's attempts to regulate foreign access to Nicaraguan natural resources. On November 18, 1909, U.S. warships were sent to the area after 500 revolutionaries (including two Americans) were executed by order of Zelaya. The U.S. justified the intervention by claiming to protect U.S. lives and property. Zelaya resigned later that year.

In August 1912 the President of Nicaragua, Adolfo Díaz, requested that the Secretary of War, General Luis Mena, resign for fear that he was leading an insurrection. Mena fled Managua with his brother, the Chief of Police of Managua, to start an insurrection. When the U.S. Legation asked President Díaz to ensure the safety of American citizens and property during the insurrection he replied that he could not and that...

In consequence my Government desires that the Government of the United States guarantee with its forces security for the property of American Citizens in Nicaragua and that it extend its protection to all the inhabitants of the Republic.[15]

U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933,[16] except for a nine month period beginning in 1925. From 1910 to 1926, the conservative party ruled Nicaragua. The Chamorro family, which had long dominated the party, effectively controlled the government during that period. In 1914, the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty was signed, giving the U.S. control over the proposed canal, as well as leases for potential canal defenses.[17] Following the evacuation of U.S. marines, another violent conflict between liberals and conservatives took place in 1926, known as the Constitutionalist War, which resulted in a coalition government and the return of U.S. Marines.[18]

From 1927 until 1933, Gen. Augusto César Sandino led a sustained guerrilla war first against the Conservative regime and subsequently against the U.S. Marines, who withdrew upon the establishment of a new Liberal government. Sandino was the only Nicaraguan general to refuse to sign the el tratado del Espino Negro agreement and then headed up to the northern mountains of Las Segovias, where he fought the U.S. Marines for over five years.[19] The revolt finally forced the United States to compromise and leave the country. When the Americans left in 1933, they set up the Guardia Nacional (National Guard),[20] a combined military and police force trained and equipped by the Americans and designed to be loyal to U.S. interests. Anastasio Somoza García, a close friend of the American government, was put in charge. He was one of the three rulers of the country, the others being Sandino and the President Juan Bautista Sacasa.

After the US Marines withdrew from Nicaragua in January 1933, Sandino and the newly elected Sacasa government reached an agreement by which he would cease his guerrilla activities in return for amnesty, a grant of land for an agricultural colony, and retention of an armed band of 100 men for a year.[21] But a growing hostility between Sandino and Somoza led Somoza to order the assassination of Sandino.[20][22][23] Fearing future armed opposition from Sandino, Somoza invited him to a meeting in Managua, where Sandino was assassinated on February 21 of 1934 by the National Guard. Hundreds of men, women, and children were executed later.[24]

The Somoza Dynasty (1936 - 1979)

Nicaragua has experienced several military dictatorships, the longest one being the hereditary dictatorship of the Somoza family for much of the 20th century. The Somoza family came to power as part of a US-engineered pact in 1927 that stipulated the formation of the Guardia Nacional, or the National Guard, to replace the U.S. marines that had long reigned in the country.[25] Somoza slowly eliminated officers in the National Guard who might have stood in his way, and then deposed Sacasa and became president on January 1, 1937 in a rigged election.[20] Somoza was 35 at the time.

Nicaragua declared war on Germany on December 8, 1941, during World War II.[26] Although war was formally declared, no soldiers were sent to the war, but Somoza did seize the occasion to confiscate attractive properties held by German-Nicaraguans, the best-known of which was the Montelimar estate which today operates as a privately owned luxury resort and casino[27]. In 1945 Nicaragua was the first country to ratify the UN Charter.[4]

Throughout his years as dictator, "Tacho" Somoza 'ruled Nicaragua with a strong arm'.[24] He had three main sources for his power: control of Nicaraguan economy, military support, and support from the U.S.

Street scene of Managua city centre prior to the 1972 earthquake

Somoza used the National Guard to force Sacasa to resign, and took control of the country in 1937, destroying any potential armed resistance.[28] Not only did he have military control, but he controlled the National Liberal Party (LPN), which in turn controlled the legislature and judicial systems, giving him complete political power.

Despite his complete control, on September 21, 1956, Somoza was shot by Rigoberto López Pérez, a 27-year-old liberal Nicaraguan poet. Somoza was attending a PLN party to celebrate his nomination for the Presidency. He died eight days later. After his father's death, Luis Somoza Debayle, the eldest son of the late dictator, was appointed President by the congress and officially took charge of the country.[20]

He is remembered by some for being moderate, but was in power only for a few years and then died of a heart attack. Then came president René Schick Gutiérrez whom most Nicaraguans viewed "as nothing more than a puppet of the Somozas".[29] Somoza's brother, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, a West Point graduate, succeeded his father in charge of the National Guard, controlled the country, and officially took the presidency after Schick.

Nicaragua experienced economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s largely as a result of industrialization,[30] and became one of Central America's most developed nations despite its political instability. Due to its stable and high growth economy, foreign investments grew, primarily from U.S. companies such as Citigroup, Sears, Westinghouse and Coca Cola. However, the capital city of Managua suffered a major earthquake in 1972 which destroyed nearly 90% of the city creating major losses.[31]

It leveled a 600-square block area in the heart of Managua. Some Nicaraguan historians see the 1972 earthquake that devastated Managua as the final 'nail in the coffin' for Somoza. Instead of helping to rebuild Managua, Somoza siphoned off relief money to help pay for National Guard luxury homes, while the homeless poor had to make do with hastily constructed wooden shacks. The mishandling of relief money also prompted Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente to personally fly to Managua on 31 December 1972, but he died enroute in an airplane accident.[32] Even the economic elite were reluctant to support Somoza, as he had acquired monopolies in industries that were key to rebuilding the nation,[33] and did not allow the businessmen to compete with the profits that would result.

In 1973 (the year of reconstruction) many new buildings were built, but the level of corruption in the government prevented further growth. Strikes and demonstrations developed as citizens became increasingly angry and politically mobilized. The elite were angry that Somoza was asking them to pay new emergency taxes to further his own ends. As a result, more of the young elite joined the Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN). The ever increasing tensions and anti-government uprisings slowed growth in the last two years of the Somoza dynasty.

Nicaraguan Revolution

In 1961 Carlos Fonseca, turned back to the historical figure of Sandino, and along with 2 others founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).[20] The FSLN was a tiny party throughout most of the 1960s, but Somoza's utter hatred of it and his heavy-handed treatment of anyone he suspected to be a Sandinista sympathizer gave many ordinary Nicaraguans the idea that the Sandinistas were much stronger.

After the 1972 earthquake and Somoza's brazen corruption, mishandling of relief, and refusal to rebuild Managua, the ranks of the Sandinistas were flooded with young disaffected Nicaraguans who no longer had anything to lose.[34] These economic problems propelled the Sandinistas in their struggle against Somoza by leading many middle- and upper-class Nicaraguans to see the Sandinistas as the only hope for removing the brutal Somoza regime.

In December 1974, a group of FSLN held some Managuan partygoers hostage until the Somozan government met their demands for a large ransom and free transport to Cuba. Somoza granted this, then subsequently sent his National Guard out into the countryside to look for the so-called 'terrorists'. While searching, the National Guard pillaged villages and imprisoned, tortured, raped, and executed hundreds of villagers. This led to the Roman Catholic Church withdrawing any and all support of the Somoza regime.

On January 10, 1978, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, the editor of the national newspaper La Prensa and ardent opponent of Somoza, was assassinated.[35] This is believed to have led to the extreme general disappointment with Somoza. The planners and perpetrators of the murder were at the highest echelons of the Somoza regime and included the dictator's son, “El Chiguin”, the President of Housing, Cornelio Hueck, the Attorney General, and Pedro Ramos, a close ex-patriot, Cuban ally who commercialized blood plasma.[35]

The Sandinistas, supported by some of the populace, elements of the Catholic Church, and regional governments (including Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Venezuela), took power in July 1979. The Carter administration, refusing to act unilaterally, decided to work with the new government, though attached a provision for aid forfeiture if it was found to be assisting insurgencies in neighboring countries.[36] A group of prominent citizens, however, known as Los Doce, denounced the Somoza regime and said that "there can be no dialogue with Somoza...because he is the principal obstacle to all rational understanding...through the long dark history of Somocismo, dialogues with the dictatorship have only served to strengthen it..." Somoza fled the country and eventually ended up in Paraguay, where he was assassinated in September 1980, allegedly by members of the Argentinian Revolutionary Workers Party.[37]

To begin the task of establishing a new government, they created a Council (or junta) of National Reconstruction, made up of five members– Sandinista militants Daniel Ortega and Moises Hassan, novelist Sergio Ramírez Mercado (a member of Los Doce "the Twelve"), businessman Alfonso Robelo Callejas, and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (the widow of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro). Sandinista supporters thus comprised three of the five members of the junta.

The non-Sandinistas, Robelo and Chamorro later resigned because they had little actual power in the junta. Sandinista mass organizations were also powerful: including the Sandinista Workers' Federation (Central Sandinista de Trabajadores), the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Association of Nicaraguan Women (Asociación de Mujeres Nicaragüenses Luisa Amanda Espinoza), and the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (Unión Nacional de Agricultores y Ganaderos).

On the Atlantic Coast a small uprising also occurred in support of the Sandinistas. This event is often overlooked in histories about the Sandinista revolution. A group of Creoles led by a native of Bluefields, Dexter Hooker (aka Commander Abel), raided a Somoza-owned business to gain access to food, guns and money before heading off to join Sandinista fighters who had liberated the city of El Rama. The 'Black Sandinistas' returned to Bluefields on July 19, 1979 and took the city without a fight. However, the Black Sandinistas were challenged by a group of mestizo Sandinista fighters.

The ensuing standoff between the two groups, with the Black Sandinistas occupying the National Guard barracks (the cuartel) and the mestizo group occupying the Town Hall (Palacio) gave the revolution on the Atlantic Coast a racial dimension which was absent from other parts of the country. The Black Sandinistas were assisted in their power struggle with the Palacio group by the arrival of the Simon Bolivar International Brigade from Costa Rica.

One of the brigade's members, an Afro-Costa Rican called Marvin Wright (aka Kalalu) became known for the rousing speeches he would make, which included elements of Black Power ideology in his attempts to unite all the black militias that had formed in Bluefields. The introduction of a racial element into the revolution was not welcomed by the Sandinista National Directorate which expelled Kalalu and the rest of the brigade from Nicaragua and sent them to Panama.[38]

Sandinistas and the Contras

Upon assuming office in 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan condemned the FSLN for joining with Cuba in supporting Marxist revolutionary movements in other Latin American countries such as El Salvador. His administration authorized the CIA to have their paramilitary officers from their elite Special Activities Division begin financing, arming and training rebels, some of whom were the remnants of Somoza's National Guard, as anti-Sandinista guerrillas that were branded "counter-revolutionary" by leftists (contrarrevolucionarios in Spanish).[39]

This was shortened to Contras, a label the anti-socialist forces chose to embrace. Eden Pastora and many of the indigenous guerrilla forces, who were not associated with the "Somozistas," also resisted the Sandinistas. The Contras operated out of camps in the neighboring countries of Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south.[39] As was typical in guerrilla warfare, they were engaged in a campaign of economic sabotage in an attempt to combat the Sandinista government and disrupted shipping by planting underwater mines in Nicaragua's Corinto harbour,[40] an action condemned by the World Court as illegal.[41][42] The U.S. also sought to place economic pressure on the Sandinistas, and the Reagan administration imposed a full trade embargo.[43]

U.S. support for this Nicaraguan insurgency continued in spite of the fact that impartial observers from international groupings such as the European Economic Community, religious groups sent to monitor the election, and observers from democratic nations such as Canada and the Republic of Ireland concluded that the Nicaraguan general elections of 1984 were completely free and fair. The Reagan administration disputed these results however, despite the fact that the government of the United States never had any observers in Nicaragua at the time.

The elections were not also recognized as legitimate because the Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinator, considered the main opposition group, and the only group of democratic opposition in the country did not participate in the elections. The Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinator did not participate in the elections due to the government's lack of response to its document "A Step Toward Democracy, Free Elections" issued in 1982. The document was asking the government to re-establish all civil rights: freedom of speech, freedom of organization, release of all political prisoners, cease of hostilities against the opposition, lifting the censorship on the media and abolishing all the laws violating human rights.[44][45]

After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the Contras in 1983, the Reagan administration continued to back the Contras by covertly selling arms to Iran and channeling the proceeds to the Contras (the Iran–Contra affair).[46] When this scheme was revealed, Reagan admitted that he knew about the Iranian "arms for hostages" dealings but professed ignorance about the proceeds funding the Contras; for this, National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Oliver North took much of the blame.

Senator John Kerry's 1988 U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report on Contra-drug links concluded that "senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems."[47] According to the National Security Archive, Oliver North had been in contact with Manuel Noriega, a Panamanian general and the de facto military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989 when he was overthrown and captured by a U.S. invading force.[48] He was taken to the United States, tried for drug trafficking, and imprisoned in 1992.[49]

In August 1996, San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb published a series titled Dark Alliance, linking the origins of crack cocaine in California to the Contras.[50] Freedom of Information Act inquiries by the National Security Archive and other investigators unearthed a number of documents showing that White House officials, including Oliver North, knew about and supported using money raised via drug trafficking to fund the Contras. Sen. John Kerry's report in 1988 led to the same conclusions; however, major media outlets, the Justice Department, and Reagan denied the allegations.[51]

The International Court of Justice, in regard to the case of Nicaragua v. United States of America in 1984, found; "the United States of America was under an obligation to make reparation to the Republic of Nicaragua for all injury caused to Nicaragua by certain breaches of obligations under customary international law and treaty-law committed by the United States of America".[52] But was rejected citing the 'Connally Amendment', which excludes from the International court of Justice's jurisdiction "disputes with regard to matters that are essentially within the jurisdiction of the United States of America, determined by the United States of America"[53]

1990s and the Post-Sandinista Era

Multi-party democratic elections were held in 1990, which saw the defeat of the Sandinistas by a coalition of anti-Sandinista (from the left and right of the political spectrum) parties led by Violeta Chamorro, the widow of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. The defeat shocked the Sandinistas as numerous pre-election polls had indicated a sure Sandinista victory and their pre-election rallies had attracted crowds of several hundred thousand people.[54] The unexpected result was subject to a great deal of analysis and comment, and was attributed by commentators such as Noam Chomsky and Brian Willson to the U.S./Contra threats to continue the war if the Sandinistas retained power, the general war-weariness of the Nicaraguan population, and the abysmal Nicaraguan economic situation.

Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in 1990 became the first female president democratically elected in the Americas.

P. J. O'Rourke countered the US centered criticism in "Return of the Death of Communism", "the unfair advantages of using state resources for party ends, about how Sandinista control of the transit system prevented UNO supporters from attending rallies, how Sandinista domination of the army forced soldiers to vote for Ortega and how Sandinista bureaucracy kept $3.3 million of U.S. campaign aid from getting to UNO while Daniel Ortega spent millions donated by overseas people and millions and millions more from the Nicaraguan treasury ..."[55]

Exit polls of Nicaraguans reported Chamorro's victory over Ortega was achieved with 55%.[56] Violeta Chamorro was the first woman to be popularly elected as President of an American nation and first woman president of Nicaragua and first female president in the Americas. Exit polling convinced Daniel Ortega that the election results were legitimate, and were instrumental in his decision to accept the vote of the people and step down rather than void the election. Nonetheless Ortega vowed that he would govern "desde abajo" (from below),[57] in other words due to his widespread control of institutions and Sandinista individuals in all government agencies, he would still be able to maintain control and govern even without being president.

Chamorro received an economy entirely in ruins. The per capita income of Nicaragua had been reduced by over 80% during the 1980s, and a huge government debt which ascended to US$12 billion primarily due to financial and social costs of the Contra war with the Sandinista-led government.[58] Much to the surprise of the U.S. and the contra forces, Chamorro did not dismantle the Sandinista Popular Army, though the name was changed to the Nicaraguan Army. Chamorro's main contribution to Nicaragua was the disarmament of groups in the northern and central areas of the country. This provided stability that the country had lacked for over ten years.

In subsequent elections in 1996 Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas of the FSLN were again defeated, this time by Arnoldo Alemán of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC).

In the 2001 elections the PLC again defeated the FSLN, with Enrique Bolaños winning the Presidency. However, President Bolaños subsequently brought forward allegations of money laundering, theft and corruption against former President Alemán. The ex-president was sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement, money laundering, and corruption.[59] The Liberal members who were loyal to Alemán and also members of congress reacted angrily, and along with Sandinista parliament members stripped the presidential powers of President Bolaños and his ministers, calling for his resignation and threatening impeachment.

President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, in 2008

The Sandinistas alleged that their support for Bolaños was lost when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Bolaños to keep his distance from the FSLN.[60] This "slow motion coup d'état" was averted partially due to pressure from the Central American presidents who would fail to recognize any movement that removed Bolaños; the U.S., the OAS, and the European Union also opposed the "slow motion coup d'état".[61] The proposed constitutional changes that were going to be introduced in 2005 against the Bolaños administration were delayed until January 2007 after the entrance of the new government. Though one day before they were to be enforced, the National Assembly postponed their enforcement until January 2008.

Before the general elections on 5 November 2006, the National Assembly passed a bill further restricting abortion in Nicaragua 52-0 (9 abstaining, 29 absent). President Enrique Bolaños supported this measure, and signed the bill into law on 17 November 2006,[62] as a result Nicaragua is one of three countries in the world where abortion is illegal with no exceptions, along with El Salvador and Chile.

Legislative and presidential elections took place on November 5, 2006. Daniel Ortega returned to the presidency with 37.99% of the vote. This percentage was enough to win the presidency outright, due to a change in electoral law which lowered the percentage requiring a runoff election from 45% to 35% (with a 5% margin of victory).[63]


Politics of Nicaragua takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Nicaragua is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Currently, Nicaragua's major political parties have been discussing the possibility of going from a presidential system to a parliamentary system. This way, there would be a clear differentiation between the head of government (Prime Minister) and the head of state (President).


The armed forces of Nicaragua are comprised of various military contingencies. Nicaragua has an Army, Navy and Air Force. There are roughly 14,000 active duty personnel, which is much less compared to the numbers seen during the Nicaraguan Revolution. Although the army has had a rough military history, a portion of its forces, which were known as the National Guard became integrated with what is now the National Police of Nicaragua. In essence, the police became a gendarmerie. However, the National Police of Nicaragua are rarely, if ever, labeled as a gendarmerie. The other elements and manpower that were not devoted to the National Police were sent over to cultivate the new Army of Nicaragua.

The age to serve in the armed forces is 17 and conscription is not eminent. As of 2006, the military budget was roughly 0.7% of Nicaragua’s expenditures.

Departments and Municipalities

Departments of Nicaragua

Nicaragua is a unitary republic. For administrative purposes it is divided into 15 departments (departamentos) and two self-governing regions (autonomous communities) based on the Spanish model. The departments are then subdivided into 153 municipios (municipalities). The two autonomous regions are 'Región Autónoma Atlántico Norte' and 'Región Autónoma Atlántico Sur', often referred to as RAAN and RAAS, respectively; until they were granted autonomy in 1985 they formed the single department of Zelaya.[64]

  1. Boaco (Boaco)
  2. Carazo (Jinotepe)
  3. Chinandega (Chinandega)
  4. Chontales (Juigalpa)
  5. Estelí (Estelí)
  6. Granada (Granada)
  7. Jinotega (Jinotega)
  8. León (León)
  9. Madriz (Somoto)
  1. Managua (Managua)
  2. Masaya (Masaya)
  3. Matagalpa (Matagalpa)
  4. Nueva Segovia (Ocotal)
  5. Rivas (Rivas)
  6. Río San Juan (San Carlos)
  7. RAAN (Bilwi)
  8. RAAS (Bluefields)

Geography and Climate

Nicaragua occupies a landmass of 129,494 km², comparable to that of Greece or New York State. Nearly one fifth of the territory is designated as protected areas like national parks, nature reserves, and biological reserves. The country is bordered by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Geophysically, Nicaragua is surrounded by the Caribbean Plate, an oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Cocos Plate. Since Central America is a major subduction zone, Nicaragua hosts most of the Central American Volcanic Arc.

Nicaragua has three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific Lowlands, the Amerrique Mountains (North-Central Highlands), and the Mosquito Coast (Atlantic Lowlands).

Pacific Lowlands

Turtles are common in many beaches of Nicaragua when on a yearly basis they collectively arrive at the same time on the same beach to lay their eggs. They are protected by the Nicaraguan government in National Parks
Nicaragua is known as the land of lakes and volcanoes, pictured is Concepción volcano located in Maderas.

Located in the west of the country, these lowlands consist of a broad, hot, fertile plain. Punctuating this plain are several large volcanoes of the Cordillera Los Maribios mountain range, including Mombacho just outside Granada, and Momotombo near León. The lowland area runs from the Gulf of Fonseca to Nicaragua's Pacific border with Costa Rica south of Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is the largest freshwater lake in Central America (20th largest in the world),[65] and is home to some of the world's only freshwater sharks (Nicaraguan shark).[66] The Pacific lowlands region is the most populous, with over half of the nation's population. The capital city of Managua is the most populous and it is the only city with over 1.5 million inhabitants.

The eruptions of western Nicaragua's volcanoes, many of which are still active, have devastated the land but also have enriched it with layers of fertile ash. The geologic activity that produces vulcanism also breeds powerful earthquakes. Tremors occur regularly throughout the Pacific zone, and earthquakes have nearly destroyed the capital city, Managua, more than once.[67]

Most of the Pacific zone is tierra caliente, the "hot land" of tropical Spanish America at elevations under 2,000 feet (600 meters). Temperatures remain virtually constant throughout the year, with highs ranging between 85° and 90 °F (32 °C). After a dry season lasting from November to April, rains begin in May and continue to October, giving the Pacific Lowlands 40 to 60 inches (1,000–1,500 mm) of precipitation. Good soils and a favorable climate combine to make western Nicaragua the country's economic and demographic center. The southwestern shore of Lake Nicaragua lies within 15 miles (25 km) of the Pacific Ocean. Thus the lake and the San Juan River were often proposed in the 19th century as the longest part of a canal route across the Central American isthmus. Canal proposals were periodically revived in the 20th and 21st centuries.[68]

In addition to its beach and resort communities, the Pacific Lowlands is also the repository for much of Nicaragua's Spanish colonial heritage. Cities such as León and Granada abound in colonial architecture and artifacts; Granada, founded in 1524, is the oldest colonial city in the Americas.[69]

North-Central Highlands

Guardabarranco (Turquoise-browed Motmot): the national bird.

The Central Highlands are a significantly less populated and economically developed area located in the north but narrow southeastward between Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean. Forming the country's tierra templada, or "temperate land," at elevations between 2,000 and 5,000 feet (600–1,500 meters), the highlands enjoy mild temperatures with daily highs of 75 °F (24 °C) to 80 °F (27 °C). This region has a longer, wetter rainy season than the Pacific Lowlands, making erosion a problem on its steep slopes. Rugged terrain, poor soils, and low population density characterize the area as a whole, but the northwestern valleys are fertile and well settled.[70]

The area, however, has a cooler climate than the Pacific Lowlands. About a quarter of the country's agriculture takes place in this region, with coffee grown on the higher slopes. Oaks, pines, moss, ferns and orchids are abundant in the cloud forests of the region.

Bird life in the forests of the central region includes Resplendent Quetzal, goldfinches, hummingbirds, jays and toucanets.

Toucan is a common bird in Nicaragua´s Rainforests

Atlantic lowlands

This large rainforest region is irrigated by several large rivers and very sparsely populated. The Rio Coco is the largest river in Central America, it forms the border with Honduras. The Caribbean coastline is much more sinuous than its generally straight Pacific counterpart; lagoons and deltas make it very irregular.

Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve is located in the Atlantic lowlands, it protects 1.8 million acres (7,300 km²) of La Mosquitia forest - almost seven percent of the country's area - making it the largest rainforest north of the Amazon in Brazil.[71]

Nicaragua's tropical east coast is very different from the rest of the country. The climate is predominantly tropical, with high temperature and high humidity. Around the area's principal city of Bluefields, English is widely spoken along with the official Spanish. The population more closely resembles that found in many typical Caribbean ports than the rest of Nicaragua.

A great variety of birds can be observed including eagles, turkeys, toucans, parakeets and macaws. Animal life in the area includes different species of monkeys, anteaters, white-tailed deer and tapirs.

Wildlife and Biodiversity

Rainforest in Nicaragua covers more than 20,000 km², particularly on the Atlantic lowlands. As well as the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve (in the north) there is the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve (in the south), which protects 2,500 km² of the Atlantic Rainforest.

These two areas are very rich in biodiversity. There are 5 species of felines, including jaguar and cougar; 3 species of primates, spider monkey, howler monkey and capuchin monkey; 1 species of tapir, called Danto by the Nicaraguans; 3 species of anteaters and many more.

Concerns over global warming

On December 12, 2009, La Prensa, a Nicaraguan newspaper, reported that Nicaragua is currently the third to fifth most affected country from the climate change phenomena. Concerns have arisen in the country because there have been no specific policies set forth by the Nicaraguan government to cope with the phenomenon. However, various civil society organizations, and the government itself, have pioneered a few projects to combat the effects of climate change.

Organizations are currently working on preventing major forest fires to reduce the amount of possible toxins in the atmosphere, as well as bearing in mind the possible negative effects a fire can cause for the country's rich biodiversity. Other projects include the curtailing of emissions from cow manure and the possible use of Lake Nicaragua as a source for irrigation and potable water. Many environmentalists, however, are still concerned over the possibilities of serious floods or hurricanes.[72]



Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country; agriculture constitutes 60% of its total exports which annually yield approximately US $300 million.[73] In addition, Nicaragua's Flor de Caña rum is renowned as among the best in Latin America, and its tobacco and beef are also well regarded. Nicaragua's agrarian economy has historically been based on the export of cash crops such as bananas, coffee, sugar, beef and tobacco. Light industry (maquila), tourism, banking, mining, fisheries, and general commerce are expanding. Nicaragua also depends heavily on remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad, which totaled $655.5 million in 2006.

Nicaragua has always been a predominantly agricultural country. On the Pacific side, coffee and cotton are by far the most important commercial crops. In 1992, more land was devoted to coffee than to any other crop, and it is the nation's leading export in terms of value. Nearly two-thirds of the coffee crop comes from the northern part of the Central Highlands, in the area north and east of the town of Estelí.[74] In the early 1980s, cotton became Nicaragua's second-largest export earner. Production is centered on large farms along the central Pacific coast. Unfortunately, the growth of the cotton industry has created serious problems. Soil erosion and pollution from the heavy use of pesticides have become serious concerns in the cotton district. Yields and exports have both been declining since 1985.[74]

Plantation crops are significant in the Caribbean lowlands. After disease wiped out most of the region's banana plants in the years before 1945, attempts were made to diversify crops. Today most of Nicaragua's bananas are grown in the northwestern part of the country near the port of Corinto; sugarcane is also grown in the same district.[74] Subsistence farms, where food is grown mainly for the consumption of the farm family instead of for sale, are found throughout Nicaragua. Favorite food crops grown on such farms include rice, beans, maize, citrus fruits, and cassava. Cassava, a root crop somewhat similar to the potato, is an important food in tropical regions. The plant's roots can be eaten boiled and sliced, or ground into flour. Cassava is also the main ingredient in tapioca pudding.[74]

The Pacific lowlands and the middle and southern parts of the Central Highlands are the principal cattle-grazing areas. An especially large number of cattle are found to the east of Lake Nicaragua.

Beginning in the 1960s, shrimp became big business on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The main shrimping centers on the Pacific coast are Corinto and San Juan del Sur. Fishing boats on the Caribbean side bring shrimp as well as lobsters into processing plants at Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and Laguna de Perlas.[74]

The lumber industry, concentrated mainly in the eastern third of the country, has been lethargic since 1980, with its activities limited by several problems. First, the best trees in the most accessible places have already been cut down. In addition, pure groves of trees are uncommon in tropical forests. Hundreds of species per acre are generally the rule, complicating the task of harvesting. Moreover, the most valuable dense hardwoods will not float. As a result, these trees must be trucked out of the forest rather than floated downriver to a sawmill. Finally, more and more restrictions are being placed on lumbering due to increased concerns about rain-forest destruction. But lumbering continues despite these obstacles; indeed, a single hardwood tree may be worth thousands of dollars.[74]

Political turmoil has had a severe impact on the mining industry. Exports of gold are down, and little effort has been made to develop the large copper deposits of the northeast. Fighting during the revolution destroyed nearly one-third of Nicaragua's industry. As it rebuilds, the government is trying to change the industrial mix of the country and achieve decentralization. Before the revolution, more than 60 percent of the nation's industrial production, by value, was concentrated in Managua. The industrial-decentralization policy may help to slow the growth of the largest cities, while assisting in the redistribution of income to impoverished areas. Major industries include food processing, cement production, metal fabrication, and oil refining. The Centroamérica power plant on the Tuma River in the Central Highlands has been expanded, and other hydroelectric projects have been undertaken to help provide electricity to the nation's newer industries.[74]

The economic core of Nicaragua is located in the Pacific zone, and the rail-and-highway network reflects that concentration of activity. The government-owned rail system—an inefficient money loser—is gradually being replaced by truck transport. Transportation throughout the rest of the nation is often inadequate. For example, one cannot travel all the way by highway from Managua to the Caribbean coast. The road ends at the town of Rama, and the rest of the trip must be completed by riverboat down the Río Escondido—a five-hour journey.[74]

Corinto is the only modern deepwater port in Nicaragua. It handles both agricultural exports and general-cargo imports. Petroleum is unloaded at Puerto Sandino, from which it travels by pipeline to a refinery in Managua. Trade with other nations in Central America has increased in recent years. Nicaragua has long been considered as a possible site for a new sea-level canal that could supplement the Panama Canal.[74]

Components of the economy

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2008 was estimated at $17.37 billion USD.[75] The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 56.9%, followed by the industrial sector at 26.1% (2006 est.). Agriculture represents 17% of GDP, the highest percentage in Central America [76] (2008 est.). Remittances account for over 15% of the Nicaraguan GDP. Close to one billion dollars are sent to the country by Nicaraguans living abroad.[77] Nicaraguan labor force is estimated at 2.322 million of which 29% is occupied in agriculture, 19% in the industry sector and 52% in the service sector (est. 2008).


After 1950 the scope of capital-intensive modern agriculture increased greatly. This growth was concentrated in export crops, while crops destined for domestic use continued to be produced by traditional labor-intensive methods. The shift to industrialized agriculture also significantly reduced the proportion of the population directly dependent on agriculture.

Commercial agriculture thrives in the Pacific Lowlands, where cotton and sugarcane are the staple crops. Although coffee is grown in the Pacific zone at elevations over 1,000 feet (300 meters), the most important coffee zone is the northwestern part of the Central Highlands, from Matagalpa to Jinotega. Cattle for the export of beef are raised in the southeastern part of the highlands. The overall expansion of export production by large landholders pushed the smallholders who produced the country's maize, beans, and other dietary staples onto marginal lands, with the result that food production could not keep up with population increase.

In the 1990s the government initiated efforts to diversify agriculture. Some of the new export-oriented crops were peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions.[78]

Fishing and Forestry

Forestry and fishing are the bases of the eastern seaboard's commercial economy. In national terms, however, neither sector was important until the take-off of the fishing industry in the late 20th century. Mahogany was harvested commercially on the Atlantic coast beginning early in the 19th century. In the 20th century pine stands began to be exploited. In neither case, though, was the resource managed so as to ensure a sustained yield.

Nicaragua's fishing industry operates off both coasts and in freshwater Lake Nicaragua. The lake also has an aquaculture industry. The most valuable catches are shrimp and spiny lobster. The government expanded the size of the fishing fleet in the 1980s, which permitted a rapid expansion of shrimp and lobster exports in the 1990s. A turtle fishery thrived on the Caribbean coast before it collapsed from overexploitation.[78]

Mining and the Production of Energy

Mining is not a major industry in Nicaragua, contributing less than 1% of gross domestic product (GDP). Still, gold and silver mines in the north-central and northeastern parts of the country are important elements of regional economies and constitute sources of revenue.[78]

About half of Nicaragua's energy is produced by wood, the most common cooking and heating fuel in rural areas. Important domestic sources of electrical energy are hydropower and geothermal power, the latter from the volcano Momotombo, near Managua. But most commercial electricity is generated by imported petroleum.[78]


Although the manufacturing sector of the economy contributes somewhat more to GDP than agriculture, it employs far fewer people. It was traditionally concerned largely with the processing of agricultural products, and it supplied the domestic market with foods, beverages, edible oils, cigarettes, and textile goods. Also manufactured were light metal goods, construction materials, wood and paper products, and chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides.

The manufacturing sector was expanded beyond these areas in the 1990s with the introduction of maquila industries, in which imported parts are assembled for reexport. The principal products were garments, footwear, aluminum frames, and jewelry. Growth in the maquila sector slowed in the 2000s with rising competition from Asian markets, particularly China.[78]

Economic Development in the 21st Century

Nicaragua has widespread underemployment and the second lowest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere. The US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has been in effect since April 2006 and has expanded export opportunities for many agricultural and manufactured goods. Textiles and apparel account for nearly 60% of Nicaragua's exports, but recent increases in the minimum wage have a strong possibility of eroding Nicaragua's comparative advantage in this industry. Nicaragua relies on international economic assistance to meet internal and external debt financing obligations. In early 2004, Nicaragua secured some $4.5 billion in foreign debt reduction under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, and in October 2007, the International Monetary Fund approved a new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility program. Despite the support, severe budget shortfalls resulting from the suspension of large amounts of direct budget support from foreign donors concerned with recent political developments has caused a slowdown in PRGF disbursements. Similarly, private sector concerns surrounding Daniel Ortega's handling of economic issues have dampened investment. Economic growth has slowed in 2009, due to decreased export demand from the US and Central American markets, lower commodity prices for key agricultural exports, and low remittance growth. Remittances are equivalent to roughly 15% of the country's Gross Domestic Product.[79]


By most economic measures, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas.[80][81][82] Nicaragua's nominal GDP stands at 6.554 for 2009 and increasing to 8.532 by 2014.[83] Nicaragua's GDP (PPP) 16.709 billion and the GDP per capita is $1,028 for Nicaragua.[84] By 2014 it is estimated that Haiti's GDP PPP would increase to 14.642 versus Nicaragua's 20.650.[85]

According to the CIA Fact Book, inflation averaged 8.1% from 2000 through 2006. As of 2007, Nicaragua's inflation stands at 9.8%. The World Bank also indicates moderate economic growth at an average of 5% from 1995 through 2004. In 2005 the economy grew 4%, with overall GDP reaching $4.91 billion. In 2006, the economy expanded by 3.7% as GDP reached $5.3 billion. As of 2008, it stands at $6.5 billion.

According to the PNUD, 48% of the population in Nicaragua live below the poverty line[86], 79.9% of the population live with less than $2 per day[87], unemployment is 3.9%, and another 46.5% are underemployed (2008 est.). As in many other developing countries, a large segment of the economically poor in Nicaragua are women. In addition, a relatively high proportion of Nicaragua's homes have a woman as head of household: 39% of urban homes and 28% of rural homes. According to UN figures, 80% of the indigenous people (who make up 5% of the population) live on less than $1 per day.[88] According to the FAO, 27% of all Nicaraguans are suffering from undernourishment; the highest percentage in Central America.


During the war between the US-backed Contras and the communist government of the Sandinistas in the 1980s, much of the country's infrastructure was damaged or destroyed.[89] Inflation averaged 30% throughout the 1980s. After the United States imposed a trade embargo in 1985, which lasted 5 years, Nicaragua's inflation rate rose dramatically. The 1985 annual rate of 220% tripled the following year and rose to more than 13,000% in 1988, the highest rate for any country in the Western Hemisphere in that year.

The country is still a recovering economy and it continues to implement further reforms to improve profits for foreign businesses, on which aid from the IMF is conditional. In 2005 finance ministers of the leading eight industrialized nations (G8) agreed to forgive some of Nicaragua's foreign debt, as part of the HIPC program. According to the World Bank Nicaragua's GDP was around $4.9 billion US dollars. In March 2007, Poland and Nicaragua signed an agreement to write off 30.6 million dollars which was borrowed by the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s.[90] Since the end of the war almost two decades ago, more than 350 state enterprises have been privatized. Inflation reduced from 33,500% in 1988 to 9.45% in 2006, and the foreign debt was cut in half.[91]

According to the World Bank, Nicaragua ranked as the 62nd best economy for starting a business making it the second best in Central America, after Panama.[92] Nicaragua's economy is "62.7% free" with high levels of fiscal, government, labor, investment, financial, and trade freedom.[93] It ranks as the 61st freest economy, and 14th (out of 29) in the Americas.


A 1000 Córdoba banknote, which was re-printed with a value of 200,000 Córdobas during the inflationary period of the late 1980s.

During the era of the Spanish colonial rule-and for more than 50 years afterwards-Nicaragua used Spanish coins that were struck for use in the "New World". The first unique coins for Nicaragua were issued in 1878 in the peso denomination. The cordoba became Nicaragua's currency in 1912 and was initially equal in value to the U.S. dollar. The Nicaraguan unit of currency is the Córdoba (NIO) and was named after Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, its national founder. The front of each of Nicaragua's circulating coins features the national coat of arms. The five volcanoes represent the five Central American countries at the time of Nicaragua's independence, while the rainbow at the top symbolizes peace and the cap in the center is a symbol of freedom. The design is contained within a triangle to indicate equality. The back of each coin features the denomination, with the inscription "En Dios Confiamos" (In God We Trust).

Conversion to the SUCRE

Nicaragua is currently a member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, which is also known as ALBA. ALBA has proposed creating a new currency, the Sucre for use among its members. In essence, this means that the Nicaraguan córdoba will be replaced with the Sucre. Members must make their local currency deposits in Caracas, to enter into force on sucre. The monetary union will first will be virtual, to be used only among the states for inter-regional trade. However, it will then be used in print form. The ALBA-Sucre union is similar to that of the Euro of the European Union.

Other nations that will follow a similar pattern include: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Honduras, Cuba, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda.[94]


Pacific beaches in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Tourism in Nicaragua is currently the second largest industry in the nation,[95] over the last 7 years tourism has grown about 70% nationwide with rates of 10%-16% annually.[96] Nicaragua has seen positive growth in the tourism sector over the last decade and is expected to become the first largest industry in 2007. The increase and growth led to the income from tourism to rise more than 300% over a period of 10 years.[97] The growth in tourism has also positively affected the agricultural, commercial, and finance industries, as well as the construction industry.

Every year about 60,000 U.S. citizens visit Nicaragua, primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives.[98] Some 5,300 people from the U.S. reside in the country now. The majority of tourists that visit Nicaragua are from the U.S., Central or South America, and Europe. According to the Ministry of Tourism of Nicaragua (INTUR),[99] the colonial city of Granada is the preferred spot for tourists. Also, the cities of León, Masaya, Rivas and the likes of San Juan del Sur, San Juan River, Ometepe, Mombacho Volcano, the Corn Islands, and others are main tourist attractions. In addition, ecotourism and surfing attract many tourists to Nicaragua.

According to TV Noticias (news program) on Canal 2, a Nicaragua television station, the main attractions in Nicaragua for tourists are the beaches, scenic routes, the architecture of cities such as León and Granada and most recently ecotourism and agritourism, particularly in Northern Nicaragua.[96]



Growth of the Nicaraguan population. (1961-2003)

According to the CIA World Factbook, Nicaragua has a population of 5,891,199; comprising mainly 69% mestizo, 17% white, 5% amerindian, 9.0% black and other races and this fluctuates with changes in migration patterns. The population is 84% urban.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Nicaragua's life expectancy was 71.5 years in 2009[100], a figure roughly equivalent to that of Vietnam and Palau. The infant mortality rate stood at 25.5, roughly equivalent to that of the Marshall Islands and Paraguay.[101]

Nicaragua appears ranked 91st in the international mortality rate, which places it between the world average and Panama.[102]

The most populous city in Nicaragua is the capital, Managua, with a population of 1.8 million (2005) and an estimated 2.2 by 2010 and more than 2.5 mill for the metro area. As of 2005, over 7.0 million inhabitants live in the Pacific, Central and North regions, 5.5 in the Pacific region alone, while inhabitants in the Caribbean region reached an estimated 700,000.[103]

There is a growing immigrant community[104] the majority of whom move for business, investment or retirement from United States, Canada, Europe, Taiwan, and other countries; the majority have settled in Managua, Granada and San Juan del Sur.

Many Nicaraguans live abroad, particularly in the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Canada.

Nicaragua has a population growth rate of 1.8% as of 2008.[105] This is the result of one of the highest birth rates in the Western Hemisphere: 24.9X1,000 according to the United Nations for the period 2005-2010.[106] The death rate is 4.1X1,000 during the same period [107] according to the United Nations.

Ethnic groups

Nicaraguan boys in the American Nicaraguan School.
An Afro-Nicaraguan.

The majority of the Nicaraguan population, (90% or approximately 7.0 million people), is either Mestizo or White. 69% are Mestizos (mixed Amerindian and White) and 17% are White with the majority being of Spanish, German, Italian, English or French ancestry. Mestizos and Whites mainly reside in the western region of the country.

About 9% of Nicaragua's population are black, and mainly reside on the country's sparsely populated Caribbean or Atlantic coast. The black population is mostly composed of black English-speaking Creoles who are the descendents of escaped or shipwrecked slaves; many carry the name of Scottish settlers who brought slaves with them, such as Campbell, Gordon, Downs and Hodgeson. Although many Creoles supported Somoza because of his close association with the US, they rallied to the Sandinista cause in July 1979 only to reject the revolution soon afterwards in response to a new phase of 'westernization' and imposition of central rule from Managua.[108] Nicaragua has the largest African diaspora population in Central America. There is also a smaller number of Garifuna, a people of mixed West African, Carib and Arawak descent. In the mid-1980s, the government divided the department of Zelaya - consisting of the eastern half of the country - into two autonomous regions and granted the black and indigenous people of this region limited self-rule within the Republic.

The remaining 5% of Nicaraguans are Amerindians, the unmixed descendants of the country's indigenous inhabitants. Nicaragua's pre-Columbian population consisted of many indigenous groups. In the western region the Nicarao people, after whom the country is named, were present along with other groups related by culture and language to the Mayans. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by indigenous peoples who were mostly chibcha related groups that had migrated from South America, primarily present day Colombia and Venezuela. These groups include the Miskitos, Ramas and Sumos. In the nineteenth century, there was a substantial indigenous minority, but this group was also largely assimilated culturally into the mestizo majority.


Palestinian Nicaraguans celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution in Managua waving Palestinian and Sandinista flags.

In the 1800s Nicaragua experienced several waves of immigration, primarily from Europe. In particular, families from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium immigrated to Nicaragua, particularly the departments in the Central and Pacific region. As a result, the Northern cities of Estelí, Jinotega and Matagalpa have significant communities of fourth generation Germans. They established many agricultural businesses such as coffee and sugar cane plantations, newspapers, hotels and banks.

Also present is a small Middle Eastern-Nicaraguan community of Syrians, Armenians, Palestinian Nicaraguans, Jewish Nicaraguans, and Lebanese people in Nicaragua with a total population of about 30,000. There is also an East Asian community mostly consisting of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese. The Chinese Nicaraguan population is estimated at around 12,000.[109] The Chinese arrived in the late 1800s but were unsubstantiated until the 1920s.

Relative to its overall population, Nicaragua has never experienced any large scale wave of immigrants. The total number of immigrants to Nicaragua, both originating from other Latin American countries and all other countries, never surpassed 1% of its total population prior to 1995. The 2005 census showed the foreign-born population at 1.2%, having risen a mere .06% in 10 years.[103]


The Civil War forced many Nicaraguans to start lives outside of their country. Although many Nicaraguans returned after the end of the war, many people emigrated during the 1990s and the 2000s due the unemployment and the poverty. The majority of the Nicaraguan Diaspora is in Costa Rica and the United States, and today one in six Nicaraguans live in these two countries[110]. It's difficult to estimate the number of Nicaraguans living abroad because many of them are living in host countries illegally. The table shows current statistics for certain countries:

Country Count
Costa Rica Costa Rica 236,000-750,000[111]
United States United States 300,000[110]
Mexico Mexico 2,522[112]
Honduras Honduras 23,000[110]
El Salvador El Salvador 100,000[110]
Nicaraguans living abroad At least 1,000,000[113]

The diaspora has also seen Nicaraguans settling around in smaller communities in other parts of the world, particularly Western Europe. Small communities of Nicarguans are found in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Communities also exist in Australia and New Zealand. Canada, Brazil and Argentina in the Americas also host small groups of these communities. In Asia, Japan also hosts a small Nicaraguan community.


Nicaraguan women wearing the Mestizaje costume, which is a traditional costume worn to dance the Mestizaje dance. The costume demonstrates the Spanish influence on Nicaraguan clothing.[114]

Nicaraguan culture has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by European culture but enriched with Amerindian sounds and flavors. Nicaraguan culture can further be defined in several distinct strands. The Pacific coast has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by Europeans. It was colonized by Spain and has a similar culture to other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. The Caribbean coast of the country, on the other hand, was once a British protectorate. English is still predominant in this region and spoken domestically along with Spanish and indigenous languages. Its culture is similar to that of Caribbean nations that were or are British possessions, such as Jamaica, Belize, The Cayman Islands, etc. The indigenous groups that were present in the Pacific coast have largely been assimilated into the mestizo culture, however, the indigenous people of the Caribbean coast have maintained a distinct identity.

Celebrating the annual "Alegria por la vida" Carnaval in Managua, Nicaragua
An example of typical Nicaraguan handicrafts which are sold in markets all over the country


Nicaraguan music is a mixture of indigenous and European, especially Spanish, influences. Musical instruments include the marimba and others common across Central America. The marimba of Nicaragua is uniquely played by a sitting performer holding the instrument on his knees. He is usually accompanied by a bass fiddle, guitar and guitarrilla (a small guitar like a mandolin). This music is played at social functions as a sort of background music. The marimba is made with hardwood plates, placed over bamboo or metal tubes of varying lengths. It is played with two or four hammers. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is known for a lively, sensual form of dance music called Palo de Mayo which is very much alive all throughout the country. It is especially loud and celebrated during the Palo de Mayo festival in May The Garifuna community exists in Nicaragua and is known for its popular music called Punta.

Distinctive traditional costumes and dance from a very renowned folk dance from Nicaragua, El Güegüense.

Nicaragua also enjoys a variety of international influence in the music arena. Bachata, Merengue, Salsa and Cumbia have also gained substantial prominence in cultural centers such as Managua, Leon and Granada. Cumbia dancing has grown popular with the introduction of Nicaraguan artists, including Gustavo Leyton, on Ometepe Island and in Managua. Salsa dancing has become extremely popular in Managua's nightclubs. With various influences, the form of salsa dancing varies in Nicaragua. New York style and Cuban Salsa (Salsa Casino) elements have gained popularity across the country.

Bachata dancing has also gained popularity in Nicaragua. Combinations of styles from the Dominican Republic and the United States can be found throughout the country. The nature of the dance in Nicaragua varies depending on the region. Rural areas tend to have a stronger focus on movement of the hips and turns. Urbanized cities, on the other hand, focus primarily on more sophisticated footwork in addition to movement and turns. A considerable amount of Bachata dancing influence comes from Nicaraguans living abroad in cities that include Miami, Los Angeles and to a much lesser extent, New York City.


Literature of Nicaragua can be traced to pre-Columbian times with the myths and oral literature that formed the cosmogonic view of the world that indigenous people had. Some of these stories are still known in Nicaragua. Like many Latin American countries, the Spanish conquerors have had the most effect on both the culture and the literature. Nicaraguan literature has historically been an important source of poetry in the Spanish-speaking world, with internationally renowned contributors such as Rubén Darío who is regarded as the most important literary figure in Nicaragua, referred to as the "Father of Modernism" for leading the modernismo literary movement at the end of the 19th century.[115] Other literary figures include Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Sergio Ramirez Mercado, Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli, Claribel Alegría and José Coronel Urtecho, among others.

El Güegüense is a satirical drama and was the first literary work of post-Columbian Nicaragua. It is regarded as one of Latin America's most distinctive colonial-era expressions and as Nicaragua's signature folkloric masterpiece combining music, dance and theater.[115] The theatrical play was written by an anonymous author in the 16th century, making it one of the oldest indigenous theatrical/dance works of the Western Hemisphere.[116] The story was published in a book in 1942 after many centuries.[117]


A sign in Bluefields in English (top), Spanish (middle) and Miskito (bottom).
In this map of voseo countries, the spread of the dialect is clearly illustrated. Nicaragua, represented in dark blue in Central America, has spread the dialect as an indirect result of the Nicaraguan Diaspora of the 1980s. Although other countries like Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay also are represented by dark blue on the map, Rioplatense Spanish is spoken in these regions. It varies in pronunciation compared to the Central American dialect.

Central American Spanish is spoken by about 90% of the country's population. In Nicaragua, the voseo form of Spanish is dominant in both speech and publications. Nicaragua is one out of two Central American nations that uses voseo Spanish as its written and spoken form. The same Spanish form is also seen in the Rio de Plata region of South America. The language and pronunciation varies depending on region. Some Nicaraguans pronounce the word vos with a strong s sound at the end. In the central part of the country, regions like Boaco pronounce vos without the s sound at the end. The result is vo, similar to vous in French and voi in Italian.

Nicaragua, unintentionally, has played a significant role in Central America by establishing the voseo dialect in the region. This is often seen as the result of the Nicaraguan Diaspora, in which roughly 1,000,000 Nicaraguans currently live abroad. The disapora itself was fueled by the civil war of the 1980s. As the first nation to formally adopt the voseo dialect, its influence has spread to other Central American countries as well as cities in the United States. Cities such as Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco have been areas where Central American voseo has become an established dialect.

In the Caribbean coast, many Afro-Nicaraguans and creoles speak English and creole English as their first language , but as second language they speak a very fluent Spanish. The language in the North and South Atlantic Regions are influenced by English, Dutch, Portuguese, Spaniard and French roots. In addition, inhabitants of the Caribbean coast, many of the indigenous people speak their native languages, such as the Miskito, Sumo, Rama and Garifuna language.[118] In addition, many ethnic groups in Nicaragua have maintained their ancestral languages, while also speaking Spanish or English; these include Chinese, Arabic, German, and Italian.

Spanish is taught as the principal language. English is taught to students during their high school years and tends to be the national second language. Other languages, particularly romance languages, can also be found sporadically.

Nicaragua was home to 3 extinct languages, one of which was never classified. Nicaraguan Sign Language is also of particular interest to linguists as the world's youngest language.[119]


Religious Affiliation in Nicaragua
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Managua
Religion Percentage
Roman Catholic 58.5%
Evangelical 21.6%
Moravian 1.6%
Jehovah's Witnesses 0.9%
Irreligious 15.7%
Other1 1.6%
1 Includes Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism among other religions.
Source: 2005 Nicaraguan Census[120]

Religion is a significant part of the culture of Nicaragua and is referred to in the constitution. Religious freedom, which has been guaranteed since 1939 and religious tolerance are promoted by both the Nicaraguan government and the constitution.

Nicaragua has no official religion. However, Catholic Bishops are expected to lend their authority to important state occasions, and their pronouncements on national issues are closely followed. They can also be called upon to mediate between contending parties at moments of political crisis.[121]

The largest denomination, and traditionally the religion of the majority, is Roman Catholic. However, the numbers of practicing Roman Catholics have been declining, while members of evangelical Protestant groups and Mormons have been rapidly growing in numbers since the 1990s. There are also strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast.

Roman Catholicism came to Nicaragua in the sixteenth century with the Spanish conquest and remained, until 1939, the established faith. Protestantism and other Christian denominations came to Nicaragua during the nineteenth century, but only gained large followings in the Caribbean Coast during the twentieth century.

Popular religion revolves around the saints, who are perceived as intercessors (but not mediators) between human beings and God. Most localities, from the capital of Managua to small rural communities, honor patron saints, selected from the Roman Catholic calendar, with annual fiestas. In many communities, a rich lore has grown up around the celebrations of patron saints, such as Managua's Saint Dominic (Santo Domingo), honored in August with two colorful, often riotous, day-long processions through the city. The high point of Nicaragua's religious calendar for the masses is neither Christmas nor Easter, but La Purísima, a week of festivities in early December dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, during which elaborate altars to the Virgin Mary are constructed in homes and workplaces.[121]

Islam has grown slightly in recent years. The country's close political ties have also encouraged religious ties as well. The city of Managua has the country's only Mosque prayer house.


The Cuisine of Nicaragua is a mixture of criollo food and dishes of pre-Columbian origin. The Spaniards found that the Creole people had incorporated local foods available in the area into their cuisine.[122] Traditional cuisine changes from the Pacific to the Caribbean coast; while the Pacific coast's main staple revolves around local fruits and corn, the Caribbean coast cuisine makes use of seafood and the coconut.

As in many other Latin American countries, corn is a main staple. Corn is used in many of the widely consumed dishes, such as the nacatamal, and indio viejo. Corn is also an ingredient for drinks such as pinolillo and chicha as well as sweets and desserts. In addition to corn, rice and beans are eaten very often.

Gallo pinto, Nicaragua's national dish, is made with white rice and red beans that are cooked separately and then fried together. The dish has several variations including the addition of coconut oil and/or grated coconut on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans begin their day with Gallopinto.

Many of Nicaragua's dishes include indigenous fruits and vegetables such as jocote, mango, papaya, tamarindo, pipian, banana, avocado, yuca, and herbs such as cilantro, oregano and achiote.[122]

Nicaraguans also eat guinea pigs and tapirs,[123] iguanas and turtle eggs.


Baseball is the most popular sport played in Nicaragua. Although some professional Nicaraguan baseball teams have folded in the recent past, Nicaragua enjoys a strong tradition of American-style Baseball. Baseball was introduced to Nicaragua at different years during the 19th century. In the Caribbean coast locals from Bluefields were taught how to play baseball in 1888 by Albert Addlesberg, a retailer from the United States.[124] Baseball did not catch on in the Pacific coast until 1891 when a group of mostly students originating from universities of the United States formed "La Sociedad de Recreo" (Society of Recreation) where they played various sports, baseball being the most popular among them.[124] There are five teams that compete amongst themselves: Indios del Boer (Managua), Chinandega, Tiburones (Sharks) of Granada, Leon and Masaya. Players from these teams comprise the National team when Nicaragua competes internationally. The country has had its share of MLB players (including current Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Vicente Padilla and Boston Red Sox pitcher Devern Hansack), but the most notable is Dennis Martínez, who was the first baseball player from Nicaragua to play in Major League Baseball.[125] He became the first Latin-born pitcher to throw a perfect game, and the 13th in major league history, when he played with the Montreal Expos against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in 1991.[126]

Boxing is the second most popular sport in Nicaragua.[127] The country has had world champions such as Alexis Argüello and Ricardo Mayorga among others. Recently, soccer has gained popularity, especially with the younger population. The Dennis Martínez National Stadium has served as a venue for both baseball and soccer but the first ever national soccer stadium in Managua is currently under construction.[128]


Literacy Campaign Propaganda Poster

Nicaragua's first public primary school opened in 1837. By the late 1860s public grade schools existed in most of the larger cities. In 1877, Nicaraguan authorities accepted the principle that such schools should be nationally funded, and that attendance should be free and compulsory. In 1881 education was formally removed from religious control and turned over to government, but church-run schools continued to operate alongside the public system. Subsequently shortages of facilities and teachers, especially in rural areas, hampered educational development. The Sandinista government sharply increased spending on education and reduced illiteracy significantly, but shortages of facilities and personnel remained a problem. The Sandinistas also added a leftist ideological content to the curriculum, which was removed after 1990.[129]

Higher education dates from 1818 when the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) was founded in León. A major reform, begun in 1980, reorganized the country's postsecondary system into two universities: the UNAN, with campuses in León and Managua, and the Central American University in Managua. It also restructured the curriculum, giving more emphasis to science and technology, and less to law and commerce. Nicaragua also has several more specialized institutions, with a focus on education that will promote economic development.[130]

Education is paid via taxes for all Nicaraguans.[131] Elementary education is free and compulsory, however, many children in rural areas are unable to attend due to lack of schools and other reasons. Communities located on the Caribbean coast have access to education in their native languages.

The majority of higher education institutions are located in Managua, higher education has financial, organic and administrative autonomy, according to the law. Also, freedom of subjects is recognized.[132] Nicaragua's higher education system consists of 48 universities, and 113 colleges and technical institutes in the areas of electronics, computer systems and sciences, agroforestry, construction and trade-related services.[133] The educational system includes 1 U.S. accredited English-language university, 3 Bilingual university programs, 5 Bilingual secondary schools and dozens of English Language Institutes. In 2005, almost 400,000 (7%) of Nicaraguans held a university degree.[134] 18% of Nicaragua's total budget is invested in primary, secondary and higher education. University level institutions account for 6% of 18%.

As of 1979, the educational system was one of the poorest in Latin America.[135] Under the Somoza dictatorships, limited spending on education and generalized poverty, which forced many adolescents into the labor market, constricted educational opportunities for Nicaraguans. One of the first acts of the newly elected Sandinista government in 1980 was an extensive and successful literacy campaign, using secondary school students, university students and teachers as volunteer teachers: it reduced the overall illiteracy rate from 50.3% to 12.9% within only five months.[136] This was one of a number of large scale programs which received international recognition for their gains in literacy, health care, education, childcare, unions, and land reform.[137][138] In September 1980, UNESCO awarded Nicaragua the “Nadezhda Krupskaya” award for the literacy campaign. This was followed by the literacy campaigns of 1982, 1986, 1987, 1995 and 2000, all of which were also awarded by UNESCO.[139]

Communications and Media

For most Nicaraguans radio and TV are the main sources of news. There are more than 100 radio stations, many of them in the capital, and several TV networks. Cable TV is available in most urban areas.[140]

The print media are varied and partisan, representing pro and anti-government positions.


La Prensa; El Nuevo Diario; Confidencial Varies


Nicavision Canal 12; Canal 10; Telenica Canal 8; Canal 4; Televicentro Canal 2


Radio Corporacion; Radio Mundial; Radio Nicaragua (Government-owned); Radio Sandino; Radio Pirata

International rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
Institute for Economics and Peace [1] Global Peace Index[141] 61 out of 144
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 124 out of 182
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 130 out of 180
World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 115 out of 133

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  139. ^ B. Arrien, Juan. "Literacy in Nicaragua" (PDF). UNESCO. Retrieved 2007-08-01. 
  140. ^
  141. ^ "Vision of Humanity". Vision of Humanity. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 

Further reading

  • Asleson, Vern. (2004) Nicaragua: Those Passed By. Galde Press ISBN 1-931942-16-1
  • Babb, Florence E. (2001). After revolution: mapping gender and cultural politics in neoliberal Nicaragua. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70900-5. 
  • Bayard de Volo, Lorraine (2001). Mothers of heroes and martyrs: gender identity politics in Nicaragua, 1979-1999. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6764-9. 
  • Belli, Gioconda. The Country Under My Skin : A Memoir of Love and War. Garden City, N.Y: Anchor. ISBN 1-4000-3216-4. 
  • Bermann, Karl (1986). Under the big stick: Nicaragua and the United States since 1848. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-323-3. 
  • Bermúdez, Enrique (Summer 1988). The Contras' Valley Forge: How I View the Nicaraguan Crisis. The Heritage Foundation. 
  • Borge, Tomás (1992). The patient impatience: from boyhood to guerilla: a personal narrative of Nicaragua's struggle for liberation. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press. ISBN 0-915306-97-2. 
  • Brown, Timothy X. (2001). The real Contra War: highlander peasant resistance in Nicaragua. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3252-3. 
  • Brunnegger, Sandra (2007). From Conflict to Autonomy in Nicaragua: Lessons Learnt. London: Minority Rights Group International. ISBN 1 904584 61 6. 
  • Bugajski, Janusz (1990). Sandinista communism and rural Nicaragua. New York: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-93536-1. 
  • Charlip, Julie A.. Cultivating Coffee: The Farmers of Carazo, Nicaragua, 1880-1930 (Ohio RIS Latin America Series). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. ISBN 0-89680-227-2. 
  • Chomsky, Noam; Herman, Edward S. (2002). Manufacturing consent: the political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-71449-9. 
  • Christian, Shirley (1986). Nicaragua, revolution in the family. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-394-74457-8. 
  • Clark, George C. (2001). With the Old Corps in Nicaragua. Novato, CA: Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-737-0. 
  • Colburn, Forrest D. (1991). My car in Managua. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-75124-9. 
  • Cox, Jack; Somoza, Anastasio; Earle, Peter (1980). Nicaragua Betrayed. Boston: Western Islands. ISBN 0-88279-235-0. 
  • Field, Les W. (1999). The grimace of Macho Ratón: artisans, identity, and nation in late-twentieth century western Nicaragua. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2288-9. 
  • Gilbert, Dennis L.. Sandinistas: The Party And The Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 1-55786-006-8. 
  • Gobat, Michel. Confronting the American Dream: Nicaragua under U.S. Imperial Rule (American Encounters/Global Interactions). Durham, N.C: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3634-0. 
  • Gordon, Edmund W. (1998). Disparate diasporas: identity and politics in an African Nicaraguan community. Austin, Tex: University of Texas Press, Austin, Institute of Latin American Studies. ISBN 0-292-72819-0. 
  • Gould, Jeffrey L. (1998). To die in this way: Nicaraguan Indians and the myth of mestizaje, 1880-1965. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2098-3. 
  • Hale, Charles R.. Resistance and Contradiction: Miskitu Indians and the Nicaraguan State, 1894-1987. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2800-3. 
  • Heyck, Denis Lynn Daly (1990). Life stories of the Nicaraguan revolution. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-90211-8. 
  • Horton, Lynn. Peasants In Arms: War & Peace in the Mountains of Nicaragua, 1979-1994 (Ohio RIS Latin America Series). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. ISBN 0-89680-204-3. 
  • Kagan, Robert A. (1996). A twilight struggle: American power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-02-874057-2. 
  • Kinzer, Stephen (1991). Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua. New York: Putnam. ISBN 0-399-13594-4. 
  • Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. New York: Times Books. ISBN 0-8050-7861-4. 
  • Kruckewitt, Joan. The Death of Ben Linder: The Story of a North American in Sandinista Nicaragua. New York: Seven Stories Press. ISBN 1-58322-068-2. 
  • Lancaster, Roger N. (1992). Life is hard: machismo, danger, and the intimacy of power in Nicaragua. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08929-4. 
  • Macaulay, Neill. The Sandino Affair. Wacahoota Pr. ISBN 0-9653864-4-9. 
  • Morley, Morris H.. Washington, Somoza and the Sandinistas: State and Regime in US Policy toward Nicaragua 1969-1981. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-52335-4. 
  • Pardo-Maurer, R (1990). The Contras, 1980-1989: a special kind of politics. New York: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-93818-2. 
  • Plunkett, Hazel. In Focus Nicaragua a Guide to the People, Politics and Culture (In Focus Guides). Interlink Publishing Group. ISBN 1-56656-438-7. 
  • Randall, Margaret (1995). Sandino's daughters: testimonies of Nicaraguan women in struggle. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-2214-5. 
  • Ratliff, William E.; Miranda, Roger. Civil War in Nicaragua: Inside the Sandinistas. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-761-3. 
  • Rushdie, Salman. The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey. Clearwater, Fla: Owl Books. ISBN 0-8050-5311-5. 
  • Sabia, Debra (1997). Contradiction and conflict: the popular church in Nicaragua. University: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-0873-3. 
  • Sirias, Silvio. Bernardo and the Virgin: A Novel. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0-8101-2427-0. 
  • Sklar, Holly (1988). Washington's war on Nicaragua. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-295-4. 
  • Taber, Michael; Bishop, Maurice; Marcus, Bruce (1983). Maurice Bishop speaks: the Grenada Revolution, 1979-83. New York: Pathfinder Press. ISBN 0-87348-619-6. 
  • Walker, Thomas G.. Nicaragua, 4th Edition. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3882-4. 
  • Walker, William J. (1985). The war in Nicaragua. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-0882-8. 
  • Webb, Gary. Dark Alliance : The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. New York: Seven Stories Press. ISBN 1-888363-68-1. 
  • Zimmermann, Matilde (2000). Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan revolution. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2595-0. 

External links

  • [2] Visit Nicaragua
General information

] - The Definitive Online Travel Guide for San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

  • The Pulsera Project A US based non-profit Organization partnered with the Los Quinchos orphanage in San Marcos and Granada.
  • ProNica A quaker organization dedicated to empowering the people of Nicaragua. Student groups volunteer annually.

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Quick Facts
Capital Managua
Government Republic
Currency gold cordoba (NIO)
Area total: 129,494
Religion Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant
Electricity 120V/60Hz (USA plug)
Calling Code +505
Internet TLD .ni
Time Zone UTC-6

Nicaragua[1] is a country in Central America. It has coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea, in the east, and the North Pacific Ocean, in the west, and has Costa Rica to the southeast and Honduras to the northwest.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America and contains the largest freshwater body in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua or Cocibolca.



Tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands. The weather during the dry months can be very hot in the Pacific lowlands. The Atlantic coast sees an occasional hurricane each season. In the past, these hurricanes have inflicted a lot of damage.


Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes making for some majestic landscapes. Nicaragua is dotted by several lakes of volcanic origin. The largest, Lago de Nicaragua, is home to the only fresh water sharks in the world. Managua, the capital, sits on the shores of the polluted Lago de Managua.

Natural hazards : destructive earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides.

Highest point 
Mogoton 2,438 m


Nicaragua was entered by Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century. The pre-Colombian Indian civilization was almost completely wiped out by disease, enslavement and deportation. Nicaragua then became a Spanish colony; Granada is one of the oldest colonial cities in the American continent. During the colonial period, Nicaragua was part of the Capitania General based in Guatemala.

Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades.

One of the most colorful personalities of Nicaraguan history is William Walker. Walker, a US southerner, came to Nicaragua as an opportunist. Nicaragua was on the verge of a civil war; Walker sided with one of the factions and was able to gain control of the country, hoping that the US would annex Nicaragua as a southern slave state. With designs on conquering the rest of Central America, Walker and his filibustero army marched on Costa Rica before he was turned back at the battle of Santa Rosa. Eventually Walker left Nicaragua and was executed when he landed in Honduras at a later date. The U.S. Marines also invaded Nicaragua several times. One of the cities who witnessed an invasion was San Juan Del Sur. The General Sandino, seeing them as invaders, took the war to them, which lasted over 5 years, until the marines dissocupied the country.

The twentieth century was characterized by the rise and fall of the Somoza dynasty. Anastasio Somoza Garcia came to power as the head of the National Guard. Educated in the US and trained by the US Army, he was adept managing his relations with the United States. After being assassinated, he was succeeded by his sons, Luis and Anastasio Jr ("Tachito"). By 1978, opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes and resulted in a short-lived civil war that led to the fall of Somoza in July, 1979. The armed part of the insurgence was named the Sandinistas; named after the liberator of Nicaragua, Augusto Cesear Sandino. Due to the nature of the Sandinista government, with their social programmes designed to benefit the majority, and their support for rebels fighting against the military government in El Salvador, the USA felt that they were a threat to their interests, and organized and trained terrorist forces throughout most of the 1980s. Peace was brokered in 1987 by Oscar Arias, which led to elections in 1990. In a stunning development, Violeta Chamorro of the UNO coalition surprisingly beat out the incumbent leader Daniel Ortega.

Elections in 1996, and again in 2001 saw the Sandinistas defeated by the Liberal party. During the 1990s the country's economic policies saw a shift in direction aiming to transform Nicaragua to a market economy. Managua's downtown area was vastly damaged by an earthquake in 1972, which killed more than 10,000 people, and in 1998, Nicaragua was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch. As of 2007, Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti.


There are about 5.6 million Nicaragüenses in Nicaragua. The majority of the population is mestizo and white. Nicaraguan culture has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by European culture but enriched with Amerindian sounds and flavors. The main language is Spanish, which is spoken by about 90% of the population.


Tourism in Nicaragua is growing at 15% to 20% annually. Tourists are coming for the beauty and richness this country has to offer. From eco-tourism, adventure, beach, colonial cities, nightlife, and a low cost of living, Nicaragua has experienced a booming number of tourists from around the world. The places where tourists are hanging out and having a good time are in the colonial cities of Granada and Leon, the Pacific Coast, hiking on the volcanoes, and in the Caribbean coast in the Corn Islands.

There is much to see and do in Nicaragua, and it is a budget paradise due to the fact that everything in Nicaragua is cheap. Tourism has grown over 300% in seven years, with tourists arriving from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. Bars, discotheques, restaurants, and hotels are opening at a rapid rate in the cities of Granada, and Leon. San Juan Del Sur is experiencing a surfing tourism with surfers from around the world comming to catch some of the greatest waves ranked as one of the 5 best in the world. With a land filled with festivals, poets, singers, and beauty, there is absolutely no reason why anyone should not dream of visiting this beautiful country.

Capital Region
Nicaragua's most populous region, centered on the capital, Managua
Caribbean Nicaragua
Here travel is mostly done by boat and the rich mixture of Nicaraguan, Carribean, Miskito Indian and Garifuna cultures makes this region seem like another country.
Northern Highlands
Visit cigar factories and see how coffee is grown in a region filled with remnants of the revolution.
Northern Pacific Coast
At the collision point between two tectonic plates, this region has some of the highest volcanic activity on Earth and is also home to two national icons : rhum Flor de Caña and poet Rubén Darío.
Rio San Juan Region
An almost forgotten part of the country with its hidden treasures like the car free Solentiname Islands or El Castillo.
Southern Pacific Coast
A narrow stretch of land bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Lago Nicaragua. Surf remote spots along the coast, party in San Juan del Sur or ride a motorbike around iconic Isla de Ometepe.

Get in

There are no passenger rail lines between Nicaragua and its neighbors.

By plane

You will fly into the international airport in Managua. Flights from the U.S. arrive from Houston, Miami, or Atlanta. Spirit Airlines opened in August 2007. Managua is also serviced by American Airlines, Continental, Taca, Aeromexico and Delta.

It costs US$5 to enter the country (prices have not changed in 3 years but try to have exact change).

Tourist visas are not issued, instead tourist cards or provided and are valid for three months for US citizens as well as for people from the EU and Canada. There will be taxis right outside, these are relatively expensive (US$15 for the 20 Km trip to Managua centre) , or you can walk out to the road and try to flag down a regular cab. Some taxi drivers may try to overcharge, particularly seeing a foreign face, and may start with US$10, but a price around US$3-6 or 60-100 Cordobas is appropriate from the airport. You can also arrange a shuttle pickup to take you to nearby cities like Granada, a popular option for tourists who do not want to spend a night in Managua. One such service is Paxeos.

You can also fly into the tiny Granada airstrip from San Jose.

By car

There are two border crossings to Costa Rica, Penas Blancas west of Lake Nicaragua and Los Chiles east of it. You have to take an US$10 boat to cross at Los Chiles. It is actually not possible to cross into Nicaragua via Los Chiles by car.

There are three major border crossings to Honduras. Las Manos is on the shortest route to Tegucigalpa, the others ones are on the Panamerican Highway north of Leon.

Foreigners have to pay US$7 to enter the border.

By bus

International buses are available between Managua and San Jose, Costa Rica (also stopping briefly in Rivas and Granada), San Salvador, El Salvador (stopping briefly in Leon) and Honduras. Some buses will continue to Panama City or Guatemala City. The buses are relatively modern with air conditioning, and make stops for fuel and food along the way. However, if you plan on taking this form of transportation, you should plan ahead. Buses between the major cities can fill up days ahead of departure dates. See following companies: Transnica [2], Tica Bus [3] and King Quality. Another option is to be picked up in the smaller cities along the route, ask for the local ticket office. There are also cheap (but terribly uncomfortable) "Chicken buses" a few times a week between managua and guatemala city (US$20), that stop in major cities like Leon.

An alternative way to travel across the border is take a bus to/from a major city that drops you off at the border. You can then cross the border and board another bus. This is a common strategy for travelers, especially on the Costa Rican/Nicaraguan border. This method takes longer, but is much cheaper and can be done on a moment's notice.

Get around


(in kilometers)

MANAGUA 0 383 88 132 148 45 162 46 139 93 29 130 226 557 111 300 216
BLUEFIELDS 383 0 322 510 462 402 476 422 243 476 386 444 540 842 461 351 530
BOACO 88 322 0 220 157 107 181 127 79 181 91 149 425 517 166 240 235
CHINANDEGA 132 510 220 0 161 177 194 177 271 37 161 181 238 591 243 43 229
ESTELÍ 148 462 157 161 0 166 103 185 219 141 151 71 78 498 226 383 68
GRANADA 45 402 107 177 166 0 180 41 184 138 16 148 244 576 68 318 234
JINOTEGA 162 476 181 194 103 180 0 202 232 175 165 32 181 459 240 377 171
JINOTEPE 46 422 127 177 185 41 202 0 171 122 37 170 266 603 65 346 256
JUIGALPA 139 243 79 271 219 184 232 202 0 229 141 198 296 599 208 160 297
LEÓN 90 476 181 37 141 138 175 122 229 0 122 143 219 650 187 394 209
MASAYA 29 386 91 161 151 16 165 37 141 122 0 130 229 558 73 301 219
MATAGALPA 130 444 149 181 71 148 32 170 198 130 130 0 428 297 297 343 139
OCOTAL 226 540 425 238 78 244 181 266 296 229 229 149 0 576 304 455 29
PT. CABEZAS 557 842 517 591 498 576 459 603 599 558 558 428 576 0 625 760 566
RIVAS 111 461 166 243 226 68 240 65 208 73 73 297 304 625 0 318 244
SAN CARLOS 300 351 240 43 383 318 377 346 160 301 301 343 455 760 318 0 447
SOMOTO 216 530 235 229 68 234 171 256 297 219 219 139 29 566 447 447 0

By bus

Bus is definitely the main mode of travel in Nicaragua, and a great way to get to know the country's geography, people and even some culture (music, snack food, dress, manners). Most of the buses are old decommissioned yellow US school buses (though often fantastically repainted and redecorated), the proverbial "chicken bus." Expect these buses to be packed full, and your luggage (if large) may be stored at the back or on the top of the bus (along with bicycles and other large items). You'd better be quick or you may be standing most of the trip, or sitting on a bag of beans or yes, next to a chicken. Some have not replaced the original seats meant to carry 7 year olds, so you may have sore knees by the end of the trip. People often sell snacks and drinks on the buses (or through the windows) before they depart or at quick stops. A typical fare may vary between US$1 or less for short (~30min) trips to US$3-4 for longer trips. Most cities in Nicaragua have one main bus terminal for long distance buses. Managua has numerous terminals, each serving a different region of the country depending upon its geographic placement in Managua. Mercado Israel Levites, in the western part of the city, serves cities on the Pacific Coast to the north, e.g. Leon, Chinandega and all points in between. Mercado Mayoreo on the eastern side of the city serves points east and north, like Matagalpa and Rama. Mercado Huembes in the southern part of Managua serves points south, like Rivas/San Jorge and Peñas Blancas.

Another method of traveling cross country are minibuses ("microbuses" as they are called). These are essentially vans, holding up to 15 people (some may be larger, shuttle sized). Minibuses have regular routes between Managua and frequently travel to relatively nearby cities like Granada, Leon, Masaya, Jinotepe and Chinandega. Most of these leave from and return to the small roadside microbus terminal accross the street from the Universidad Centoamericana (and thus the buses and terminal are known as "los microbuses de la UCA"). Microbuses run all day into the late afternoon/early evening depending on destination, with shorter hours on Sunday, and a definite rush hour during the week as they service nearby cities from which many people commute to Managua. The microbuses cost a little more than the school buses, but are faster, making fewer stops. As with the school buses, expect these to be packed, arguably with even less space as drivers often pack more people than the vehicle was designed to handle. On the other hand, most drivers (and driver's helpers) are friendly and helpful, and will help you store your baggage. Microbuses cost a bit more than regular buses. They run to the main bus terminals in Leon and Chinandega, to the Parque Central and Mercado de Artesanias (and then leave from another park a couple blocks from there) in Masaya, and to/from a park 1 block from the Parque Central in Granada. There is more limited microbus service to other cities out of their respective bus terminals in Managua.

By plane

At the international airport there are two offices right to the right of the main terminal, these offices house the domestic airlines. These are great if you want to get to the Atlantic Coast. I will not give prices as they change but it take 1.5 hours to get to the Corn Islands as opposed to a full day overland. If you are trying to save time, then this is the best way to get to the Corn Islands or anywhere on the Atlantic Coast.

By boat

Boat is the only way to get to the Isla de Ometepe or to the Solentinames. Be aware that high winds and bad weather can cancel ferry trips. That might not be such a bad thing, though, since windy/bad weather can make the Ferry trip unpleasant for those prone to seasickness, and many of the boats used to access Ometepe are old, smaller ferries and launches. The fastest route to Ometepe leaves from San Jorge (10 minutes from Rivas and often connecting on the same Managua-Rivas bus) and goes to Moyogalpa. A much longer trip can be taken (and with only a couple of trips weekly) from Granada to Altagracia. There is a large modern ferry from San Jorge that makes daily trips to the new port of San Jose del Sur close to Moyogalpa.

Boat is also a cool way to get to the Corn Islands. Take a bus to Rama, which is the end of the road. This road used to be rough and hard, but it has now been newly paved and makes the trip easier (2006). There is a weekly ship with bunk beds to the Corn Islands, and small launches to Bluefields and El Bluff multiple times a day. Or you can get on a speedboat to Bluefields or El Bluff. Catch the boat to the Corn Islands from there, or take a flight out of Bluefields. Also, a large cargo boat takes two days returning from the Corn Islands to Rama with an overnight in El Bluff to take on cargo. There is now also a road from Rama to Pearl Lagoon, which can also be reached in a launch from Bluefields.

By taxi

The taxi drivers in Managua can be aggressive and there are loads so it is easy to find a fare that suits you. Taxis will take multiple fares if they are heading roughly in the same direction. Taxi drivers in all the cities are generally fair and well mannered and a nice way to see local scenery. For fares within smaller cities there is a set fare per person, so no negotiating is needed. In Managua the fare should be negotiated before getting into the taxi, and will increase depending on the number of passengers (in your party, not already in the taxi or getting in later) time of day (night is significantly more expensive) and location (going to or from a nice part of Managua may cost you a little more due to lowered bargaining power). The cheapest fare for one passenger is C$20 (2009), but the same route if you are a party of two may be C$30. A trip all the way across Managua during the day should not be more than about C$50-60 if not coming from or going to the airport. Tipping is not expected (though always welcomed).You can also split the cost of taxi to get to destinations that are close to Managua by like Masaya, if you should prefer to travel with modicum of comfort.

There have been increasing incidents of taxi crime in Managua. The most typical scenario is that an additional passenger(s) enters the cab just a short distance from your pickup, they and the taxi driver take you in circles around town, take everything on you, and leave you in a random location typically far from where you were going. Check that the taxi has the license number painted on the side, that the taxi sign is on the roof, the light is on inside the taxi, and that the taxi operator license is clearly visible in the front seat. You may want to make a scene of having a friend seeing you off and writing down the license number. Care should be taken especially at night, when it may be best to have your hotel arrange a taxi.


Hitchhiking is common in more rural areas and small towns, but not recommended in Managua. Nicaraguans themselves usually only travel in the backs of trucks, not inside of a vehicle they are traveling with a group of people (3 or more). Some drivers may ask for a little money for bringing you along - Nicaraguans see this as being cheap, but will usually pay the small amount (US$1/person).


Spanish is the official language, do not expect to find many English spoken outside of the larger and more expensive hotels. Creole, English and indigenous languages are spoken along the Atlantic coast. Nicaraguans tend to leave out the s at the end of Spanish words. "Vos" is often used instead of "tu", something which is common throughout Central America, though "tu" is used occasionally and will always be understood by Nicas.


If entering the country from either Honduras or Costa Rica by land, get rid of those currencies as they are hard to exchange away from the border.

The national currency is called the Cordoba. As on April 2009, there are 20 Cordobas to one US Dollar. The government deflates the currency about 5% every year to be competitive with the dollar. Most places accept dollars but you will often get change in cordobas and businesses will give you a lower exchange rate. Make sure you have some cordobas handy when using collective buses, taxis, or other small purchases. Nearly all banks exchange Dollars to Cordobas but lines are often long, and you may have to use your credit card to get money rather than your bank card. Make sure you bring your passport when exchanging money. All ATMs give Cordobas and some can dispense dollars too. Make sure that the ATM you're using is part of the networks listed on the back of your bank card. Though you may be able to find some ATMs that work on the Mastercard/Cirrus system, most will use only the Visa/Plus system.

If you need cordobas when the banks are closed or you can't use your ATM, street licensed money changers or cambistas can be found. Always count your money, though mistakes are rare if you use members of the cambista cooperative. The rate of exchange can be better or worse than at the bank. However, it is rare during normal hours (M-F 9-5 and Saturday to Noon) to get a worse rate than the banks, though near the markets you might do as bad. (Latest example January 2010 - Bank pays 20.49 per US$1, cambistas offer C$20.80) In Managua, money changers can be found near Pizza Valentis in Los Robles, beside the Dominos Pizza near the BAC Building, and in the Artesania area of Mercado Huembes among other places.

Most modern stores, especially Texaco (Star Mart), Esso (On The Run), La Union (supermarket owned by Wal-Mart) will take US currency at a rate no worse than banks, with change in Cordobas (C$). Limit the bills to US$20 for best success. Cambistas have no problem with US$50 and US$100 bills. They won't accept Euros, Canadian money, or Traveller's Cheques (checks).

If you are going to take one thing home from Nicaragua it should be a hammock. Nicaraguan hammocks are among the best made and most comfortable ever. The really good ones are made in Masaya, ask a taxi to take you to the fabrica de hamacas, the mercado viejo or the mercado nuevo. You will find the most variety and best prices in Masaya. A simple one person hammock should cost under US$20. Hammocks are also sold in the Huembes market in Managua, which has the only large local goods and arts and crafts section in Managua.

Nicaragua also produces excellent, highly awarded rum called Flor de Cana. This is the most common liquor drunk in Nicaragua. Those aged 4 (go for Extra Light over Extra Dry or Etiqueta Negra) and particularly 7 years (Gran Reserva) are a great buy for the money - about US$4-6/bottle. Buy in the local stores as the prices at the duty-free airport shops are higher. Gran Reserva is the best value based on price and quality.

A trip to the artisinal towns of the "Pueblos Blancos" is the most rewarding way to shop for local arts and crafts. Located just 10 minutes from Masaya, 30 minutes from Granada and 40 minutes from Managua, these towns are the arts and crafts center of Nicaragua. Katarina is home to dozens of nurseries with plants as diverse as this lush tropical country can produce, and also boasts a beautiful view over the Laguna de Apoyo (volcanic crater lake) where you can enjoy the view from numerous restaurants. San Juan del Oriente is the center of pottery production. You can find dozens of mom and pop studios and stores, meet the artisans and choose from a dazzling and creative array of vases, bowls and other ceramic items. Some of the best shops with more original designs are a few blocks into town off the main highway. Finally, Masatepe is known for its furniture--particularly wicker and wood, and with a special focus on rocking chairs, the favorite Nicaraguan chair. Although you might not be able take any rocking chairs or ferns home with you on the plane, it definitely worth "window" shopping in these picturesque towns. You can also find San Juan del Oriente pottery, Masatepe furniture and other arts and crafts in Masaya, Mercado Huembes in Managua, and in the streets of Granada, Leon and other places visited by tourists. Remember to bargain. Although you may be a tourist, you can still bargain.


Food is very cheap. A plate of food from the street will cost 20-50 cordobas. A typical dinner will consist of a meat, rice, beans, salad and some fried plantains, costing under US$3. Buffet-style restaurants/stalls called "fritanga" are very common, quality varies quite a bit. A lot of the food is fried in oil (vegetable or lard). It is possible to eat vegetarian: the most common dish is gallo pinto (beans and rice), and most places serve cheese (fried or fresh), fried plantains and cabbage salad. There are a 'few' vegetable dishes such as guiso de papas, pipián o ayote-- a buttery creamy stewp of potato, zucchini or squash; guacamole nica made with hard-boiled eggs, breaded pipian (zucchini), and various fried fritters of potatoes, cheese and other vegetables. If you like meat, grilled chicken and beef is delicious, the beef is usually good quality but often cooked tough; also try the nacatamales, a traditional Sunday food, that is essentially a large tamal made with pork or beef and other seasonings (~15 cordobas). Indio Viejo is a corn meal (masa) based dished made with either shredded chicken or beef and flavored with mint. The typical condiment is "chilero" a cured onion and chile mixture of varying spiciness depending on the cook. Nicaraguan food is not known for being spicy, though either chilero or hot sauce is almost always available.

Plantains are a big part of the Nicaraguan diet. You will find it prepared in a variety of forms: fried (subdivided into maduros/sweet, fajadas/long thin fried chips, and tostones/smashed and twice fried), baked, boiled, with cream or cheese, as chips for a dip, smashed into a "toston". Green bananas and guineo bananas are also boiled and eaten as side dishes.

Nicaraguan tortillas are made from corn flour and are thick, almost resembling a pita. One common dish is quesillo: a string of mozzarella-type cheese with pickled onion, a watery sour cream, and a little salt all wrapped in a thick tortilla. It can be found on street corners or in the baskets of women who walk around shouting "Quesiiiiiillo". The most famous quesillos come from the side of the highway between Managua and Leon in Nagarote (they also serve a local drink, tiste) and La Paz Centro. The best selection of cheeses, from quesillo to cuajada, is in Chontales.

A typical dish found for sale in the street as well as in restaurants is Vigoron, consisting of pork grind, yuca and cabbage salad, chilis can be added to taste.

Fritangas (mid to large street side food vendors and grills that usually have seats and are found in most residental neighborhoods) typically sell grilled chicken, beef and pork and fried foods. They also commonly sell "tacos" and "enchiladas" that can be delicious but have very little in common with their 2nd cousins-once-removed in Mexico. Tacos are made with either chicken or beef rolled up in a tortilla and deep fried, served with cabbage salad, cream, sometimes ketchup or a homemade tomato sauce, and chile on the side. They are a little like a Mexican taquito/taco dorado. "Enchiladas" don't have anything enchiloso about them (not spicy). They are a tortilla filled with a beef and rice mixture, folded in half to enclose the mixture, covered in deep fry batter and then yes, deep fried. They are served similarly to tacos.

One alternative to the fried offering in the typical menu is carne en baho. This is a combination of beef, yucca, sweet potato, potato and other ingredients steamed in plantain leaves for several hours.

One typical dessert is Tres Leches which is a soft spongy cake that combines three varieties of milk (condensed, evaporated and fresh) for a sweet concoction.

If you travel to Chinandega, ask the locals who sells "TONQUA" It is a great fruit that is candied in sugar and is ONLY available in Chinandega. Most Nicaraguans outside of Chinandega do not know what Tonqua is. Tonqua is a Chinese word for a fruit, because tonqua is a plant that Chinese immigrants introduced to the Chinandega area.


Rum is the liquor of choice, though you will find some whisky and vodka as well. The local brand of Rum is Flor de Caña and is available in several varieties: Light, Extra Dry, Black Label, Gran Reserva (aged 7 years), Centenario (aged 12 years) and a new top-of-the line 18 year old aged rum. There is also a cheaper rum called Ron Plata.

Local beers include Victoria, Toña, Premium, and Brahva. Victoria is the best quality of these, similar in flavor to mainstream European lagers, while the others have much lighter bodies with substantially less flavor, and are more like mainstream U.S. lagers. A new beer is "Victoria Frost" which is similarly light.

In the non-alcoholic arena you will find the usual soft drinks (Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola). Some local drinks include pinolillo' and cacao are delicious drinks from cocoa beans, corn and milk and usually some cinnamon, a thick cacao based drink, Milka', and Rojita, a red soda that tastes similar to Inca Cola.

Nicaraguans drink a huge variety of natural fruit juices and beverages (jugos naturales which are usually pure juices, and refrescos naturales which are fresh fruit juices mixed with water and sugar). Popular are tamarind, cantelope, watermellon, hibiscus flour (flor de jamaica), limeade, orange, grapefruit, dragon fruit, star fruit (usually mixed with orange), mango, papaya, pineapple, and countless others. "Luiquados" or shakes of fruit and milk or water are also popular, most common are banana, mango or papaya with milk. Also common and very traditional are corn and grain based drinks like tiste, chicha (both corn), cebada (barley) and linaza (flaxseed). Most fresh drinks are around C$10-20. Avoid juices made with water if you are not conditioned to untreated water, unless at a restaurant that uses purified water.


Accommodations can generally be had quite cheaply throughout Nicaragua. Options range from simple hammocks ($2-$3), to dorm rooms in hostels ($5-9), to private double-bed ("matrimonial") rooms ($10-35, depending on presence of TV, A/C, and private bathroom). You will find more expensive hotel accommodations in some cities as well.

While Barrio Martha Quezada has typically been a budget destination for visitors to Managua due to its many inexpensive hotel options, it has become increasingly dangerous, especially for tourists, with robberies occurring in broad daylight. Unless you need to be in this area to catch an early morning bus from a nearby terminal, it is advisable to avoid Martha Quezada, particularly since it is far from what is termed the "new" center of Managua. The area near the Tica Bus station has a reputation for being dangerous as well, and tourists may be well advised to take a cab directly to and from the station, even if the walk is short. Backpackers Inn near MetroCentro (5min by taxi from the UCA microbuses), Hotel San Luis in Colonia Centroamerica (5 min by taxi from Mercado Huembes bus terminal) are good budget options in safe neighborhoods, as are numerous hotels of various prices in neighborhoods around the new center near Metrocentro and Caraterra Masaya (i.e. Altamira, Los Robles, Reparto San Juan).

The Managua Backpackers inn is a great place to stay while in Managua. It is very clean and it is in a quiet neighborhood. The owners are amazing and if your lucky, you might have a beer with one of them at night. There is a pool and free internet access and wi-fi on location. A kitchen is also available for use.

Look for pensiones or huespedes or hospedajes as these are the cheapest sleeps costing under US$5. They are usually family owned and you'll be hanging out with mostly locals. Make sure you know when they lock their doors if you are going out at night. Hotels have more amenities but are more expensive. There are some backpacker hostels in Granada, San Juan del Sur, Isla Ometepe, Masaya, Managua, and Leon otherwise it's pensiones all the way.


In Granada you can find Granada Spanish Lingua [4].

And Nica Spanish School [5] offers schooling in Granada and San Juan del Sur.

In Leon: Dariana Spanish School [6].


A job that you can always do is Teach English. If you speak English and have a bachelor's degree, you can teach at any major university in Nicaragua. You will earn about US$500/month, but you will also have a lot of free time.

Volunteering is always an option. If you want to teach English, or are a medical-type person, a great organization to team up with is Fabretto Foundation. Check their website: Abundance Farm, a small family-run farm in Carazo, accepts volunteers but screens them through email prior to arrival. It is a taste of the real Nicaragua and not for the faint at heart. [7]

Stay safe

Nicaragua is cited as being rated the safest country in Central America; however, minor gang violence has been filtering into Nicaragua from Honduras and El Salvador. The capital, Managua, has the largest number of inhabitants. Granada, the second largest city, is generally safe but using common sense and always walking with someone else at night (preferably take a known taxi if possible).

Go accompanied or avoid the Mercado Oriental. In Managua, avoid side streets outside of downtown (area between Metrocentro and around the BAC building.) Taxis are recommended in Managua as armed robbery is on the rise.

Although extensive de-mining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the civil war in the 1980s, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.

Stay healthy

According to the U.S. State Department's Consular Sheet for Nicaragua, the tap water in Managua is safe to drink- but chlorine is added- bottled water is always the best choice. The water in Esteli is especially good as it comes from deep wells. Bottled water is readily available, 8 to 15 cordobas a litre.

Given its tropical latitude, there are plenty of bugs flying about. Be sure to wear bug repellent containing deet particularly if you head to more remote areas (Isla Ometepe, San Juan river region and the Atlantic Coast.

Dengue Fever is present in some areas and comes from a type of mosquito that flies mostly between dusk and dawn. Malaria is not of serious concern unless you heading to the Caribbean coast or along the Rio San Juan. You may be advised by a doctor to get Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations before heading to Nicaragua.


Nicaragua Embassy Washington DC 1627 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009 (202) 939-6570

Nicaragua Consulate General Los Angeles 3550 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90010. (213) 252-1174

The full list of embassies and consulates can be found here: [8].

The application form for a Nicaraguan Visa can be downloaded here: [9].

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

NICARAGUA, a republic of Central America, bounded on the N. by Honduras, E. by the Caribbean Sea, S. by Costa Rica, and W. by the Pacific Ocean (for map, see Central America). Pop. (1905), about 550,000; area, 49,200 sq. m. Nicaragua forms an irregular equilateral triangle with its base stretching for 280 m. along the Caribbean Sea from Cape Gracias a Dios southwards to the San Juan delta, and its apex at the Coseguina volcano, on the Bay of Fonseca, which separates Nicaragua on the Pacific side from Salvador. The frontier which separates the republic from Honduras extends across the continent from east-north-east to west-south-west. It is defined by the river Segovia for about one-third of the distance, or from Cape Gracias a Dios to 86° W.; it then deflects across the watershed on the east and south of the Hondurian river Choluteca, crosses the main Nicaraguan cordillera (mountain chain), and follows the river Negro to the Bay of Fonseca. In accordance with the treaty of 1858, which was confirmed in 1888 by the United States president, acting as arbitrator, and more fully defined in 1896, the boundary towards Costa Rica is drawn 2 m. S. of the San Juan river and Lake Nicaragua, ` as far as a point parallel to the centre of the western shore of the lake. It is then continued south-westward for the short distance which intervenes between this point and the northernmost headland of Salinas Bay, on the Pacific.

Table of contents

Physical Features

The coasts of Nicaragua are strikingly different in configuration. The low, swampy and monotonous shore of the Caribbean, with its numerous lagoons and estuaries, and its fringe of reefs a,nd islets, contains only three harbours: Gracias a Dios, Bluefields or Blewfields, and Greytown (San Juan del Norte). Its length, from Cape Gracias a Dios to the San Juan delta, is nearly 300 m. The Pacific coast, measuring some zoo m. from the Bay of Fonseca to Salinas Bay, is bold, rocky and unbroken by any great indentation; here, however, are the best harbours of the republic - the southern arm of the Bay of Fonseca (q.v.), Corinto, Brito and San Juan del Sur.

The surface of the country is naturally divided into five clearly distinct zones: (I) the series of volcanic peaks which extend parallel to the Pacific at a little distance inland; (2) the plains and lakes of the great depression which lies to the east of these mountains and stretches from sea to sea, between the Bay of Fonseca and the mouths of the San Juan; (3) the main cordillera, which skirts the depression on the east, and trends north-west from Monkey Point or Punta Mico on the Caribbean Sea, until it is merged in the ramifications of the Hondurian and Salvadorian highlands; (4) the plateaus which slope gradually away from the main cordillera towards the Caribbean; (5) the east or Mosquito coast,with its low-lying hinterland. The last-named region has to a great extent had a separate history; and it was only in 1894 that the Mosquito Reserve, a central enclave which includes more than half of the littoral and hinterland, was incorporated in the republic and renamed the department of Zelaya. (See Mosquito Coast.) Though situated almost on the western edge of the country, and greatly inferior, both in continuity and in mean altitude, to the main cordillera, the chain of volcanic cones constitutes a watershed quite equal in importance to the cordillera itself. It consists for the most part of isolated igneous peaks, sometimes connected by low intervening ridges. It terminates in the extreme north-west with Coseguina (2831 ft.), and in the extreme south-east with the low wooded archipelagos of Solentiname and Chichicaste near the head of the San Juan river. Between these two extremes the chief cones, proceeding southwards, are: the Maribios chain, comprising El Viejo (5840 ft.), Santa Clara, Telica, Orota, Las Pilas,'Axosco, Momotombo (4127 ft.), all crowded close together between the Bay of Fonesca and Lake Managua; Masaya or Popocatepac (which was active in 1670, 1782, 1857 and 5902, and attains a height of 2972 ft.), and Mombacho (4593 ft.), near Granada; lastly, in Lake Nicaragua the two islands of Zapatera and Ometepe or Omotepec with its twin peaks Ometepe (5 6 43 ft.) and Madera. On the 10th of January 1835 Coseguina was the scene of one of the most tremendous eruptions on record. The outbreak lasted four days and the volcanic dust and ashes erupted fell over a vast area, which comprised Jamaica, southern Mexico and Bogota. After a long repose Ometepe also burst into renewed activity on the 19th of June 1883, when the lavas from a new crater began to overflow and continued for seven days to spread in various directions over the whole island. In the Maribios district occur several volcanic lakelets, such as that of Masaya, besides numerous infernillos, low craters or peaks still emitting sulphurous vapour and smoke, and at night often lighting up the whole land with bluish flames.

In the great lacustrine depression of Nicaragua is collected all the drainage from the eastern versant of the volcanic mountains, from the sheer western escarpment of the main cordillera, and from a large area of northern Costa Rica. The only river which flows out of the depression on the north enters the Bay of Fonseca at Tempisque. The accumulated waters which pour down into the depression are gathered into the two basins of Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. Both basins have a maximum depth of some 260 ft. Lake Managua, the more northerly, has a length of 30 m. and varies in breadth from 8 to 16 m. Its area is about 575 sq. m. After the rains a portion of its overflow escapes southwards into the lower and larger Lake Nicaragua, through the Panaloya channel. Steamers ply on both lakes, but the channel is rendered impassable by a rapid near the town of Tipitapa, at its northern extremity. Here there is a waterfall of 13 ft. The existence of ancient lacustrine beaches, upheaved between the two basins by volcanic agencies or left dry by some enlargement of the San Juan outfall, and a consequent subsidence of the water-level, seems to indicate that the lakes were formerly united. Now, however, Lake Managua is almost a closed basin in the dry season, when the stream in parts of the Panaloya channel sinks to a mere rivulet. The surface of Lake Nicaragua after the rains is 135 ft. above sea-level. The lake is loo m. long, and has a maximum breadth of 45 m. and an area of 2970 sq. m. It is thus the largest sheet of fresh water between Lake Michigan and Lake Titicaca on the borders of Bolivia and Peru. Towards the San Juan outlet its depth decreases to 6 or 8 ft., owing to the vast accumulation of the silt washed down into the lake by its principal Costa Rican affluent, the Rio Frio. Much of this silt is again carried away by the San Juan. Under the influence of the intermittent trade-winds Lake Nicaragua rises and falls regularly, whence the popular notion that it was a tidal lake. It is also exposed to the dangerous Papagayos tornadoes, caused by the prevailing north-easterly winds meeting opposite currents from the Pacific. It is drained on the south by the San Juan river, which flows generally east by south to the Caribbean Sea. The distance from the lake to the principal or Colorado mouth of the river is 95 m., and the average width of the channel 1500 ft. Near its mouth the main stream branches out into a wide delta. Navigation is greatly impeded by shifting banks of silt, and especially by five rapids which can only be traversed when the river is in full flood. It is often asserted that these rapids were artificially formed by the Spaniards themselves to prevent the buccaneers from penetrating to Lake Nicaragua. But Herrera (Dec. iii. book 2, chap. 3) speaks of the "great rocks and falls" which prevented Cordova, the first circumnavigator of the lake, from descending the San Juan in 1522; and although the English traveller Gage states that in his time (17th century) vessels reached Granada direct from Spain, there can be little doubt that the rapids are natural obstructions. The various schemes which have been put forward for the conversion of the San Juan and the lacustrine depression into an interoceanic waterway are fully discussed under Panama Canal.

The main Nicaraguan cordillera, which flanks the depression on the east, has often been called the Cordillera de los Andes, from its supposed continuity with the mountain-chains of Panama and the west coast of South America. There is in fact no such continuity, for the San Juan valley completely separates the mountains of Panama from the main Nicaraguan system. This severance, it is true, may be geologically recent, and some geologists see, in the five rapids of the San Juan, remnants of a connecting ridge which the river has swept away. But the evidence for past continuity is inconclusive, while there can be no doubt about the present severance of the two mountain systems. The main cordillera bears different names in different parts of Nicaragua. Thus the important section which terminates at Monkey Point is commonly called the Cordillera de Yolaina. The summits of the main cordillera seem nowhere to exceed 7000 ft. in altitude; the mean elevation is probably less than 2000 ft.; the declivity is sheer towards the lakes, and gradual towards the Caribbean. Along the shores of the lakes the cordillera may be described as a double range, consisting of two series of ridges divided by a great longitudinal valley. The lower series, which adjoins the lakes, rises near Lake Managua, and marches parallel to the main crest of the cordillera as far as the northern base of the Yolaina section; it then diverges, trending south-east nearly as far as Greytown, while the axis of the Yolaina section has a more easterly direction.

On the east, the main cordillera abuts upon the region of plateaus and savannas, which occupies nearly half of the area of Nicaragua. It is likely that this region was once a single uniform tableland, sloping by degrees to the flat Mosquito Coast, in which direction its level still sinks. But the relief of the tableland has been wholly changed by fluvial action. The great rivers which flow eastward to the sea have fissured and moulded the surface into deep ravines alternating with high plateaus, ridges and isolated hills. Large tracts of these uplands have never been adequately explored, and consist cif virgin forest and prairie. The principal river is the Segovia, which rises in the main cordillera due north of Lake Managua, winds E.N.E. as far as 85° W., and constitutes the frontier until it reaches the sea at Cape Gracias a Dios, after a course of more than 450 m., during which it receives many tributaries. Its basin is narrow and its volume not remarkable, but in length it surpasses all other Central American rivers. Its nomenclature, like that of many lesser streams in the plateau region, is somewhat confusing; for while the Spanish colonists were settling beside its headwaters the mid-stream was hardly known except to the native Indians, and the lower reaches were frequented by buccaneers, often of British or Dutch origin. In addition to the three names of Segovia, Coco or Cocos, and Wanks, which are applicable to the whole river, different parts have from time to time received the names of Cabullal, Cabrugal, Cape River, Encuentro, Gracias, Herbias, Oro, Pantasma, Portillo Liso, Tapacac, Telpaneca, Somoro, Yankes, Yare and Yoro. Other important streams, all flowing to the Caribbean in a direction E. by S., are the Hueso, Wawa, Cuculaia, Prinzapolca, Rio Grande, Bluefields and Rama. The Rio Grande or Amaltara, which receives one large tributary, the Tuma, is navigable for about loo m. The Bluefields, Blewfields, Escondida, or Rio del Desastre, which derives its bestknown name from that of Blieveldt, a Dutch corsair, is navigable for 65 m. The hydrography of Nicaragua is curious in two respects: as in the Amazonian region all the large rivers flow east, none escaping to the Pacific; and the main watershed does not correspond with the main cordillera, which is inferior in this particular both to the volcanic mountains and to the plateau region.

The geology, fauna and flora of Nicaragua may be studied in connexion with those of the neighbouring countries (see Central America).


The climate is mild and healthy for Europeans on the uplands, such as those of Segovia and Chontales, which have a mean elevation of 2000 to 3000 ft. above sea-level. But elsewhere it is distinctly tropical, with two seasons - wet from May to November on the Pacific slope, and from June to December on the Caribbean, and dry throughout the winter months. The mean annual temperature is about 80° Fahr., falling to 70° at night and rising to 90° at noon in summer. Nicaragua comes within the zone of the wet northeast trade-winds, which sweep inland from the Atlantic. The rainfall is heavy along the west side of the lacustrine basin, with an annual mean at Rivas of 102 in., but this figure is sometimes greatly exceeded on the east coast, where rain is common even in the dry season. Observations made at Greytown in 1890 showed the extremes of temperature to be 89° Fahr. in September for the maximum and 70° Fahr. in January for the minimum; the rainfall for the whole year amounted to 297 in., the rainiest month having been July (5 2.5 in.) and the driest, May (4.9 in.). Earthquakes are felt at times on the Pacific slope, but in Nicaragua they are less violent than in the neighbouring countries.


Accurate statistics as to the growth and distribution of the population cannot be obtained, and the figures given below are based on estimates which can only be approximately correct. The census of 1882 gave the total as 275,816; this appears to have risen in 1890 to 375,000, in 1900 to 500,000, and in 1905 to 550,000, or II inhabitants per sq. m. There can thus be no doubt that the population is increasing with extraordinary rapidity, although there is hardly any immigration. The number of Europeans and their pure-blooded descendants is about 1200, and tends to increase. Spanish and German elements preponderate in the foreign colonies. The most densely peopled region and the focus of civilization is the lacustrine depression and the surrounding uplands. Here are all the large towns, and hither European settlers were attracted from the first by the temperate climate, rich soil, and natural waterways. The development of Nicaragua, unlike that of. most American countries (notably Brazil and the United States), has been from west to east. The great mass of the population is a composite race, descended chiefly from the native "Indians," their Spanish conquerors, many of whom were Galicians, and the negro slaves introduced during the colonial period. Intermarriage with British, Dutch, and French with Caribs and Creoles has further complicated the ethnology of the country, producing "Indians" with fair hair and blue eyes, and half-castes with European features and Indian or negroid coloration, or with European coloration and Indian or negroid features. The prevailing language is a degenerate form of Spanish, nearer to Galician than to Castilian. Most of the native dialects have ceased to exist, but a corrupt form of English is spoken on parts of the east coast. All who speak Spanish are classed as Ladinos; the half-castes generally are termed Mestizos; and the name of Sambos or Zambos is confined to the descendants of Indian and negro parents; these are also incorrectly called Caribs. The number of the uncivilized Indians, whose camps or villages are situated in open glades among the forests of the plateau region, is usually estimated at 30,000; but this would seem to be an exaggeration. Pure-blooded Indians are not numerous, as whole districts were depopulated and whole tribes exterminated by the Spanish colonists and the buccaneers. A few may be descendants of the Aztecs and Mayas, whose temples, sculptures, burialgrounds, &c., have not yet been fully explored. For a general account of this ancient civilization and of the Indian tribes see Central America and Mexico: Archaeology. A collection of Nicaraguan antiquities is preserved in the National Museum at Washington, U.S.A.; and the archaeological collection brought to Europe by Dr W. Lehmann in 1910 was exhibited in the Berlin Museum of Fine Arts.

Chief Towns and Communications

The capital is Managua (pop. 1905, about 30,000); other important towns are Leon (45,000), Granada (25,000), Masaya (20,000), Chinandega (12,000), and the seaports of Corinto (3000) and Greytown (2500). These are described in separate articles. At the beginning of the 10th century, Nicaragua had few good roads, and none at all east of the main cordillera. Transport in the plateau region was mainly effected by means of pack mules, over the roughest of tracks. But between 1900 and 1905 contracts were signed for the construction of three highways, leading respectively from Matagalpa, from Nueva Segovia and from the Pis Pis mining district to the head of steam navigation on the Segovia, about 160 m. above Cape Gracias. These highways were to be linked to the western system by 79 m. of road connecting Matagalpa with Momotombo. For the construction and upkeep of roads a tax varying from one to ten pesos is levied on all males over eighteen years old. There are 160 m. of state railways, running from Corinto to Leon, Managua, Granada and Diriamba, with branches to El Viejo and Momotombo. Contracts for additional lines were signed between 1900 and 1905. The steamers which ply on the great lakes and the San Juan, besides other vessels which visit the principal Caribbean and Pacific ports, are national property; but from the 1st of January 1905 all the state railways were leased to a syndicate for fifteen years and the steamers for twenty-five years. There are also 20 m. of private railway near the mouth of the Rio Grande, and private steam tramways on the western shore of Lake Nicaragua. Corinto is the headquarters of shipping; it is visited by two-thirds of the 2100 vessels of 550,000 tons (including coasters) which annually enter the ports of the republic. The coasting trade is restricted to vessels under the Nicaraguan flag. At the beginning of the 10th century most of the ocean-going steamers were owned in Germany or the United States; British enterprise being chiefly represented by schooners trading from Jamaica to Bluefields and Greytown. Nicaragua joined the postal union in 1882, and the western provinces have a fairly complete telegraphic and telephonic system.

Industries and Commerce

The principal agricultural product is coffee, the yield of which increased from 4,528,300 lb in 1880 to 11,382,000 lb in 1890, and 26,400,000 lb in 1900. Coffee is grown principally in the Matagalpa region, on the uplands of the interior. The plantations are chiefly owned and managed by Germans, and the product is of good quality; but coffee-planting, like most Nicaraguan industries, suffers from the scarcity of labour. On the Caribbean coast bananas are cultivated and largely exported to the United States. In 1903 more than 2,000,000 bunches were consigned to New Orleans. The cultivation of cotton has been often attempted, but with little success. Sugar is grown and there are many small sugar factories, but little of the output is exported. The cocoa export is also small; tobacco, rice, beans and other crops are grown for local use. Rubber is collected in the forests, and plantations have been formed. Dye-woods and indigo are exported, but the demand for vegetable dyes has decreased. Cattle-rearing is successfully pursued, live cattle and hides being important articles of export. Cheese and butter are manufactured in large quantities for home consumption. Horses and pigs are also reared, but not sheep. In 1899 the government sold about 52,000 acres of public land lying about 18 m. E. of Lake Nicaragua for the purpose of colonization. The purchaser undertook to introduce settlers from northern Europe, to import cattle for the improvement of the Nicaraguan breed, to plant rubber and vanilla, and to provide schools for agricultural instruction. The sale of Nicaraguan spirits is a state monopoly. From the 1st of January 1904 it was leased to a syndicate of distillers for six years. Gold-mining is carried on along the Caribbean littoral. In 1898 the gold dust and bar exports from Bluefields were of the value of £25,760; in 1900, £62,000; and in 1907, £65,000. Copper, coal, petroleum, silver and precious stones are also found, and there seems little reason to doubt that the mineral resources of Nicaragua, though undeveloped, are nearly as rich as those of Honduras. Other industries include manufactures of leather, boots and shoes, furniture, bricks and pottery, cigars and cigarettes, beer, wine and spirits, candles and soap. The largest and most numerous commercial firms are German, but there are also French, British, and even Chinese establishments, although the immigration of Chinese is prohibited by law. The principal exports are (in order of value) coffee, bananas, gold, rubber, cattle and hides, dye-woods and cabinet woods. The principal imports are cotton and woollen goods, machinery and hardware, flour, beer, wine, spirits and drugs. The United States and Great Britain send respectively 60% and 20% of the imports, receiving 60% and 8% of the exports. The average yearly value of the foreign trade is about £1,200,000 - exports, £ 700,000; imports, £500,000.

Money, Weights and Measures

There is one bank of issue, the Bank of London and Central America, which has a capital of £260,000 (£130,300 paid). The monetary unit is the silver peso or dollar of too cents, which weighs 25 grammes, .900 fine. The current coin consists largely of Mexican and Central and South American dollars; but little coin is in circulation. The currency is mostly paper, notes being issued directly by the treasury and by the bank. The notes issued by the bank must be covered to the extent of 40% by gold and silver; the actual bank reserve is stated to be from 65 to too % of the notes issued. The value of the paper peso fluctuates; in 1904 the premium on gold stood at 640%. The value of the silver peso in fractional silver money is about nineteen pence; in a single coin about twenty pence. The exportation of silver pesos is prohibited. In 1899 a nickel coinage was introduced. The metric system of weights and measures was legalized in January 1893.


The revenue of the republic is derived mainly from customs duties, liquor, tobacco and slaughter taxes, railways and steamers, the postal and telegraph services, and the gunpowder monopoly. The principal spending departments are those of war and marine, internal development, and finance. The published accounts, however, present no continuous or clear view of the national receipts and disbursements. Revenue and expenditure vary considerably, but neither often falls below £300,000 or rises above £500,000. In 1886 the republic contracted a railway loan in London to the amount of £285,000 at 6% interest, and in July 1894 the interest fell into default. In 1895 an arrangement was made for the reduction of interest to 4%, the beginning of amortization, and the creation of "coffee warrants" to be used in the payment of export duties on coffee assigned for the service of the debt. In the four years1897-1900the sales of these warrants amounted to 1,028,990 gold pesos or (at 23d., the average rate for this period) £98,610. In July 1905 the outstanding amount of the debt was £253,600. In 1905 a further loan of 12,500,000 francs (£500,000) was raised in Paris at 5%. The internal debt amounts to about £400,000.

Constitution and Administration

The former constitution, proclaimed on the 4th of July 1894 and amended on the 10th of December 1896, was superseded on the 30th of March 1905, when a new constitution was promulgated. By this instrument the legislative power is vested in a single chamber of 36 members (instead of 40, as under the old constitution), elected by universal male suffrage for six years (instead of two). The executive is entrusted to a president similarly chosen for six years (instead of four) and aided by a cabinet representing the five ministries of foreign affairs and education, finance, internal administration and justice, war and marine, and public works. For administrative purposes the republic is divided into 13 departments and 2 comarcas, each under a political head who acts as military commandant and controls education, finance, &c. The administration of justice is entrusted to numerous courts of first instance, three courts of appeal, and a supreme court. The active army of 4000 men can be increased to 40,000 in war. All able-bodied citizens between the ages of seventeen and fiftyfive are compelled to serve one year with the colours and are then enrolled in the reserve. Roman Catholicism is the prevailing creed, but all religions are tolerated, and none receives any endowment or other special privilege from the state. The bishop of Leon, whose diocese is included in the archiepiscopal province of Guatemala, is the spiritual head of the Roman Catholics. There are numerous elementary schools, at which the teaching is free and compulsory, besides ten colleges for secondary or technical education, and two universities.


For a general account of the Spanish administration during the colonial period, i.e. up to 1821, and of the subsequent attempts to unite all the Central American republics in a single federal state, see Central America. The history of the Mosquito Reserve and of the relations between Nicaragua and Great Britain is told in full under Mosquito Coast.

First discovered by Columbus in 1502, Nicaragua was not regularly explored till 1522, when Gil Gonzalez Davila penetrated from the Gulf of Nicoya to the western provinces and sent his lieutenant Cordova to circumnavigate the great lake. The country is said to take its name from Nicaras or Nicaragua (also written Micaragua), a powerful Cholutec chief, ruling over most of the land between the lakes and the Pacific, who received Davila in a friendly spirit and accepted baptism at his hands. Nicaragua's capital seems to have occupied the site of the present town of Rivas. The Spaniards overran the country with great rapidity, both from this centre northwards, and southwards from the Honduras coast. The occupation began with sanguinary conflicts between the two contending waves of intrusion. Granada was founded in 1524 on the isthmus between the two lakes as the capital of a separate government, which, however, was soon attached as a special province to the captaincy general of Guatemala, which comprised the whole of Central America and the present Mexican state of Chiapas. Hence, during the Spanish tenure, the history of Nicaragua is merged in that of the surrounding region. Of its five earliest rulers "the first had been a murderer, the second a murderer and rebel, the third murdered the second, the fourth was a forger, the fifth a murderer and rebel" (Boyle). Then came the hopeless revolts of the Indians against intolerable oppression, the abortive rebellions of Hernandez de Contreras and John Bermejo (Bermudez) against the mother country (1550), the foundation of Leon, future rival of Granada, in 1610, its sack by the buccaneers under William Dampier in 1685, and, lastly, the declaration of independence (1821), not definitively acknowledged by Spain till 1850.

In 1823 Nicaragua joined the Federal Union of the five Central American states, which was dissolved in 1839. While it lasted Nicaragua was the scene of continual bloodshed, caused partly by its attempts to secede from the confederacy, partly by its wars with Costa Rica for the possession of the disputed territory of Guanacaste between the great lake and the Gulf of Nicoya, partly also by the bitter rivalries of the cities of Leon and Granada, respective headquarters of the Liberal and Conservative parties. During the brief existence of the Federal Union no fewer than three hundred and ninety-six persons exercised the supreme power of the republic and the different states. The independent government of Nicaragua was afterwards distinguished almost beyond all other Spanish-American states by an uninterrupted series of military or popular revolts, by, which the whole people was impoverished and debased. One outstanding incident was the filibustering expedition of William Walker, who was at first invited by the Liberals of Leon to assist them against the Conservatives of Granada, and who, after seizing the supreme power in 1856, was expelled by the combined forces of the neighbouring states, and on venturing to return was shot at Trujillo in Honduras on the 12th of September 1860.

Under the administration of Chamorro, who became president in 1875, a difficulty with Germany occurred. The German government asserted that one of its consuls had been insulted, and demanded an indemnity of $30,000 (about L2800), a demand to which Nicaragua only submitted after all her principal ports had been blockaded. The successor of President Chamorro was General Zavala, whose administration brought Nicaragua to a higher degree of prosperity than she had ever known. He was succeeded in 1883 by Dr Cardenas, during whose presidency the attempt of General Barrios to unite the five Central American states was a cause of war between Guatemala and Honduras on one side, and Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica on the other. Cardenas had taken command of the united Nicaraguan and Costa Rican army when Barrios died, and on the 1 rth of April 1885 a treaty of peace was signed. Don Evaristo Carazo succeeded Dr Cardenas as president of the republic in 1887, but died when he had served a little over two years, and was succeeded by Dr Roberto Sacasa. Under Carazo i s administration the boundary question between Nicaragua and Costa Rica had been settled by arbitration, the president of the United States acting as arbitrator. While Dr Sacasa was president of Honduras, Salvador and Guatemala signed a treaty, under which the United States of Central America were to be formed. The president of Nicaragua adhered to this treaty, but the National Congress refused to ratify it. Sacasa was overthrown by a revolution in 1893, and was succeeded by a provisional government, which in its turn was deposed soon after by another uprising, at the head of which was General Jose Santos Zelaya. His position was regularized by the constitution of 1894, and he was re-elected president in 1898 for another term of four years. Under his government the incorporation of the Mosquito Reserve into the territory of Nicaragua took place. In 1895 occurred the Hatch incident, which led to the occupation of the port of Corinto by a British fleet. Mr Hatch, British pro-vice-consul at Bluefields, being accused of conspiracy against the Nicaraguan government, was arrested, along with other British subjects, and expelled. For this action Nicaragua was required to pay an indemnity of $15,000. An attempt to overthrow Zelaya was made in February 1896, but it was crushed after several months of severe fighting. There were occasional disturbances subsequently, but none sufficient to overturn President Zelaya, who was again reelected in 1902 and 1906. In 1907 he carried to a successful issue the war which broke out in that year between Nicaragua and Honduras (q.v.). But he was believed to be planning the conquest of other Central American states, and his policy of granting monopolies and commercial concessions to his own supporters aroused widespread discontent. In October 1909 an insurrection broke out in the Atlantic departments. The execution (after alleged torture) of two citizens of the United States named Grace and Cannon, who were said to have fought in the revolutionary army under General Estrada, led to the despatch of United States warships to Nicaragua; but in the absence of full evidence President Zelaya's responsibility for the execution could not be proved.' On the 1st of December the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Nicaragua, and in an official note Secretary Knox described the Zelayan administration as a "blot on the history" of the republic. Fighting at Bluefields was prevented by the U.S. cruiser "Des Moines" (r8th December), an example followed at Greytown by the British cruiser "Scylla"; but elsewhere along the Atlantic coast the insurgents gained many victories. In the battle of Rama (23rd December) they captured the greater part of the government troops. On the following day Zelaya took refuge on board a Mexican gunboat, and sailed for Mexico. Dr Madriz, one of his supporters, had already succeeded him as president.

B Ibliography. - For a general account of Nicaragua, see F. Boyle, A Ride across a Continent (2 vols., London, 1868); E. G. Squier, Nicaragua, &c. (2nd ed., London, 1871); J. W. Bodham, Whetham, Across Central America (London, 1877); T. Belt, The Naturalist in Nicaragua (London, 1888); A. R. Colquhoun, The Key of the Pacific (London, 1895); G. Niederlein, The State of Nicaragua (Philadelphia, 1898); A. P. Davis, Hydrography of Nicaragua (U.S.A. Geological Survey report, No. 20) (1900); C. Medina, Le Nicaragua en 1900 (Paris, 1900); J. W. G. Walker, Ocean to Ocean: an Account, Personal and Historical, of Nicaragua and its People (Chicago, 1902). For commerce, finance and administration, see the annual Reports of the Committee of the Corporation of Foreign Bondholders (London); D. Pector, Etude economique sur la republique de Nicaragua (Neuchatel, 1893); Bulletins of the Bureau of American Republics (Washington); U.S.A. Consular and British Foreign Office Reports; official reports issued periodically at Managua, in Spanish. For history, M. M. de Peralta, Nicaragua y Panama en el siglo X VI (Madrid, 1883); J. D. Gamez, Archivo historico de la Republica de Nicaragua (Managua, 1896); F. Ortega, Nicaragua en los primeros anos de su emancipacion politica (Paris, 1894); D. B. Lucas, Nicaragua: War of the Filibusters (Richmond, Va., 1896); C. Bovallius, Nicaraguan Antiquities (Stockholm, 1886).

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:







  • (UK) IPA: /ˈnɪk.əˌɹæɡ.juː.ə/, SAMPA: /"nIk.@%r\{g.ju:.@/
  • (US) IPA: /nɪkəˈɹaɡwə/, SAMPA: /nIk@"r\agw@/

Proper noun




  1. Country in Central America; official name: Republic of Nicaragua.

Related terms


See also


Proper noun

Nicaragua n.

  1. Nicaragua.


Finnish Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia fi

Proper noun


  1. Nicaragua


Derived terms


German Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia de

Proper noun

Nicaragua n.

  1. Nicaragua

Derived terms


Italian Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia it

Proper noun

Nicaragua m.

  1. Nicaragua

Derived terms


Proper noun


  1. Nicaragua

Related terms



Origin unclear; one theory is that it was coined by Spanish colonists based upon the name of the local chief at that time, w:Nicarao; another is that it may have meant ‘surrounded by water’ in an indigenous language (this could either be a reference to its two large freshwater lakes, Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua, or to the fact that it bounded on the east and the west by oceans)

Proper noun


  1. Nicaragua

Derived terms


Proper noun


  1. Nicaragua

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