Nicaragua is the least densely populated nation in Central America, with a demographic similar in size to its smaller neighbours. It is located about midway between Mexico and Colombia, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. Nicaragua ranges from the Caribbean Sea on the nation's east coast, and the Pacific Ocean bordering the west. Nicaragua also possesses a series of islands and cays located in the Caribbean Sea.
Geography- Linguistic Affiliation-History-Economy- Flora and Fauna-Cultural elements
Nicaragua is well known for its beautiful landscape and its tourist attractions. In 2013, Nicaragua was ranked as the top 3 of "The 46 places to go in 2013”. In 2015, The Boston Globe considered the country Top 3 of the "Where to go in 2015" list. After that, Lonely Planet's experts trekked the world to find the best countries, cities, and region to visit in 2016, and the first place was given to Nicaragua.
Nicaragua's name is derived from Nicarao, the name of the Nahuatl-speaking tribe which inhabited the shores of Lake Nicaragua before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and the Spanish word 'Agua', meaning water, due to the presence of the large Lake Cocibolca (or Lake Nicaragua) and Lake Managua (or Lake Xolotlán), as well as lagoons and rivers in the region.
Spanish is the official language of Nicaragua and is spoken by more than 70 percent of the population.
Most Spanish speakers live in the Pacific lowlands and central highlands.
Grammar and usage follow Central American forms, which has some distinct differences from formal Spanish. The British presence in Nicaragua introduced many English words to the Spanish speakers, particularly in western Nicaragua. Likewise, American slang from the periods in which U.S.
Marines occupied Nicaragua has made its way into the vernacular of Spanish speakers. The Creoles, the black people of the Caribbean region, are the descendants of colonial-era slaves, Jamaican merchants, and West Indian laborers.
The Creoles are English-speaking, although many speak Spanish as a second language. Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean lowlands, the Miskito, Rama, and Sumu, preserve their own tribal languages.
However, the English-speaking Miskito have resisted being absorbed into the Spanish culture.
They refer to Spanish-speaking Nicaraguans as "los Espanoles" or "the Spanish," clearly differentiating themselves from their western compatriots.
The Creoles share this resentment of the western Hispanic culture. Black Carib, also known as Garifuna language, is an amalgam of an Arawak language, African vocabulary, and some English additions.
Nicaragua was first "discovered" by Europeans when Christopher Columbus arrived from Honduras and explored the eastern coast on his fourth voyage in 1502.
In 1522, the first Spaniards entered the region of what would become known as Nicaragua.
When the Spanish arrived in western Nicaragua in the early 16th century, they found three principal tribes, each with a different culture and language: the Niquirano, the Chorotegano, and the Chontal. Each one of these diverse groups occupied much of Nicaragua territory, with independent chieftains who ruled according to each group's laws and customs.
Their weapons consisted of swords, lances, and arrows made out of wood. Monarchy was the form of government of most tribes; the supreme ruler was the chief, or cacique, who, surrounded by his princes, formed the nobility. Laws and regulations were disseminated by royal messengers who visited each township and assembled the inhabitants to give their chief's orders.
The inevitable clash between the Spanish forces devastated the indigenous population. The Indian civilization was destroyed.
By 1529, the conquest of Nicaragua was complete. Several conquistadores came out winners, and some were executed or murdered. Pedrarias Dávila was one such winner.
Although he lost control of Panama, he moved to Nicaragua and established his base in León.
The land was parcelled out to the conquistadores. The area of most interest was the western portion. It included a wide, fertile valley with huge, freshwater lakes, a series of volcanoes, and volcanic lagoons.
Many Indians were soon enslaved to develop and maintain "estates" there. Others were put to work in mines in northern Nicaragua, but the great majority were sent as slaves to Panama and Peru, for significant profit to the new landed aristocracy. Many Indians died through disease and neglect by the Spaniards, who controlled everything necessary for their subsistence.
The Niquirano and the Chorotegano tribes had intimate contact with the Spanish conquerors, paving the way for the racial mix of native and European stock now known as mestizos.
The history of Nicaragua remained relatively static for three hundred years following the conquest. There were minor civil wars and rebellions, but they were quickly suppressed.
Nicaragua became a part of the First Mexican Empire in 1821, was a part of the United Provinces of Central America in 1823, and then became an independent republic in its own right in 1838.
Much of Nicaragua's politics since independence has been characterized by the 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.
Throughout the 19th century Nicaragua drew in many immigrants from Europe, mostly from Germany, Spain, Italy, and France, forming a diverse social and cultural mix that makes up the Nicaragua of today.
During the 19th century, Nicaragua also missed out on added fame and global importance by a curious twist of fate; there had been many discussions by Western governments about constructing a shipping canal through the country, thus linking up the two major oceans of the Atlantic and the Pacific, and speeding up trade routes.
However, by 1899 construction of this trans-Central America aquatic thoroughfare had commenced in the country of Panama to the south.
Indeed, foreign powers involvement in Nicaragua affairs dominated the land throughout the 19th century, and continued into the 20th. By 1912 the US military had occupied Nicaragua (as part of the overarching Banana Wars), and this lasted until 1933.
The US withdrawal was partly due to the resistance headed by General Augusto Cesar Sandino, who led a six-year guerrilla war against the US marines and the Nicaraguan ‘puppet’ government between 1927 and 1933.
Sandino has gone down as an extremely popular figure in Nicaragua’s history, and at the time he was given top office in the government of the newly liberated Nicaragua.
Rivalry between himself and another leader of the country, Anastasio Somoza García, who was installed by the American government, saw Sandino assassinated in 1934, on Somoza’s orders.
Somoza and his family then went on to form Nicaragua’s longest dictatorship, for 43 years until 1979.
By 1961, opposition to the Somoza dynasty had grown strong, and Carlos Fonseca looked back to the influences of the country’s greatest hero, and formed the Sandinista National Liberation Front, also known as the Sandinistas. Their revolutionary war lasted 18 years, until in 1979 they took power, supported by a huge element of the Nicaraguan populace, the powerful Catholic Church, and many neighbouring governments, such as those of Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, and Venezuela. When forming the government they created a team of five leading Sandinista members, including most memorably Daniel Ortega.
Nicaragua ran into trouble with the US administration during the 1980s, since the Sandinista National Liberation Front initially was inspired by the Cuban Revolution and it was obvious that one Cuba was already enough for USA in South America.
The new Nicaraguan government was faced as a potential threat and the Reagan government assisted in the funding and formation of a counter-revolutionary group against the Sandinistas, known as the Contras. Nicaragua effectively entered into a civil war which lasted for almost ten years. Mutual exhaustion, though, led to the Sapoa ceasefire between the Sandinistas and the Contras on March 23, 1988.
The country was exhausted by the civil war, the USA embargo, which went on for several years, and also was hit hard by numerous earthquakes and hurricanes.
(Hurricane Mitch at the end of October 1998, destructive Hurricane Joan, almost a decade before, and Hurricane Felix, a category 5 hurricane, in 2007).
Nicaragua managed to rebuild to a certain extend its economy, though, and its stable economic growth along with the lack of violence, compared to the problems of its neighbours El Salvador and Honduras in recent years, have cemented Ortega as the best option for many Nicaraguans.
Daniel Ortega has wan four presidential elections so far (1984, 2006, 2011, 2016).
One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export.
Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continue to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, the fastest growth is now in non traditional exports: textile and gold, seafood and new agricultural products, such as peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions.
In 2007, exports topped 1 billion US dollars for the first time in Nicaraguan history.
In the last 12 years, tourism has grown 394%.
The rapid growth has led it to become Nicaragua's second largest source of foreign capital. The amazing natural beauty of Nicaragua (lakes, volcanoes, tropical forests, rare fauna and flora species) offers many opportunities for tourists to discover it along with its rich history too (with main pole of attractions the beautiful colonial cities of Granada and Leon).
The country is still a recovering economy and it continues to implement further reforms.
The U.S. is the country's largest trading partner, providing 25% of Nicaragua's imports and receiving about 60% of its exports.
About 25 wholly or partly owned subsidiaries of U.S. companies operate in Nicaragua.
The largest of those investments are in the energy, communications, manufacturing, fisheries, tourism and shrimp farming sectors.
Healthcare in Nicaragua involves the collaboration of private and public institutions. Although Nicaragua's health outcomes have improved over the past few decades with the efficient utilization of resources relative to other Central American nations, it still confronts challenges responding to its population's diverse healthcare needs.
While communicable diseases such as dengue, chikunguya, and Zika continue to persist as national health concerns, there is a rising public health threat of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, which were diseases previously thought to be more relevant and problematic for more developed nations. Additionally, in the women's health sector, high rates of adolescent pregnancy and cervical cancer continue to persist as national concerns.
The Nicaraguan government guarantees universal free health care for its citizens. However, limitations of current delivery models and unequal distribution of resources and medical personnel contribute to the persistent lack of quality care in more remote areas of Nicaragua, especially amongst rural communities in the Central and Atlantic region.
To respond to the dynamic needs of localities, the government has adopted a decentralized model that emphasizes community-based preventative and primary medical care.
A 1980 literacy campaign, using secondary school students as volunteer teachers, reduced the illiteracy rate from 50% to 23% of the population. (The latter figure exceeds the rate of 13% claimed by the literacy campaign, which did not count adults whom the government classified as learning impaired or otherwise unteachable.)
Despite the Sandinistas' determined efforts to expand the education system in the early 1980s, Nicaragua remained an undereducated society in 1993.
Even before the Contra War and the economic crisis that forced spending on education back to the 1970 level, the education system was straining to keep up with the rapidly growing school-age population.
Between 1980 and 1990, the number of children between five and fourteen years of age had expanded by 35%.
At the end of the Sandinista era, the literacy rate had declined from the level attained at the conclusion of the 1980 literacy campaign.
Overall school enrolments were larger than they had been in the 1970s, however.
Especially in the countryside, access to education had broadened dramatically. But a substantial minority of primary school-age children and three-quarters of secondary school-age students were not in school, and the proportion of students who completed their primary education had not advanced beyond the 1979 level.
Even by Central American standards, the Nicaraguan education system was performing poorly.
However, today, there is hope on the horizon as young people are becoming increasingly more interested in receiving a better education in Nicaragua.
Currently 65% of the population is younger than 25 and both elementary and high school education are now mandatory and free.
Several Nicaragua universities have formed an affiliation with various universities in the United States. To add to this, the Nicaraguan government is increasing funding to improve the education available in the country.
Promotions have also gone a long way to increasing the level of enrolment in tertiary institutions.
Fauna and Flora
Nicaragua is one of the largest counties in Central America and has a diverse and beautiful landscape.
It is known for its volcanoes, the Rio Coco, and the largest lakes on the continent Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua, as well as its breathtaking marine life.
The country is blessed with seven different types of forest, from the subtropical dry forest to tropical rain forest and tree savannas.
Each of these forested regions contains its own unique collection of plants, animal and other species. However much of its biodiversity is in danger of disappearing.
Despite the best efforts of the Nicaraguan government to protect its wildlife, poverty, population growth and climate change all put pressure on the country’s habitats.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been active in Nicaragua since 1998, contributing to biodiversity conservation and strengthening local and national partners.
The FFI programme in Nicaragua works together with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to support the management of protected areas.
The projects use locally appropriate solutions to conserve endangered habitats such as dry forest, the island of Ometepe and threatened species such as sea turtles.
The colonial cities Granada and Leon
The first stop for most of those that visit Nicaragua, Granada is simply elegant and photogenic, and has a lot to offer whether in the city itself or in its surroundings.
It has that colourful charm that reminds many of some of the most beautiful cities in Cuba, such as Trinidad or Cienfuegos.
Cobblestone little alleys, plenty of churches such as the beautiful cathedral and the Iglesia de la Merced, from whose tower there is a beautiful 360 degrees view, lovely squares such as the Parque Central, interesting museums like the Museo San Francesco and beautiful buildings.
Granada is set on Lake Nicaragua and surrounded by volcanoes, among which Mombacho and Masaya. Even in the hottest days it enjoys refreshing breeze.
Historically, Leon has always been one of Nicaragua's most important cities, both economically and socially.
In fact, the city functioned as capital of the country on multiple times after the independence (1821), alternating the title with Granada, its eternal rival.
The dispute continued until Managua was declared the only and permanent capital of the country.
The 'Basilica Catedral de La Asunción', commonly known as the Cathedral of Leon, symbolizes the centre of the city. The building is worth a visit not only for the impressive architectural style, but also because it is home to important mausoleums of famous characters, such as Ruben Dario, who is considered the "prince of the Spanish literature".
Furthermore, the city is also home to interesting museums and cultural centres. One of them is the Ruben Dario museum, which is actually the house where the famous poet lived during 14 years.
Other attractive spots are the Museum of Legends and Traditions, the Adiact Museum, Museo Archivo Alfonso Cortes, the Ortiz-Gurdian Foundation, Casa Salud Debayle, the Entomological Museum, Museum of Sacred Art of Sutiaba, and many others.
Omar D'León is a well-known Nicaraguan painter and poet. In 1982, one of his paintings was reproduced in the form of a UNICEF stamp.
His paintings are housed in many museums such as the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C., at the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico, at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, the Chicago Art Institute and the José Luis Cuevas Museum in Mexico City.
Armando Morales, who was born in Granada, Nicaragua, is considered one of the most important painters in Nicaragua and received many awards for his works.
He received his first award at the Central American Painting Contest "15 de Septiembre" (September 15) which was held in Guatemala in 1956. He received the award for a painting which he named "Spook-Tree".
That same painting was later bought by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The next year some of his paintings were featured at an exhibition called "Six Nicaraguan Artists" in Washington; he received excellent reviews and sold all his featured paintings.
Nicaraguan literature 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.
The literature of Nicaragua has had many important literary figures in the Spanish language with internationally prominent writers such as Rubén Darío, who is regarded as the most important literary figure in Nicaragua.
He is referred to as the "Father of Modernism" for leading the modernismo literary movement at the end of the 19th century.
Other important literary figures include Salomón de la Selva, Carlos Martínez Rivas, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Alberto Cuadra Mejia, Manolo Cuadra Vega, Pablo Alberto Cuadra Arguello, Ernesto Cardenal, Sergio Ramírez Mercado, Gioconda Belli, José Coronel Urtecho, Alfonso Cortés, Julio Valle Castillo, and Claribel Alegría, among others.
Baseball is the national sport of Nicaragua, and there are lots of baseball fields throughout the country.
The county's capital, Managua, houses the largest baseball stadium in the country.
There are several professional baseball teams in Nicaragua, and the national team finished fourth in the baseball competitions at the 1996 Olympics. Some of the most famous baseball players in Nicaragua are: Oswaldo Mairena, Denis Martinez, Everth Cabrera, Wilton López, Erasmo Ramírez.
Boxing is another favourite Nicaraguan sport. This may be largely due to the successful and well-reported career of Nicaraguan boxer Alexis Arguello. Soccer is also very popular in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua has an extremely long coastline, so the popularity of sport fishing comes as no surprise.
April, May and October are the favoured months for sports fishing, and tarpon and silver king fish are the biggest catches.
Other sports that are enjoyed in Nicaragua include hiking, biking, surfing, swimming, sailing and horseback riding. Nicaragua is home to many mountains and volcanoes and offers scenic hiking and biking trails.
Nicaragua is a therefore a popular destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts.
Music of Nicaragua is a mixture of indigenous and European, especially Spanish, influences. Musical instruments include the marimba and others that are common across Central America. Pop music includes Cuban, Brazilian, Mexican and Panamanian performers, as well as those from Europe and the United States
Nicaraguans enjoy their local artist's music but also enjoy music from around the world. They enjoy the Dominican Republic's bachata and merengue, Jamaica's reggae, Panama's reggaeton and Colombia's Cumbia, among other genres, including pop. Among the younger crowds, heavy metal and rock have become very popular.
The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is known for its Palo de Mayo, which is a lively and sensual form of dance music that is especially loud and celebrated during the Palo de Mayo festival. The Garifuna community in Nicaragua is known for its popular music called Punta.
Of the younger generation of Nicaraguan singer-songwriters there are a few notable such as Latin Grammy Nominee Ramón Armando Mejía (Perrozompopo), Arturo Vaughan, Moisés Gadea, Juan Montenegro, Junior Escobar.
The Nicaraguan culinary art dates back to the pre-Colombian times. Back then, during colonial times, the peculiar, creative, and varied Creole menu was the result of the union of two races. In this type of food, ranging from soups and meats to a diversity of sweets, interesting ingredients are used.
Sons of Corn
Since its origin, the fundamental basis of Nicaraguan gastronomy has been corn.
It is the culinary inheritance left by indigenous tribes that lived in the area.
This fact explains the similarities between the typical Nicaraguan food and those of other countries in the Central American region and Mexico too.
They all were sons of corn. Corn, as ingredient, has many different uses: lots of drinks are made from corn, such as Chicha and Pinol.
Corn is the basis for many main dishes too, such as Nacatamal, Indio Viejo, and Sopa de Albondiga, and snacks and sweets such as Atolillo and Perrereque.
A World of Ingredients
There are also other ingredients widely used in the Nicaraguan cuisine, mostly local, tropical products:
Fruits such as jocote, mango, papaya, tamarind, bananas, pipian, and avocado.
Roots such as yucca and quequisque and herbs such as culantro (also called cilantro), oregano, and achiote.
Another interesting aspect of the Nicaraguan cuisine is the meat that is being eaten. Some foreigners, especially Europeans, might find the following hard to believe. From the cow, for example, some dishes are prepared by using the tale, the udder, the stomach, or the brain. From the bull, the testicles are also used. And from the pork the Nicaraguans often use the stomach belly to make the famous chicharron.
Famous Nicaraguan Dishes
most people in Nicaragua eat this almost daily and it is considered a national symbol.
It is composed of a mixture of fried rice with onion and sweet pepper, red beans boiled with garlic. They are mixed and fried all together.
a dough which is prepared with ground corn and butter.
This is then filled up with small pieces of pork or chicken, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, onion, sweet pepper (all in slices). This mixture is packed in leaves of plantain trees (not edible), tightened with a small thread, that makes it look like a tiny pillow. It is then cooked inside the leaves and boiled during five hours.
originally from Granada, where it is deliciously prepared.
A plate is covered with a part of a plantain tree leaf, on top of which yucca, chicharrón (fried pork belly) and a salad made out of cabbage and tomato is placed.
meat prepared with onions, garlic, sweet pepper and tomato. In addition, some tortillas are put into water and this has to be ground until they form dough.
The meat is shredded and then fried with vegetables, the dough, and orange juice. Finally, some broth is added.
originally from La Paz Centro and Nagarote, in the department of León.
The quesillo is easy to prepare. A piece of local cheese (which is named quesillo) is placed inside a tortilla.
This is then wrapped up in a plastic bag.
Onions and vinegar are added, and the finishing touch is to put fresh cream and a bit of salt on top.
Sopa de Mondongo (stomach of cow):
this soup is the specialty of Masatepe, in the department of Masaya.
The mondongo is washed with a lot of vinegar, orange, and lemon.
Next step is to cut it in small pieces and cook it with onion, sweet pepper, and garlic.
When the mondongo is soft enough, grind rice is added, as well as vegetables in pieces, such as quequisque, chayote, sweet pepper, onion, corn.
This should be kept cooking until the soup is ready. One may eat this dish with avocado and cheese.
Specialty of Somoto, in the department of Madriz.
Corn dough is combined with cheese, egg, butter and lard. They come with a circular form and are baked.
traditionally from Bluefields (Carribean Coast).
Rondon is prepared with fish, and beef or pork. Sometimes the two kind of meat are combined.
When preparing, the meat is cooked with pepper, hot pepper, a herb named nargan, onion, sweet pepper, banana, yucca and quequisque.
for this drink you boil a “four leaf clover”, a pineapple and rice, until the rice is soft enough.
The drink is then being cooled and blended, adding water.
Afterwards, remove the solid part, leaving only the liquid part. Add a little bit of vanilla, strawberry and sugar, as you desire.
this drink needs a process of a couple of days.
The corn is left in water for an entire night so it gets soft.
Grind it the next day and then place it in water, adding red colorant.
The next step is to cook it. When it cools, you add a type of candy called “dulce” and more water.
The next day, you add more water and sugar.
this is a dessert prepared with milk, condensed milk and cream.
This is where the name comes from (three milks).
A cake with flour and eggs is prepared, and then the mixture of these three milks is added to it.
Finally, a crown of meringue is usually placed on top.
Cajeta de Coco:
For the preparation of this sweet, coconut, the coconut’s water, yucca and a candy called “dulce” are used.
The coconut and the yucca are cut in thin strings.
The water and the “dulce” are cooked until they make up a kind of honey, to which are added the strings of coconuts and yucca. The ingredients are all eventually mixed and the sweet is ready.