Nicaragua has a relatively modest population, but is the second largest country in Central America. Despite its extremely turbulent history and much political unrest over the years, it has become increasingly popular with tourists in recent years, especially with backpackers and surfers. For those who just can´t get enough of that Latino atmosphere, there is plenty to see and do whatever your age and budget. Even cruises are an option these days. The country borders Honduras and Costa Rica, and has a coast on each side – the Pacific Ocean to the west, and Caribbean Sea to the east.
It´s not for nothing that it is known as the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes” as Nicaragua´s north-western corner is mountainous with a number of volcanoes and the Lago de Nicaragua fills much of the south-western corner. The capital region around Managua is the most densely-populated area of the country and is full of coffee and sugar plantations. Coffee is the country´s largest export. The Pacific coast consists of fertile, lowlands while the regions that stretches from the Caribbean coast inland for a good distance is less hospitable swamp, rain forest and a myriad of river estuaries. The coastal area known as the Mosquito Coast is full of mangrove swamps, and was named after the Indian people of region, who have their own language, history and culture. Unlike the rest of the country, this area was colonized by the British in the 17th century, followed by a brief period under Spanish rule in the 19th century before becoming an autonomous territory of Nicaragua in 1860.
The rest of Nicaragua was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502 and, like most of the other Central American countries, was a Spanish colony, from 1542 until it gained independence in 1821. However, its more recent history has been characterized by turbulence and political unrest, occupation, dictatorship and fiscal crises. Revolts in the 1960´s and 1970´s, a civil war in the 80´s all contributed to the negative press coverage that Nicaragua received. The Sandinista National liberation front (FSNL) overthrew the Somoza dynasty and ruled the country from 1979 -1990. Today, Daniel Ortega, the former president of the FSNL, is President of Nicaragua and the party remains the country´s sole leading party. The blue and white Nicaraguan flag symbolizes the passion with which Nicaraguans regard their country – the blue standing for justice and loyalty, the white for purity and honesty.
Tourists come in increasing numbers to enjoy Nicaragua´s diverse scenery, warm, tropical climate, historical cities and stunning Spanish colonial architecture. Not to mention the volcanoes….
For culture buffs, head to Granada, one of the Nicaragua´s oldest settlements and stroll through the cobblestoned streets as you enjoy the many graceful villas that line them, the churches and squares, decorated in a multitude of colours, and some of the most well-preserved colonial architecture in the country. From here, you can also visit nearby markets, hike to Mombacho Volcano or even kayak to nearby islands. Another architectural pearl is Leon, once the country´s capital in 1857. It is still considered the heart of the country´s intelligentsia and is home to the National University. That always gives a city a special buzz, and here, as well as the city´s many churches and historical buildings, you can visit the Museum of the Revolution, and be entertained by the many interesting murals and graffiti that still adorn many walls in the city – remnants of clashes between the Somosa and Sandinista movements. Nearby are the ruins of Leon Viejo (Old Leon), the only Nicaraguan UNESCO World Heritage Site. And while you´re here; stop by one of the street kiosks to sample the national dish – vigoron – an inexpensive, hearty dish of pork and cabbage that will fortify you for the day´s sightseeing.
If you´ve had your fill of culture, and are itching to get out and explore something different altogether, you can either head for the water or to the volcanoes, or combine the two! At the immense Lago de Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua) with its two joined volcanoes, you can canoe out to one of the several hundred islets and perhaps catch a glimpse of the world´s only fresh water shark, or take an excursion to Ometepe Island and play spot-the- monkey!
San Juan del Sur, the most popular beach in Nicaragua, is where the backpackers and surfers head for to enjoy an inexpensive vacation. This is also the home of the second largest statue of Christ in the world (after Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). The Corn Islands (Big Corn and Little Corn) offer scuba diving, snorkelling and a variety of other water sports. Or you can simply just relax with a book and chill out on one of the lovely, tropical beaches. Big Corn has a number of resorts and more restaurants, while Little Corn is the place to go if you are looking for inexpensive guest houses. In general though, everything is pretty reasonable in Nicaragua.
And if you´re looking for surfing of a very different kind, you can grab a wooden board and fly down the black shingle slopes of Cerro Negro, volcano boarding on an active volcano, one of the few places in the world you can enjoy this unique experience. For those who prefer to take it a little more gently, you can also take a guided hike on the volcanoes of San Cristobal (the hardest), Mombecho, or catch the sunset at Telica (the second hardest). At Esteli in northern Nicaragua, you can take a 1 day guided trek through Miraflores National Park´s beautiful cloud forest, past rivers, waterfalls and small farms. Longer treks staying with local families in small communities can also be arranged. What better way is there to really get to know more about the warm people of Nicaragua? Somewhere along the way, you´re sure to be offered the national dish, Gallo Pinto, a filling mixture of rice, beans and fried plantains often served alongside a plate of scrambled or fried eggs for breakfast.
As you can see, Nicaragua really has something to suit every taste.
Nicaragua is a Central American Republic, the largest in terms of landmass, the smallest in terms of population. Nicaragua shares a border with Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south.
Currency: Nicaraguan cordoba
President: Daniel Ortega
Population: 6.15 million (2016) The World Bank.
Official language: Spanish
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