COUNTRY INFORMATION

Legacy & Culture

The blend of Spanish and Indian cultures have created the most interesting and colorful country in Central America. Colonial cities, volcanic parks, arts and crafts markets, wildlife, sunny beaches, friendly people and much more for you to see.

Come and visit this wonderful country that will welcome you with open arms!

NICARAGUA COLONIAL CITIES OF LEÓN AND GRANADA

Although Nicaragua is blessed with numerous historic colonial villages it is Nicaragua’s two colonial cities of Granada and León which have brought it much fame and numerous visitors from around the globe.

GRANADA

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The “Gran Sultan” is one of Latin America’s most beautiful colonial cities. This ancient town founded in 1524 on the shores of mighty Lake Nicaragua is full of history and Spanish colonial charm and is famed as one of the oldest European settlements in the western hemisphere. The city’s precious architecture and history is unforgettable as is lodging in a beautifully restored colonial home at one of its fine hotels. There is not more famous destination inside Nicaragua, with visitors coming from around the world to enjoy its timeless beauty and quiet charm. Granada is also a great jumping off point to visit numerous nature reserves, beaches and villages in the region.

LEON

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Set between the Pacific Ocean and a jagged range of active volcanoes León was Nicaragua’s colonial capitol for 297 years. This city is home to more than 12 colonial period churches, each one unique in its design from tiny parish size chapels to the mighty Cathedral, Central America’s largest church. León is also the home of Nicaragua’s greatest passion, poetry, the origin of numerous internationally renowned poets, including the national hero Rubén Darío, considered one the Spanish language’s 5 greatest literary figures. León has two very good hotels, and is perfect for setting off to visit Nicaragua’s Maribios Volcanoes for hiking or kayaking the Juan Venado Nature Reserve.

NICARAGUA NATURE RESERVES, PARKS AND WILDLIFE REFUGES

Nicaragua has 78 nature reserves that cover more than 21,000 km2; the following list is a very brief summary of some of the parks which have enough infrastructure and nearby lodging to permit access to Nicaragua’s spectacular nature.

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Mombacho Cloud Forest Reserve

Situated on top of the sleeping Mombacho Volcano, this lovely reserve has some of the most beautiful cloud forest flora seen anywhere in Latin America with numerous flowers, bromeliads and orchids amongst its 800+ species of plant life. The volcanoes slopes are home to more than 500 howler monkeys and some of the longer trails can help locate them in the trees. The park has the cleanest, best maintained trails in Nicaragua and if cloud cover permits stunning views of Granada, Lake Nicaragua and the Las Isletas Archipelago. Mombacho is easily visited from colonial Granada.

Chocoyero Nature Reserve

This tiny reserve set in a narrow canyon is rich in wildlife, in particular the scandalous chocoyo (varieties of Pacific green parakeet) which nests along the canyon’s cliffs next to a tiny cascade. There are more than 800 chocoyos, as well as toucans, deer, howler monkey and agouti. The park’s tropical dry forest also hosts many hummingbirds and diverse flora. Chocoyero is located only 29 km from downtown Managua.

Montibelli Nature Reserve

A private, family owned nature park in greater Managua and the Pacific basin’s best forest reserve for bird watching. The tropical dry forest of Montibelli is full of diverse flora and home to numerous mot-mots, trogons, manikins, hummingbirds and other species. There is also an impressive array of butterflies in the forest and a place to experience the pleasure of the personalized hospitality of the reserve’s kind owners. Access to this reserve is from Managua.

Isla Juan Venado Nature Reserve

Is part of the national park system and an important coastal wetlands reserve. The barrier island of Juan Venado is 22 km long and a half km wide. The ocean side is a nesting site for sea turtles while the protected side estuary is home to many water fowl, iguana, crocodile and caiman, as well ecologically important mangroves. The reserve can be explored in motorboat or kayak. Access is via the city of León.

Selva Negra Cloud Forest Reserve

Is a private reserve in the northern province of Matagalpa. The forest is part of an organic shade coffee operation and hotel project owned by third generation Nicaraguans of German origin. The forest is great for hiking, though wildlife tends to be difficult to spot. Howler monkeys are usually nearby, as well as several species of birds not found south of this mountain range. The coffee hacienda is 100% ecologically sustainable and part of the attraction for its perfect marriage of idealism and practicality. Both currents of thought keep 1/3 of this big property forest reserve and lead to the recycling of everything down to the soapy dishwater. Lodging is cabins located at the edge of Selva Negra’s forest reserve overlooking one of the property’s 8 ponds. Selva Negra is located 2 hours and 20 minutes north of Managua.

NICARAGUA VOLCANOES

All of Central America is blessed with beautiful volcanic cones, mountains of testament to our earth’s immense power and its living, breathing interior. Nicaragua’s volcanic chain is one of the most impressive on the isthmus due to beauty of the cones and the fact that all of the more than 50 cones (7 active which are active) rise off of a flat coastal plain that lies just above sea level. This gives the Nicaraguan volcanoes a starkly dramatic profile and makes them accessible to climbers, hikers and walkers.
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Masaya Volcano

Located in the province of Masaya and could be the most accessible active volcano in the world. A paved road runs to the summit of the smoking Santiago crater, just 29 km from the center of new Managua. The park’s maximum elevation is 635 meters above sea level measured from the extinct cone of San Fernando where views of the lake valley are priceless.
The ancient caldera houses more than 7 volcanic cones and a crater lake, all of which are protected by the Masaya Volcano National Park. The park’s landscape is a Martian or moonscape and its most famous residents are the crater dwelling parakeets which live in the toxic inner walls of the active Santiago crater.

Apoyo Volcano

Shared by the provinces of Masaya and Granada. This dormant cone last erupted about 20,000 years ago and has been filling with clear, Mediterranean blue water ever since. Laguna de Apoyo or Apoyo Crater Lake is the biggest of Nicaragua’s spectacular 14 lake filled craters and has good lodging along its shores. The interior of the crater is a nature reserve and home to more than 145 species of birds, howler and white face monkeys and rare species of fish.

Cerro Negro Volcano

Is in the province of León and located in the middle of the impressive Maribios Volcano Range. At just 450 meters, little and very active Cerro Negro deceives those who underestimate it ferocity. One of the newest volcanoes to burst forth in the Americas, Cerro Negro is a huge pile of black sand and gravel, wrapped in dried lava and rocks that it spit out of its center in 11 harsh eruptions in the 20th century. The last of which in 1999 opened up 3 baby craters at its base. The climb of Cerro Negro is on its north face and can be done in one hour. The descent of Cerro Negro can be done by a form of foot-sliding and dancing down its sandy and steep west face.

Maderas Volcano

Located on the Island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. At 1,394 meters above sea level, Maderas is usually draped in mist, the vital liquid of its rich cloud forest reserve. Maderas Volcano is the sleepy twin of Concepción and home to a much more diverse and less disturbed flora and fauna that includes healthy populations of howler monkeys and Amazon parrots. There are two popular hikes on the mountain, the first a fairly easy walk up the west side of the volcano through farm land and then cloud forest ending at a spectacular mountain cascade of more than 40 meters. Average hiking time varies from 1-3 hours up and 1-2 hours down depending on starting point. The second option is a summit hike that is muddy and trying, but less physical than the ascent of Concepción. Normal climbing time is 3-5 hours with a 2-4 hour descent. At the summit is a misty, ice cold crater lake.

ARTISAN VILLAGES

Nicaragua’s culture can be experienced in many ways. One of the best opportunities is in the rural areas by visiting the homes that double as workshops for the artisan handicraft makers of Nicaragua in Masaya and its surrounding colonial villages known as Los Pueblos de la Meseta or in the northern mountains.
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Masaya City

This overgrown village is considered the cradle of folklore in Nicaragua and for good reason. Masaya good be the richest crafts center in Central America. Famous for its restored 19th century open air artisan market, every street in Masaya’s indigenous Monimbó neighborhood is home to at least one artisan workshop. The town’s residents are best known for their hammocks, but handmade leather, wood and fabric products are also prevalent. The visitor will often by amused to find the artisans of Monimbó making crafts that carry the name Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and even Guatemala. The reason is simple, much of the “native” crafts of those countries are made in Masaya by the artisans of Monimbó. Masaya can be visited from Managua or Granada hotels just 30 minutes away.

Catarina

This little colonial period village is a quiet town perched on the lip of the Apoyo Crater Lake is best known for its nurseries which overflow onto the streets with potted plants and flowers. The visitor will also encounter bamboo basket weavers and wood workers. Catarina can be visited from Managua (one hour) or Granada (30 minutes).

San Juan de Oriente

The most famous ceramic village in Central America that sports a restored 16th century church. The populace of this indigenous village has been making ceramics for more than 2,000 years and 85% of its population is working today in pottery production. The town’s beautiful earthenware is now known around the world and a visit to one of the humble workshops is a rewarding experience for lovers of ceramics or visitors interested in cultural interaction. San Juan de Oriente is next to Catarina.

Masatepe

Every visitor to Nicaragua marvels at its handmade wooden rocking chairs, standard equipment in homes countrywide. Most of these wood and wicker rockers as well as many other fine furniture pieces are made in the cool highland village of Masatepe. A visit to a workshop reveals how such fine work is made with basic tools and the unselfish nature of the Nicaraguan artisan who shares his knowledge (and tools) with family, friends and neighbors. Masatepe is located just 15 minutes from Catarina and San Juan de Oriente and can be visited from Managua and Granada.

Condega

Set in a broad highland valley of the northern mountains, this sleepy village is home to some of Nicaragua’s most beautiful red-clay pottery. The production of the ceramics is what gives Condega its name, indigenous for “land of pottery”. The most beautiful of the earthenware is produced by a woman’s cooperative in a tiny settlement of red clay homes near the village proper. The village can be visited via Matagalpa (2 hours), Managua (3 hours) or León (3 hours).

Jinotega

The peaceful coffee town surrounded by mountain peaks with a gorgeous whitewashed Cathedral is also one of two sources of Nicaragua’s indigenous black ceramics. Outside of Jinotega on the highway to San Rafael del Norte is a tiny settlement that time has forgotten, where the work of black pottery specialists can be seen as the spin clay in a local cooperative. Jinotega is 3 hours north of Managua and has a good hotel. The cooperative is 30 minutes from Jinotega.

Matagalpa

The capital of coffee production in Nicaragua also hides some interesting crafts in its labyrinth of hilly streets. There are both black ceramic and textile cooperatives that can be visited in and around the city. The natives of Matagalpa once were prolific in cotton textile production and this tradition. This custom was lost during the Pacific basin cotton boom years, but is slowly returning. Matagalpa is 2 hours north of Managua.

NICARAGUA PACIFIC COAST BEACHES

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Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast is blessed with kilometers of pristine undeveloped coastline. This is slowly changing, but many of the beach projects are ecologically friendly and there appears to be reason to hope that Nicaragua can develop beach tourism without razing the coast and planting concrete jungles.

Surfing in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has been called by international surf tour operators “the next surfing frontier”. The publicity that Nicaragua surfing is now receiving is long overdue, though international hype singing the praise of Nicaragua surfing can be a double-edged sword. It is easy to worship Nicaragua’s more than 250 km of Pacific coastline for its natural beauty, clean water, villages of friendly fishermen, as well as the 90% consistent SW and S swells. The average height of the Nicaragua Pacific swells are 4-6 feet, though even on small days 2-3 feet is normal, and when it is big, 15 feet does not surprise. The best time of year to surf is March through November however December through February is still very good, if less consistent. Aside from 300+ days of off shore winds, consistent swells and a broad choice of breaks, Nicaragua still boasts the least crowded waves in Central America. Yet, the southern coast of Nicaragua’s Pacific coastline has now apparently been “discovered”, hence the arrival of the big international surf tour companies to the south coast, drawing surfers from around the world and up from our over-saturated southern neighbor Costa Rica. Paradise is getting a bit crowded, at least by Nicaraguan standards

Nicaragua Location & Population

Nicaragua is Central America’s largest country at 130,000 km2. It is bordered by Honduras and the Gulf of Fonseca in the north, Costa Rica in the south, the Caribbean Sea in the east and the Pacific Ocean in the west. Nicaragua is home to just over 5 million people, making it the least densely populated country in Central America and according to authorities 60% of the population is under 21 years old!

Nicaragua Safety

The 2009 “Global Peace Index” which ranks 144 countries in the world ranked Nicaragua the 5th most peaceful country in Latin America. The non-profit that does the study bases. Their ranking on dozens of criteria and many are economic in nature. However, even with the lack of material wealth in Nicaragua (considered the second poorest nation in the hemisphere), the Global Peace Index has Nicaragua listed as the 5th most peaceful country in all of Latin America, ahead of Latin American economic powerhouses like Argentina. To be doubly safe, common sense precautions should be taken for visitors to Nicaragua, as in any country in the world. What occasionally gets independent travelers in trouble is just being new to Latin America, not knowing what places to avoid and how countries like Nicaragua work. Travel to Nicaragua was once considered to be for the very adventurous. That image of tourism in Nicaragua as being only for the cutting edge traveler is now way out of date. Nicaragua travel is much more accessible to the tourism market than ever before, with a broad range of lodging opportunities for the visitor who wants to travel to Nicaragua on the cheap or comfortable with the attentive personal. Despite economic problems in much of the developed world travel to Nicaragua continues to increase by a rate of 8-9% annually, with higher rates sure to come when world economic problems lesson in the future. Nicaragua travel is one way to feel very far away from the states and only fly 2-3 hrs from Miami or Houston

Nicaragua Geography

The Pacific basin is blessed with a spine of more than 50 volcanoes that run from the northern Pacific Gulf of Fonseca, south into Lake Nicaragua. 7 of these are active and 14 sport crater lakes. The Pacific basin is separated from the central and northern mountains and eastern rain forests by Central America’s biggest lake: Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is the 2nd largest in Latin America at 8,264 km2 and is home to over 450 volcanic origin islands, including the world’s largest volcanic lake island, Isla Ometepe and 5 distinct archipelagos. Lake Nicaragua’s western-most point is only 18 km from the Pacific Ocean, but drains into the Caribbean Sea by means of the San Juan River’s 190 km length. 10% of Nicaragua is covered by lakes, rivers and lagoons, 35% is covered in forests. The remaining 55% is a mixture of grazing and farm lands with scattered villages and cities.

Climate & Temperature

Nicaragua enjoys an average temperature of 27°C (80°F) year round. Humidity averages 65%. There are two seasons, green and dry. The green season is from mid-May to mid-November, the dry season from late-November to early-May. Rain during the green season is normally limited to short and powerful bursts with longer showers at night. The hottest time of year is at the end of the dry season, from March to May, while the coolest period is from October to January. In the mountainous central and northern areas of the country, the changes in altitude make for an enjoyable cooler climate, which is progressively more humid as one moves east. From the central area of the country to the Caribbean there is a tropical humid forest climate, which is hot with frequent precipitation

Nicaragua Time

Nicaragua is on the same time as Central Standard Time (Chicago) in the USA. During daylight savings time in the USA and Europe, Nicaragua is effectively on Mountain Standard Time (D

Population, State Organization & Official Language

Nicaragua has 5.3 million in habitants approximately. Most of the population (64%) is concentrated on the Pacific side, following the historical model adopted by groups of pre-Columbian natives that settled in this region next to the lakes to take advantage of the fertile volcanic soil. According to the Political Constitution, Nicaragua is a Democratic Republic, participative and representative. The President of the republic is elected every five years by the direct vote of citizens and re-election for two consecutive terms is prohibited by law. The current President of Nicaragua is Mr. Daniel Ortega. The territory of Nicaragua is divided into 15 provinces and two autonomous regions (called the North and South Atlantic). The autonomous regions are ruled by the law or status of Autonomy. The official language is Spanish and English is common within the Creole population located on the Caribbean region, better known in Nicaragua as the Atlantic Coast. In this region live indigenous groups that still speak their own language like Miskitos, Sumos, Ramas and Garifonos.

Life in Nicaragua before and during the Spanish Conquest

A number of different peoples inhabited the territory that is now Nicaragua. In the Pacific region, for example, there were the Maribios, also known as the Subtiabas, the Mangues or the Chorotegas, the Nahuas or Nicaraguas, also called the Niquiranos. These peoples settled near the lakes and volcanoes and organized themselves into towns or agricultural villages led by councils of elders. Their way of life was very similar to that of the cultures of Mexico, with a trading system based on bartering or exchange with neighboring people. They worked the land and lived off agriculture based on the cultivation of corn. Before the arrival of the conquistadores or Spanish conquerors, the Chorotegas and Nicaraguas were the main cultures in the Pacific Region. The Maribios mostly settled to the west of the chain of volcanoes that traverse the region, which is why it is now called the “Marrabios” Range; an adulteration of the indigenous name.
At the end of 1524, Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba completed the conquest of the region, and founded the cities of Leon and Granada. In 1542, laws were passed to centralize Spanish authority and to establish a judiciary system that would control the distribution of land and the amounts of taxes that would be demanded from the indigenous peoples in the future. The Church has played an important role in Nicaragua since Colonial times. In 1610, an earthquake destroyed the city of Leon and the city was relocated to its current site. In some ways, this worked to the benefit of the city of Granada as its trade routes were through Lake Cocibolca and the San Juan River, but that city did not escape surprise attacks by pirates who also gained access to the city through the river and lake. Among these privateers was Henry Morgan. The pirates usually negotiated with the indigenous people that they encountered in the Caribbean and with the English from Jamaica. Thus, they began visiting the Caribbean Coast for trading purposes, giving rise to the rivalry between Spain and the Protectorate of the Caribbean, England.

Economy

The Nicaraguan economy is based on the rules of the free market. Nicaragua exports coffee, beef, shrimp, lobster, sugar and rum. In the last 2 years tourism has become one of the main sources of income for the nation.

Currency

The national currency is the Cordoba, in honor of the Spanish conqueror Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, who founded the first cities in the country. Money exchange is available in banks, hotels and (street vendors – not recommended). Dollars in small denominations (5, 10, 20 and 50) are accepted anywhere, Travelers Checks are only accepted in certain banks, hotels and tour operators. The Nicaraguan currency is stable, devaluing at a rate of approximately 1% per month. Credit Cards are widely accepted. Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere. American Express is in some locations only, basically just hotels.

Vaccines

Nicaragua does not have any disease that you should be aware or afraid of it…If you have a medical condition, you should also share your travel plans with your doctor. Although yellow fever, malaria or Dengue is not a disease risk in Nicaragua, the government requires travelers arriving from countries where yellow fever is present to present a proof of yellow fever vaccination.