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Though its development as a major tourist destination has been halted by political instability and natural disaster, Nicaragua is slowly but surely beginning to recognize its potential as a crowd-drawer. Boasting the second largest lake of Latin America, Lake Nicaragua, as well as a number of active volcanoes at the Masaya Volcano National Park, the country's geographic features remain its finest attractions. Rainforests extend over a third of the country, making for an ecotourist's dream-come-true, though they will have to battle with issues of poor accessibility. For an authentic Caribbean experience, the Corn Islands slightly off the coast afford travellers with fine beaches and great diving opportunities. And while its underdevelopment may be Nicaragua's greatest shortcoming for visitors, it also means lower prices for those on a budget.
It is possible that Nicaragua was inhabited by Paleo-Indians as far back as 6,000 years. The ancient footprints of Acahualinca suggest this, along with other archaeological evidence. At the end of the 15th century, western Nicaragua was inhabited by several indigenous peoples possibly related by culture and language to Indigenous groups from Mexico. They were primarily farmers who lived in towns, organized into small kingdoms.
In 1502 Columbus visited Nicaragua, and in 1522 saw the start of the conquest of the country by the Spanish. A conquest that was complete in 1529. In 1524 the first Spanish towns were founded: Granada and Léon. Over the years Nicaragua became a part of Mexico and then gained its independence as a part of the United Provinces of Central America in 1821 which fell apart clearing the path for Nicaragua to continue as an independent republic in 1838. Parts of the coastline fell into British occupation as a protectorate, but by 1860 this part of the country was re-united with Nicaragua.
The 20th century was one of many battles between the conservatists and liberals. In 1909 Mexico and the United States invaded the country to get rid of the liberal president José Santos Zelaya. In 1933 the U.S. left the country, which led to the rule of the Somoza family who turned out to be dictators. They on their turn were overthrown by the Sandinist movement in 1979, which led to Daniel Ortega becoming president. In 1985 it was discovered that the U.S. were backing the contra’s who were fighting the Sandinists, which led to a big scandal in the U.S. in 1990 Ortega lost the elections, but he again became president in 2007.
Nicaragua covers around 130,967 km2 and is located in the central parts of Central America, bordering Costa Rica to the east and Honduras to the west. The Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean forms its northern and southern boundaries respecitvely. About 20% of the country is designated as protected areas like national parks, nature reserves, and biological reserves. The country has three geographical regions: the Pacific Lowlands,, the Amerrisque Mountains (North-Central Highlands), and the Mosquito Coast (Atlantic Lowlands). The low plains of the Atlantic Coast are 60 miles wide in areas. The Pacific 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 Central Highlands are less populated and economically developed and are located between Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean. It is located at elevations between 610 and 1,524 metres above sea level and 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. The Caribbean Lowlands is a large rainforest region and contains 57% of the country's territory and most of its mineral resources. Here, the Rio Coco is the largest river in Central America, forming the border with Honduras. Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve is located in the Atlantic lowlands and protects the La Mosquitia forest, which at almost seven percent of the country's area makes it the largest rainforest north of the Brazilian Amazon.
There are 3 distinct geographical regions in Nicaragua.
Administratively, the country is divided into 15 departments; Boaco, Carazo, Chinandega, Chontales, Estelí, Granada, Jinotega, León, Madriz, Managua, Masaya, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, Rivas, Río San Juan.
There are two autonomous regions known as RAAN (Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte) and RAAS (Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur)
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The Corn Islands are located off the Caribbean coastline of Nicaragua and are an even better way of escaping it all in the country. The main islands are the aptly named Big and Little Corn Islands. The main activities include relaxing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and ocean fishing which are magnificent. Picnic Beach is probably one of the most beautiful areas with fine sand, palms and crystal clear waters. Sandflies are the only negative aspect probably. Between the islands you can arrange boats which usually take an hour or so.
Isla de Ometepe is located in the central southern part of the country and is an island in Lake Nicaragua. Actually they are twin volcanic islands and an ideal escape away from the larger cities and crowded areas of Nicaragua. The islands are relatively quiet (except for the growing number of tourists) and there are only a few small settlements on the island including some coffee plantations, and at the Finca Magdalena coffee plantation you can actually stay and take part in the coffee harvest, which is a great but basic experience.
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The Ruins of Leon Viejo are the only site on the Unesco World Heritage List in Nicaragua and the area is one of the oldest Spanish colonial settlements in the Americas, dating back to the time of the Spanish Empire of the 16th century. Not everything has been discovered here though and it is more than likely that more archaeological treasures are to be found in the (near) future.
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Nicaragua has a tropical climate with generally hot and humid conditions. Temperatures are around or just above 30 °C during the day most of the year and most areas are still above 20º at night. Nicaragua has two seasons regarding rainfall. A dry and slightly cooler November to April season and a wet season (but not raining all day) during May to October. Hurricanes occasionally hit the country from July/August onwards.
Augusto C. Sandino International Airport (MGA) near Managua is where planes depart and arrive. TACA has international flights to and from Miami, Los Angeles, San Salvador and San José in Costa Rica. Other destinations include Guatemala City, Panama City, Havana, Montreal, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale and several other regional destinations.
There are no international train services to and from Nicaragua.
There are two border crossings to Costa Rica. By car you can cross Penas Blancas west of Lake Nicaragua. The other one is at Los Chiles east of it but this will mean taking a boat and crossing on foot.
There are three border crossings to Honduras, of which Las Manos is the best and shortest route to take if you want to go directly to Tegucigalpa. Others are on the Panamericana from Leon northwards.
Although it is usually cheaper to use domestic buses and cross borders on foot, there are direct services if you don't mind spending a few bucks more and want to travel faster. These include buses between Managua and San José in Costa Rica and to San Salvador in El Salvador. Some continue all the way to Guatemala and Panama. Try Ticabus and Transnica for some examples of international connections. You can also travel easily from Granada to Costa Rica and Panama and from Leon to Honduras and El Salvador. Another big operator is King Quality, which travels on the San José de Costa Rica - Tapachula (Mexico) route, with buses between the capitals of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
There are no regular ferries across the Pacific or Caribbean to neighbouring countries, but there are three river border crossings with Costa Rica which you can take. Although you can theoretically cross the Golfo de Fonseca to El Salvador, this is not a regular crossing (you'll need to hire a private boat) and you should talk to immigration in Managua or San Salvador before attempting it. The price is US$ 65 for the 2-hour trip.
La Costena has services to the following domestic destinations: Bluefields, Corn Islands, Managua, Minas, Puerto Cabezas, San Carlos and Waspam. Atlantic Airlines has domestic flights as well to the same destinations. Taca Regional has some services as well.
There are no domestic rail services in Nicaragua.
Roads are generally in a good condition but some roads are worse after rainy weather. You can rent cars from both international as well as local agencies in Managua, Granada and Leon and several airports. You can also choose to have a car with a driver, for slightly more money.
There are luxurious buses (mostly international routes), minibuses and old American school buses that travel between many major cities and towns. Try to get on a directo or expreso buses instead of ordinario which stop more and travel times can add up a lot. Reservations for domestic routes are not necessary (or possible!), just pay when you get on board. For an overview of schedules and connections, also international ones, see thebussschedule.com.
There are two boats a week between Bluefields and the Corn Islands. An important route is El Rama to Bluefields, down the Río Escondido. Boats for trips around Bluefields, Bilwi and Waspám are convenient as well. And it is also possible to visit one of many hundreds of the islands in Lake Nicaragua, which are very beautiful. Isla Ometeppe is one of the more popular ones. Frequent ferries include those from San Jorge and two boats a week from Granada, continuing to San Carlos and from there down the Rio San Juan to Boca de Sabalos, El Castillo and to San Juan del Norte on the Caribbean coast. From there, it's possible to travel north again to Bluefields. The San Juan del Sur region is a good place to travel around by boat taxi.
Visitors from most countries can stay in Nicaragua for 30 or 90 days without a visa, as long as they have a passport valid for the next six months, proof of sufficient funds (200 USD or a credit card) and, theoretically, an onward ticket which rarely checked though. Most border crossings are relaxed.
Citizens of Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Armenia, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Haiti, India, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territories, Peru, Rumania, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Vietnam and Yemen need a visa to enter Nicaragua.
Note that since 2006 a 90-day stay actually means a stay within the Centro America 4 (CA4) region, including Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. You can extend the stay with another 90 days, after which you have to leave the region, for example to Belize, Mexico or Costa Rica.
See also Money Matters
Nicaragua's currency is the córdoba (C$), sometimes called a 'peso' or 'real' by locals. Córdobas come in coins of C$0.25, C$0.50, C$1 and C$5, and bills of C$10, C$20, C$50, C$100 and C$500.
Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases
Spanish is the official language of Nicaragua and is spoken by 90% of the population. English and creole English are common around the Caribbean coast, and the indigenous population speaks its native tongue.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Nicaragua. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Nicaragua) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Nicaragua. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, tuberculosis, rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria is prevalent in the country and it is recommended to take malaria pills and take other normal anti-mosquito precautions as well. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
See also International Telephone Calls
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Ask i c e a question about Nicaragua
I'm 19. I just drove the panamerican highway With my family, to panama and back and spent good time in each country. If you would like any help or reliable info just ask!! Love this part of the world!! Speak Spanish! Been all over the world!
Glad to help in any way!!
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I work as a tour guide in Nicaragua and have traveled to the most important places and can help anybody with tips to plan their trip.
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I live in Nicaragua and I have been around the whole country as a tourist. If you have any questions on activities, transportation, hotels, or anything else related to Nicaragua, let me know!
Ask caguide a question about Nicaragua
am a travel and tourism specialist for the entire Central American region stretching from Guatemala through Costa Rica, based in El Salvador, a still exotic destination in the heart of Central America. I live and work in the region for over 18 years so am not just another traveler passing through. I speak the language and am deeply immersed in the culture, customs and history of the pueblo(people). Donald T. Lee
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