Ministry of Tourism
Apartado Postal 122,
Managua, Nicaragua
Tel: (505 2) 223333 (502 2) 227423,
Fax: (502 2) 621187

Physical geography

Nicaragua is located in the heart of the Central American isthmus, that narrow strip of land which unites North and South America and divides the Caribbean Sea from the Pacific Ocean.

It lies between Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the South. Bordering the Caribbean Sea at the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west Nicaragua is a tropical country located between 11 and 15 north latitude. Its official time zone, which remains constant during the year, is 90 west of Greenwich Mean Time. Nicaragua falls in the Central Standard Time zone. Nicaragua is the largest of the six Central American Republics. It covers an area of 50,450 square miles, which is equal to 25 per cent of the entire Central American isthmus. This includes 3,567 square miles of lakes and lagoons equals to seven per cent of the Nicaraguan surface.

The country is divided into three major areas, the Pacific Region, the Central Region, and the Caribbean region, or as it is more commonly known, the Atlantic Coast. The divisions are made according to land formation, climate and vegetation.

The Pacific Region, or Nicaraguan lowland, extends from the coastal areas to the lake region. These are flat, soil rich lands where more of the major cities are located. The region's most outstanding physical features are Lake Xolotlan and Lake Cocibolca and an avenue of volcanoes which runs parallel to the coast, all the way from the Gulf of Fonseca to the Island of Ometepe in Lake Cocibolca.

The Central region is one of Nicaragua's most beautiful areas, due to the many mountain chains, plateaux and valleys found there. The area has elevations ranging from 200 metres above sea level to altitudes of 2,000 metres in the mountains of Dipilto and Jalapa, which border neighbouring Honduras.

The Caribbean Region, also known as the Atlantic Coast, is an enormous flatland region extending from the mountains of Central Nicaragua to the Caribbean coast. It is a vast, humid area covered to a great extent by tropical jungle. Important rivers flow through the region, dividing the terrain into parallel land ridges.


Because Nicaragua is a tropical country, its seasons can be broken down into two: the rainy and dry seasons, or as they are commonly known in the country, winter and summer. The seasons are not determined by temperature changes but rather by the amount of rainfall.

The seasons tend to vary according to the region. In the midwest section of the country the rainy season lasts from May through October, with intermittent dry spells. The dry season begins in November and lasts through April.

Rainfall is heaviest on the Caribbean and Atlantic seacoasts where it may rain (followed immediately by clear skies from May through February). Certain months, however, may experience constant, yet moderate, rainfall.

Nicaragua has a moderate temperature, between 77 and 81 degrees F.

Economic geography

Agriculture: It is the most important economic activity of the country. Nicaragua's first income generating product is coffee, while sugar, banana and sesame are also important export commodities.

Fishing: The fishing industry offers tremendous future potential not only in the seas but also in the fresh water regions of Nicaragua. The most important fishing activity, however, is the shellfish industry. Nicaragua has a wide shelf off its coast rich in a great variety of shellfish. The demand for shrimp and lobster is very high in international markets.

Beef cattle: It is the third main product which generates income for the country. In 1995 it generated $3.7 million.

Tourism: Nicaragua has many wonderful attractions to offer the tourist. Its capricious geography, warm and exuberant climate, rich green forests and tropical savannahs are some of the features which attract visitors to the country. The traditional hospitality of the Nicaraguan people and the country's rich Indian and colonial heritage are the key factors which make this Central American nation a favourite vacation spot.


The estimated population for 1995 was 4,140,000, primarily concentrated in the Pacific region; specifically in the cities of Managua, Masaya, Leon and Granada.

Managua is the Capital City with a population of 1,056,700. Other major cities are: Granada, Leon, Esteli, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas.

A brief history

In pre-Columbian times the territory of Nicaragua was inhabited by several groups of Indians: the Nicaraos and Chorotegas, the Chontales and the Mosquitos. Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot on Nicaraguan soil on his fourth and last voyage.

The country was taken over by Spanish conquerors. Hernandez de Cordoba, who discovered the Lake Cocibolca, founded, amongst others, the cities of Granada, Leon and Nueva Segovia.

In 1625 the English landed in Nicaragua, declaring it a British protectorate some years later. It was not until 1894 that the English finally left Nicaragua for good.

The capital, which was based in Granada and later Leon, adhered and separated itself first from Mexico and then from the Federation of United Provinces of Central America. The capital was eventually moved to Managua. From then onwards, the governments of the following presidents held the power in Nicaragua: Zelaya, Daz, Anastasio and Luis Somoza. In 1979 the forces of the Sandinista Front made Somoza resign and abandon the country and the Sandinistas came to the fore of the Nicaraguan Government. The presidential election was headed by Violeta de Chamorro.

Today there is a democratic and pacifist regime in Nicaragua, based on reconciliation, progress and advances at all levels.


The predominant religion is Catholicism.


The official language is Spanish. English is spoken on the Caribbean Coast and tourist areas.


The country's currency is the Cordoba, names after the Spaniard Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba who founded the cities of Grananda and Leon. US$1 = C$8.6 approx.

Official holidays

1st Jan, New Year's Day - Holy Thursday - Good Friday - 1st May, Labour Day - 19 July, Revolution Day festivities (holiday only in Managua) - 10 August, Santo Domingo (Festivities in Managua) - 14 Sep, Battle of San Jacinto - 15 Sep, Independence Day - 2 Nov, All Soul's Day - 8 Dec, Immaculate Conception - 25 Dec, Christmas Day.

Frontier formalities

Documents you need: valid passport and the tourist card which costs US$5. It can be bought on entering the country.


Although some institutes of health recommend certain vaccinations before setting off on your trip, no vaccinations are actually necessary unless you are coming beforehand from an area which has epidemics.


A written baggage declaration may be made on the arrival to the country. You can introduce to the country the following articles for private use: three litres of liquor, one cigarette carton, one electrodomestic article which has been already used, and all kinds of medicines in small amounts.

What you should not fail to see

Managua: Behind the city is the Momotombo Volcano with its perfectly proportioned cone rising some 4,100 feet above sea level. A few other points of interest you can see in Managua include: The footprints of Acahualinca, which are fossilised footprints dating back at least 9,000 years; Olof Palme Convention Centre, Ruins of the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Ruben Dario Theatre, the National Museum and the new Cathedral.

Masaya and Masaya Volcano National Park: Masaya is called the City of Flowers, is just 11 miles from Managua, and is considered to be the centre of Nicaraguan folklore and handicrafts. Its colourful market area overflows with woven hammocks, wood carvings, the famous hemp tapestries, embroidered blouses and the like.

The Masaya Volcano is one of the few volcanoes in the world where you can drive up to its crater on a paved road for a close look at its lava deposits.

Two oceans and a lake as big as a sea: Lake Cocibolca is the dominating feature of any map of the country. This freshwater lake, which covers 5,067 square miles, was named Fresh Water Sea by the Spanish conquistadors and with good reason. The Lake is so large that whole species of salt water fish have adapted to its environment and call it home.

The largest island in the rake, Ometepe, off the port city of Rivas, has a population of 28,38 and contains two volcanoes, one of which, Concepcion, is said to have the most perfectly formed cone in Central America.

Zapatera Island in lake Cocibolca is a national park where you may view a variety of Indian artefacts.

The Pacific Beaches: The proximity of the Pacific coast to Managua makes this area a favourite haunt for sunbathers, swimmers, surfers, divers, snorkellers and anglers.

The beach at Pochomi is nearest to Managua. Next to it you will enjoy Montelimar, the largest tourist resort complex in Central America. It has over two miles of private Pacific beach, a gigantic swimming pool and all the other amenities you would expect from an international resort.

The nearby beach of Chacocente is visited by turtles from August to November.

The Rio San Juan: The area of southern Nicaragua, near the border with Costa Rica, is named for the San Juan River, which flows 18 miles from Lake Cocibolca to the Caribbean. It is in this enchanted area that ecotourism flourishes in Nicaragua.

Before the building of the Panama Canal, the Rio San Juan was the principal link for travellers going from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Other less desirable travellers in search of gold were pirates who roamed the Caribbean in the 18th century.

The Caribbean Coast: The Rio San Juan meets the Caribbean at the town of San Juan del Norte. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is very different than the rest of the country. Its tropical lowlands are heavily forested and lightly populated. The principal access roads are rivers. Offshore is some of the best sport fishing and diving in the world.

The main city of the coast is Bluefields which can be reached on daily flights from Managua.

About an hour by air (three hours by boat) from Bluefields is Corn Island... four square miles of paradise. The water is crystal clear on one side and green on the other.

Granada and the Isletas: Granada was the first city founded in Nicaragua, in 1524, and served as its major commercial centre for hundreds of years. Today, Granada is still a thriving port on the shores of Lake Cocibolca.

Riding through Granada in a horse-drawn carriage is one of the highlights of your trip to Nicaragua. Charming colonial buildings and churches in the Baroque style alternate with those of the Renaissance built around a central plaza common to Spanish cities in the 16th century.

Las Isletas is a beautiful archipelago of volcanic origin in Lake Cocibolca offshore from Granada. A normal tour around the islands should take you about an hour. Some of the 36 islands are inhabited, and most are covered with a vast variety of unusual vegetation.

Leon: This was the capital of Nicaragua for over 200 years until replaced by Managua in 181. Along with Granada, its rival city, it served as the country's political, military, cultural and religious centre.

The architecture in Leon reflects the city's colonial past which is best represented by its churches. The Metropolitan Cathedral is considered to be the most prominent colonial structure in all of Central America, and the paintings inside are masterpieces. Many prominent Nicaraguans, including Ruben Dario, are buried in the Cathedral.

The cool and beautiful mountain Region: the mountain region of Nicaragua lies to the north and northeast of Managua and is well worth a visit. Cool breezes, pine, cedar and mahogany trees plus moss, ferns and orchids make this and area ideal for hiking. Estel is the centre of the country's tobacco industry. Paleontologists believe the fossilised bones at nearby El Bosque are 30,000 years old.

Fog covers the mountaintops of Jinotega, a city surrounded by pine forests and coffee plantations. The archaelogical museum there contains fascinating totemic idols of unknown origin.

What you should wear

Loose, light clothing is the best combination for the Nicaraguan climate which is V hot and humid. Cotton garments are recommended, along with something slightly warmer for cooler nights and excursions to volcanoes and mountains, and some easy-to-dry clothes in the event of a sudden downpour.

What you should eat

Nicaragua meets the most demanding international palates. American, French Spanish, Italian and Oriental cooking competes with the flavour of the national dishes of Nicaragua. Do try the famous Gallopinto (kidney beans and rice), Camarones Empanizados (shrimp fried in breadcrumbs) or the typical tortillas de maiz rellenas (stuffed corn omelettes). Roast meat or fresh fish make a good choice for a main course. A piece of advice: Ask for sauces to be served separately; they may be pretty spicy.

What you should buy

Craftwork is the thing to buy in Nicaragua. The best place for shopping, apart from the Roberto Huembes market in Managua, is the city of Masaya. You will get a good buy (in quality and price) in traditional hammocks, hand-sew blouses, wooden sculptures and a long list of other things that you will discover on your trip here.

How to get to Nicaragua

International flights from all over the world land at Managua International Airport. Iberia flies four times a week to Managua, via Miami. Other airlines include American Airlines, Aviateca, COPA, Aeroflot, LACSA, Continental and Nicaraguense de Aviacion.

How to get around: Nicaragua has a good service of taxis, cars for hire and buses. In some cities, such as Granada, the best way of sightseeing is in a horse-drawn carriage. For bigger distances there are domestic flights by NICA and Costea Airlines to Bluefields, Corn Island and Puerto Cabezas along the Atlantic Coast, the island of Ometepe and San Carlos on Lake Cocibolca and a special private taxi-plane service. Ferries are also a good way of getting around as there are so many ports. A ferry crosses daily between Granada and San Carlos.