Nicaragua by Lianna Hart

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, with a total area of 49,998 square miles, about the size of New York State. It is bordered by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Despite its large size, it is the most sparsely populated of the Central American countries, with a population of about 5,891,200. The capital and largest city is Managua, which has a population of 1,390,500 in the greater metropolitan area. About one-fifth of the country is designated as national park or reserve, or biological reserve. There are three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific Lowlands on the western coast, the Amerrique Mountains in the north-central highland region, and the Mosquito Coast which covers the eastern Caribbean/Atlantic lowland region. Nicaragua also has the largest freshwater lake in Central America, Lake Nicaragua, which is the 20th largest in the world and is the only lake in the world where there are freshwater sharks.


Brief History
Before the arrival of the Spanish in 1502, the land that is now Nicaragua was occupied by several different Mesoamerican groups on the western side, and various groups who are thought to have migrated from (present day) Colombia on the Caribbean coast. At the time of the arrival of the Spanish there was an estimated population of one million Indigenous people, but the population was rapidly devastated by disease and enslavement. By 1529 the Spanish conquistadors had taken over almost completely, and in 1936 Nicaragua became part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which in some parts reached as far north as the present day border of Canada and the U.S, and south to the border between what are now Costa Rica and Panama, as well as included the Caribbean Islands and the Philippines. This Viceroyalty lasted until 1821, and after being a part of the Mexican Empire for a short while, Nicaragua became an independent republic in 1838.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the United States began to have an interest in Nicaragua because there was talk of building a canal through the country, although it never happened, and the Panama Canal was built instead. The U.S. became involved further in the politics of Nicaragua in 1909, when two Americans were assassinated for setting off a mine in the San Juan River. The U.S. lent their support to the Conservative Party rebellion against the president that had ordered the assassination, and the U.S. Marines stayed in Nicaragua from 1912 until 1933 (except for nine months in 1925).
In 1961, the FSLN or Frente Sandinista de Leberacion Nacional (Sandanista National Liberation Front) was formed, using the name and principles of the revolutionary Augusto Sandino, who led a guerrilla-style resistance in the 1920s and 30s against the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua, and was assassinated by the U.S. supported conservative Somoza government. The Somoza family was in control of Nicaragua for most of the 20th century, ruling as dictators or using a "puppet" government or president. The FSLN fought against the often oppressive and corrupt (in the 1970s the Somoza family controlled 40% of the economy and 30% of all arable land) conservative Somoza regime, and its U.S. trained National Guard, and finally overthrew the government and won control in 1979, bringing about many social and cultural reforms.
Another important event in the recent history of the Nicaraguan Revolution is the Iran-Contra affair, which became known in late 1986. The scandal consisted of the government of the U.S. under Ronald Reagan, as well as the CIA, illegally and secretly selling arms to Iran (who were under and arms embargo), channeling the money through Israel, and using it to support the Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary group the Contras, as well as trading the arms for hostages. Eleven U.S. administration officials were convicted of the crimes, but were pardoned by George Bush, who had been vice president at the time. Meanwhile, thousands of Nicaraguans suffered oppression and terror by the contras throughout the 1980s.


Culturally, Nicaragua is divided into two main groups; the Pacific/Western side of the country is predominantly inhabited by Spanish speaking Mestizos (people of mixed Indigenous and Spanish/European heritage), who make up the vast majority of the country’s population. In the much more sparsely inhabited Caribbean coastal region, the main groups are English and Creole speaking people of native Caribbean or African descent. Naturally, these two cultures are very different.

The majority of the population are Roman Catholic (58.5%), but there is a growing minority of Evangelicals as well (21.6%), a small but growing number of Jehova's Witnesses (.9%), and a small minority of Moravians (1.6%) whose religion was brought to the Caribbean coast by European and North American missionaries in the late 19th century.

Baseball is the most popular sport in Nicaragua, introduced in the late 19th century by students and others from the United States. The second most popular sport is boxing, and like much of Latin American, soccer is quickly becomingnica_baseball.jpg a favorite, especially among the younger generations.

(left) A group of Garifuna musicians from the Caribbean coast

Aventura, (right), the Dominican Bachata group based out of New York, is one of the most popular bands in Nicaragua today

Rubén Darío, 1867- 1916, is one of Nicaragua's most famous figures. He was a poet who had a great influence on Spanish literature and journalism in the 20th century. He has been credited as the father of the Spanish-American literary movement of modernismo (modernism), and is greatly loved to this day.

Spanish is spoken by about 90% of the Nicaraguan population, with about 4,350,000 speakers. On the eastern coast, many people of African descent speak English (about 20,000 speakers) or Creole (English based, about 30,000 speakers) as their first language. There are also indigenous people who live along the Caribbean coast who maintain their native languages. A few of these groups are: the Garifuna people who are descended from Carib, Arawak, and West Africans brought to Central America by the British (about 1,500 speakers), and the Miskito (155,000 speakers), Sumo(6,700 speakers), and Rama (only about 36 speakers)peoples who are native to Central America.
There are also an estimated 3,000 speakers (or “signers”) of ISN (Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua) or Nicaraguan Sign Language. It was developed in the 1980s by groups of deaf children who, due to lack of familial and educational support, created something of a pidgin language amongst themselves, made up of gestures and home sign systems. This pidgin-like language quickly became a real language or creole, because the younger children expanded the pidgin to having verb agreement and other grammatical conventions. ISN is a very exciting phenomenon for linguists because it shows an extremely unique situation of language emergence, and is unlike normal language creation from two languages in a contact situation.

The Spanish of Nicaragua is very typical of a lowland Spanish dialect, marked especially by the strong use of an aspirated or deleted syllable and word final s, and the overall weakening of vowels in speech. Nicaraguans use seseo, which is the pronunciation of z and c (followed by e or i) as the [s], the same as the pronunciation of the letter s. They also use yeismo, which is characterized by the pronunciation of both ll and y as [j]. The Voseo form, the use of "vos" instead of "tú" (tuteo) in informal second person direct address, is very commonly used.

A few other distinguishing factors of Nicaraguan Spanish are:
- j (and sometimes g), commonly [x] in Spanish, is aspirated to [h].
- The intervocalic b, d, and g are not reduced, and are often much more pronounced than in most other dialects.
- m at the end of a word tends to be pronounced as [n]
- Words ending in plosives or stops are sometimes pronounced as a hard c or [k], for example “internet” as “internec” or “aceptar” as “asectar”.

Like all countries, Nicaraguan has its own unique slang words and colloquial forms of speech, some used only in Nicaragua and others that are also used in other Central American countries, especially Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador, and to some extent Mexico. Here are a few examples:

Nicaraguan Spanish
Standard Spanish
Used in other countries for…
Chavalo/a or Chiguin
Nino/a, muchacho/a
Young person

Short person
Also used in Mexico and C.A
¿(Y) Entonces? or

¿Qué pasa? or ¿Qué tal?
What’s up/what’s going on?

Buenísimo, genial, calidad
Cool, quality

Stingy, cheap
Used as an adjective for "damned" in Mexico
Gringo/a, rubio/a
A person of fair coloration
Word for beer (una chela) in Guatemala
Silly or stupid


Used all over C.A.

Nica (most common),


Small store
Also used in El Salvador

Liar, exaggerator

To hit

An interesting note about Nicaraguan language is that a non-verbal wrinkle of the nose is very common, used to show confusion, lack of understanding, derision, or even just to say "what's up?"

Nicaraguan Food


Easily the most common dish in Nicaragua is Gallo Pinto, which is their name for rice and beans, literally translated to “painted rooster”. It is made of red (pinto) beans, cooked together with the rice, and with onions and garlic for seasoning. It is almost always served with a pickled or raw salad of shredded cabbage, as well as “salsa criollo,” a hot sauce made of sliced, pickled onions and spicy chilies.

Another popular dish, originally from and most popular today in the city of Granada, is Vigorón, a dish made of steamed yuca root, topped with chicharrón (fried pork rind), and cabbage salad, served on a banana leaf.

Nacatamal, the Nicaraguan tamale, is similar to the varieties from Mexico or other parts of Central America, but is much heartier, with not only the cornmeal dough and meat, but rice and potatoes too, as well as slices of onion, tomato, and sweet red pepper. They are cooked the same way as the other varieties, wrapped in a banana leaf, tied up with string and then steamed or boiled. Nacatamales are usually prepared and sold on Sundays and holidays.

Another dish commonly sold on the street on Sundays is Carne en Baho, a stew-like dish made of beef, yuca, potato, and plantain, steamed together in a huge pot for several hours. It is served with cabbage salad and salsa criollo.

A very popular snack, especially in the north of the country, are round or dough-nut shaped cornmeal crackers called rosquillas. They are sometimes savory and made with cheese, others are sweet. Fried plantain chips are another popular snack.

Common drinks are juices made from fresh fruit or seeds blended with water and sugar and most commonly sold in a clear plastic bag with a straw. Some of the countless varieties are: mango, orange, hibiscus, cantaloupe, tamarind, papaya, guava, and even cacao or cornmeal. Soda is very popular, and also bought on the street in a bag, as is the purified water. Like many other Latin American countries, Nicaragua is very proud of their national alcohols, mostly beer and rum. The most popular beers are Toña and Victoria, and the national rum is Flor de Caña, which is internationally acclaimed.

- some information is based from authors own experience

Photos Nicaragua.png wp-content/uploads/ pic/tonafull.jpg
- photo of mural on street in Leon, authors own