Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, situated between Honduras and Costa Rica. It is the least densely populated country in the region, with about 6 million inhabitants.
Nicaragua has a very rich national culture of mixed origins. The offical language of Nicaragua is Spanish, but there are a few minority languages spoken in the Carribean region, including English & Creole English, Miskito, Sumo, and Rama. English is spoken among educated Nicaraguans and those who work in the tourism sector, and in many Afro-Carribean communities on the Carribean Coast, especially in Bluefields and Corn Island. Modern Nicaraguan Spanish draws heavily from Andalusian Spanish. Native aztec-related words and speech style contribute much to mainstream Nicaraguan Spanish nicknames and slang.
The Atlantic coast of Nicaragua is largely wild and undeveloped, whereas the Pacific coast is more accessible, with most of the country’s largest cities and settlements lying within about 50km (30mi) from the Pacific coast. The Pacific coast region of Nicaragua is also the region most commonly visited by tourists, the most popular destinations being Granada, San Juan del Sur, Ometepe Island, and the excellent surf beaches near the coast.
The capital and biggest city in Nicaragua is Managua, with about one million people, or two million in the greater metropolitan area.
Granada and Leon are two of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. Granada was settled in 1521 and is one of the few colonial cities in Central America never to have changed location. In contrast, Leon, currently the second largest city in Nicaragua, was founded in 1524 but was moved in 1610 to its present location due to frequent volcanic eruptions from nearby Momotombo.
Other major cities in Nicaragua include the highland towns of Matagalpa, Esteli, the container port of Corinto and nearby Chinendega, and the southern agricultural town of Rivas, which is the capital of the Rivas province, the area of the country with the most tourist infrastructure. Closeby are Ometepe Island, San Juan del Sur and the famous surfing beaches of Tola (Popoyo, Rancho Santana, Iguana Beach & Golf Resort).
The north-central area of Nicaragua is a mountainous, coffee and tobacco producing region, also famous for being the site of the Sandino Rebellion of the 1930s, and the main theater of the Contra War of the 1980s, two events that have greatly shaped the current Nicaraguan political culture and foreign relations.
The climate in Nicaragua is tropical. The rainy season starts in mid-may and fizzles out at the beginning of November. In November through February, the weather is a bit cooler, heating up in March and April.
The Nicaraguan traditional tdiet is based on rice, beans, and corn, and plantains. Rice and beans are the main ingredients in the national dish called Gallo Pinto, generally consumed as part of breakfast and dinner. Corn is an indigenous crop and therefore also very important culturally, used in many national dishes such as tortillas, “nacatamales,” and drinks such as “tiste” and “pinolillo”, made from toasted corn meal and pinol. This is where Nicaraguans get their popular nickname, “Pinoleros.” If you stay long enough and start to blend into the culture, you may become a “Gringo Pinolero” (Gringo is a word used not just to refer to US citizens, but any foreigner from outside Central America, and is not necessarily offensive. A woman foreigner may be called a “Gringa”)
Nicaraguans, with the exception of the many evangelical Christians, love music, fireworks, and partying. It is not considered disgraceful to come to work with a hangover. If you hear explosions during your trip to Nicaragua, do not be alarmed. It is probably just fireworks fired out of mortars, which are used in every type of celebration, including religious events. There are patron saint festivals held throughout the year at various locations around the country, which last for weeks and culminate in an all-night “vela” and also an “hipica,” which is parade of horses and riders accompanied by marimba music and drinking.
The San Juan del Sur patron saint festival starts in June and ends on June 24th, the feast day of Saint John the Baptist. Other holidays observed throughout the country are the 15th of September on which Nicaraguans celebrate both Central American Independence Day, as well as the battle of San Jacinto, which took place many years later on the same date, in which Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans drove out invading forces led by US born adventurer William Walker. The 19th of July commemorates victory of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) over the national guard of Somoza in 1979.
The biggest party in Nicaragua takes place during “Semana Santa” (Holy Week), which occurs during the holy days of Easter, which coincides with the hottest time of the year. [9semana santa photo] During these times, thousands of Nicaraguans migrate to the beaches of the Pacific coast, Lake Nicaragua, or anywhere with water. If traveling during these times, especially during Semana Santa, make reservations with ample time in advance, and if traveling to one of the Pacific beaches during this time, expect to experience something similar to Mardis Gras in New Orleans or MTV Spring Break in Daytona Beach, but wilder and including people of all ages from all walks of life.
The currency in Nicaragua is the Cordoba, named after one of its early conquistador explorers. As of July, 2013, the exchage rate is about 25×1 against the US dollar, but it is on a a fixed devaluation of 5% against the dollar. Thus in July 2014 it will be worth 5% less. For this reason, dollars are commonly used, especially in larger transactions, and are accepted univerally.
Nicaragua is known as the safest country in Central America. But it’s all relative. In normal, public situations, you have absolutely nothing to fear. Nevertheless, don’t let your guard down, because as a foreigner, people are always watching you, especially those looking for an easy opportunity. Petty theft of even the most valueless items is dumbfoundingly common, so leave your old gross flip-flops and imitation sunglasses somewhere safe or you will soon be buying new ones. The best rule of thumb is to always ask your hosts for safety tips. Ask the staff at your hotel or local surf shop. Local Nicaraguans and expats will give you practical advice regarding which areas are safe to visit and what precautions to take. If you think they are being too protective, feel free to get a second opinion, but generally you will receive sound advice that will make your trip an enjoyable one.