Nicaragua

Driving Directions Nicaragua

NICARAGUA is the largest of the Central American countries. It lies between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east, on the isthmus of Central America, and is sandwiched between Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south.

The dense forests and sandy beaches of the Mosquito Coast in the eastern part of the country are the wettest part of the island and home to a variety of wildlife, including jaguar, monkey, puma, and crocodile.

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The land rises inland to become mountainous, with peaks rising to nearly 2,134 meters or 7,000 feet – the mountains interspersed with fertile valleys. There is a large basin in the southwest that contains two vast lakes, Nicaragua in the south and Managua in the north. These are bordered in the north by volcanoes, many of which are still active.

Nicaragua is subject to earthquakes, and the capital, Managua, was severely damaged by tremors in 1931 and 1972.

Most of Nicaragua’s people live in the lakes or towards the Pacific coast in the west. Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, and 65 percent of the labor force work on the land.

Coffee, cotton, bananas, and sugar cane are grown, with cattle ranching in some upland areas. There are mineral deposits of gold, copper, and silver, with gold being of prime importance, but its economy is mostly dependent on foreign aid.

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The country is shaped like an equilateral triangle with its southwest/northeast side along the Honduran border, the north/south side along the Caribbean, and the southeast/northwest side along the Costa Rican border and the Pacific Ocean.

The land naturally divides into three topographic zones: the Pacific Lowlands, the Central Highlands, and the Atlantic Lowlands. The Pacific Lowlands is a band about 75 kilometers (47 miles) wide along the Pacific Ocean between Honduras and Costa Rica. The plain is punctuated by clusters of volcanoes, immediately to the east of which is a long, narrow depression passing along the isthmus from the Gulf of Fonseca in the north to the San Juan River at the bottom of the country. This depression is sometimes called the Nicaraguan Depression. To the northeast are the Central Highlands; this region has the highest mountains and the coolest temperatures. The sparsely populated Atlantic Lowlands comprise more than half the area of Nicaragua. These lowlands and the Mosquito Coast are the traditional home of the Miskito peoples (after whom the coastal region was named). Tropical rainforest and savannahs dominate this region, crossed by scores of rivers flowing to the Caribbean.

Nicaragua is situated on the Caribbean Tectonic Plate, but just off its Pacific coast is the Cocos Tectonic Plate. Frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions result from the action of the Caribbean and Cocos plates. Nicaragua has hundreds of minor earthquakes and shocks each year and occasionally experiences a serious quake. In 1931 and again in 1972, earthquakes virtually destroyed the capital city of Managua. As of early 2003, central Managua had yet to be rebuilt.

Nicaragua has coasts on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea (an extension of the Atlantic Ocean). There are coral reef systems off the eastern coast, including the largest hard-carbonate bank in the Caribbean; however, most of the reefs are not situated near the mainland due to sediment runoff from the many rivers. Closer to the shore, reef systems form four islands: the Moskitos Cays, Man-of-War (Guerrero) Cays, Pearl Cays, and the Corn Islands. The last three of these island groups are inhabited.

Did you know about Nicaragua?

1. Tourists frequent the fumaroles (steam vents), hot springs, and boiling mud pots of San Jacinto’s Swarms (Hervideros de San Jacinto), southeast of Telica. Scientists are studying the geothermal activity causing these phenomena to see whether it could provide a possible energy source for the region.

2. Central America contains the seven nations of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. The land area containing these states is often called the Central American Isthmus. An isthmus is a narrow section of land connecting two larger landmasses; in this case, the isthmus joins North America (at Mexico) to South America (at Colombia).

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