Nicaragua is a beautiful country filled with breathtaking natural beauty, as well as rich history and culture. The only thing you should be afraid of when thinking about a trip to Nicaragua and Jicaro Island Lodge is that you might not want to leave ever again. Yes, Nicaragua has had its share of negative publicity in the past, but you might be surprised to hear that it is one of the safest countries to travel in all of Latin America.
If you have a sense of adventure, you will really appreciate all that Nicaragua has to offer. The Nicaraguans are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and the country´s culture and nature are incredible. If you have doubts about this topic, which is understandable considering the negative PR about Nicaragua in the media, just drop us a note and we will be happy to answer your doubts and concerns.
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Information About Nicaragua
While the history of Nicaragua’s name is still unclear, some believe that is a combination of the word “Nicarao”, the name of the indigenous group which inhabited the shores of Lake Nicaragua before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and the Spanish word “Agua”, meaning water, due to the presence of the large Lake Cocibolca (or Lake Nicaragua) and Lake Managua (or Lake Xolotlán).
Nicaragua is the largest nation in Central America (approximately the size of New York State) and is bordered by Honduras to the north, Costa Rica to the south, the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west. Nicaragua has three distinct regions: the Amerrique Mountains (North Central Highlands), the Mosquito Coast (Atlantic Lowlands) and the Pacific Lowlands.
Amerrique Mountains (North Central Highlands)
The area occupying the Amerrique Mountains is the country’s least populated and economically developed area located between Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean. At elevations between 2,000 and 5,000 feet (600–1,500 meters), the highlands enjoy mild temperatures, with a longer, wetter rainy season than the Pacific Lowlands. 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, while bird life includes the Resplendent Quetzal, hummingbirds and toucanets.
Mosquito Coast (Atlantic Lowlands)
The Mosquito Coast contains a large rainforest region irrigated by several large rivers, including the Rio Coco (the largest river in Central America). The climate is very different from the rest of the country, characterized by high temperature and high humidity. The Mosquito Coast is also home to the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, which protects 1.8 million acres of La Mosquitia forest, making it the second largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere after the Amazon in Brazil. A great variety of wildlife can be viewed in this region, including eagles, turkeys, toucans, parakeets, macaws, monkeys, anteaters and tapirs.
Nicaragua’s Pacific Lowlands, located in the western region of the country, consist of broad, hot, fertile plains running from the Gulf of Fonseca to Nicaragua’s Pacific Border with Costa Rica south of Lake Nicaragua. The eruptions of western Nicaragua's volcanoes, many of which are still active, have devastated the land but also have enriched it with layers of fertile ash. Earthquakes are quite prevalent in this region, and tremors occur regularly throughout the Pacific zone; in fact, earthquakes have nearly destroyed the capital city, Managua, on more than one occasion.
This region is also home to Lake Nicaragua (or Lake Cocibolca), Central America’s largest freshwater lake (and the 20th largest in the world). The southwestern shore of Lake Nicaragua lies within fifteen miles of the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, the Rio San Juan and Lake Nicaragua were proposed as sites for a canal through the Central American isthmus.
The Pacific Lowlands also contain Nicaragua’s most prominent cities, including the capitol city of Managua, and the colonial cities of Leon and Granada.
Indigenous Culture in Nicaragua
There were, and continue to be, a number of indigenous groups inhabiting the country of Nicaragua. The people of eastern Nicaragua appear to have traded with, and been influenced by, the native peoples of the Caribbean, as round thatched huts and canoes, both typical of the Caribbean, were common in eastern Nicaragua. At the end of the 15th century, western Nicaragua was inhabited by several indigenous groups who were primarily farmers living in small, organized villages. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by other peoples, mostly chibcha related groups, that had migrated from what is now known as Colombia. In the west and highland areas, the Niquirano were governed by chief Nicarao, or Nicaragua, a rich ruler who lived in Nicaraocali, now the city of Rivas. The Chorotega lived in the central region of Nicaragua.
Both the Niquirano and the Chortega had intimate contact with the Spanish conquerors, paving the way for the racial mix of native and European stock now known as mestizos. However, within three decades an estimated Indian population of one million plummeted, as approximately half of the indigenous people in western Nicaragua died from the rapid spread of new diseases brought by the Spaniards, something the indigenous people of the Caribbean coast managed to escape due to the remoteness of the area.
A Brief History of Nicaragua after Spanish Conquest
Nicaragua has a rich and tumultuous history that has shaped its people, landscape and current political situation.
Colonization and Independence
A group of Spaniards led by Gil González Dávila first landed in Nicaragua in 1522 by way of Costa Rica. The area was colonized by a number of conquistadors, including Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, Pedro de Alvarado and Cristóbal de Olid, who established permanent settlements which later came to be known as the cities of Granada and Leon.
In 1538, the Viceroyalty of New Spain was established, encompassing all of Mexico and Central America, except Panama. The area of Nicaragua was divided into administrative "parties", with the city of León designated as the country’s capitol. However, in 1610, when Momotombo volcano erupted and destroyed the city of Leon, the capitol was rebuilt northwest of its original site.
Nicaragua became part of the United Provinces of Central America in 1821 and gained independence as a nation in 1838. Much of Nicaragua's politics since independence has been characterized by the rivalry between the liberal elite of León and the conservative elite of Granada. The rivalry often degenerated into civil war, particularly during the 1840s and 1850s.
In the 1800s Nicaragua experienced a wave of immigration, primarily from Europe. In particular, families from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium moved to Nicaragua to set up businesses with money they brought from Europe. They established many agricultural businesses such as coffee and sugar cane plantations, and also newspapers, hotels and banks.
United States Intervention
United States Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933 due to political friction with the United States government. During this time (1910-1926), Nicaragua was ruled by the country’s conservative party. From 1927 until 1933, Gen. Augusto César Sandino led a sustained guerrilla war against the Conservative regime and subsequently against the U.S. Marines, who withdrew upon the establishment of a new Liberal government. When the Americans left in 1933, they set up the Guardia Nacional (National Guard), a combined military and police force trained and equipped by the Americans and designed to be loyal to U.S. interests. Anastasio Somoza García, a close friend of the American government, was put in charge.
The Somoza Dynasty (1936 - 1979)
Throughout his years as dictator, Somoza ruled Nicaragua with a strong arm. He had three main sources for his power: control of Nicaraguan economy, military support, and support from the U.S. Somoza used the National Guard to force President Juan Bautista Sacasa to resign, and took control of the country in 1937. Somoza also controlled the National Liberal Party (LPN), which in turn controlled the legislature and judicial systems, giving him complete political power. On September 21, 1956, Somoza was shot by Rigoberto López Pérez, a 27-year-old liberal Nicaraguan poet. Somoza was succeeded by his son Luis Somoza Debayle. Subsequent presidents included René Schick Gutiérrez and Somoza’s brother Anastasio Somoza Debayle. During the 1960’s and1970’s, however, Nicaragua experienced a tremendous amount of economic growth despite its political instability.
In 1961 a man named Carlos Fonseca and two other individuals founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Angered by Somoza’s refusal to rebuild the city of Managua after a devastating earthquake in 1972, as well as beliefs that the Somoza regime was corrupt and mishandling foreign aid, the Sandinista National Liberation Front attracted a number of disaffected Nicaraguan youth to join its forces. The group took power in July 1979, backed by the support of the general populace, elements of the Catholic Church, and regional and international governments such as President Jimmy Carter of the United States. Somoza fled the country and eventually ended up in Paraguay, where he was assassinated in September 1980.
The Rise of the Contras
When U.S. president Ronald Reagan took power in 1981, he condemned the Sandinista National Liberation Front for joining with Cuba in supporting Marxist revolutionary movements in other Latin American countries. His administration authorized the CIA to have their paramilitary officers begin financing, arming and training a group of rebels that came to be known as the Contras, many of whom were remnants of Somoza’s national guard. The Sandinistas engaged in a campaign of economic sabotage in an attempt to combat the Sandinista government and disrupted shipping by planting underwater mines in Nicaragua's Corinto harbour. The U.S. also sought to place economic pressure on the Sandinistas, and the Reagan administration imposed a full trade embargo. After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the Contras in 1983, the Reagan administration continued to back the Contras by covertly selling arms to Iran and channeling the proceeds to the Contras (later to be known as the Iran–Contra affair).
The Post Sandinista Era
The Sandinista government was defeated in 1990 by a coalition of anti-Sandinista parties led by Violeta Chamorro, the widow of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (a Nicaraguan journalist and publisher). Violeta Chamorro was the first woman to be popularly elected as President of an American nation, the first woman president of Nicaragua and first female president in the Americas. The unexpected result received a great deal of international attention and political analysis, and was mostly attributed to the U.S./Contra threats to continue war if the Sandinistas remained in power. During her time in office, however, Violeta Chamorro did not dismantle the Sandinista Popular Army. In 2006, Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista party was elected into presidency.
Most of Nicaraguan culture has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by European culture. The Caribbean coast, however, which was once a British protectorate, has a distinct culture similar to that of other English-colonized Caribbean nations such as Jamaica and Belize,
Nicaraguan literature has historically been an important source of poetry in the Spanish-speaking world, with internationally renowned contributors such as Rubén Darío. Rubén Darío is regarded as one of the most important literary figure in Nicaragua and is referred to as the "Father of Modernism" for leading the modernismo literary movement at the end of the 19th century. Other literary figures include Claribel Alegría, Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli and José Coronel Urtecho.
As in many other Latin American countries, corn is a main staple in the Nicaraguan diet. Corn is prepared in a number of traditional dishes, nacatamal and indio viejo, as well as drinks such as pinolillo and chichi. Corn is also an ingredient for drinks such as pinolillo and chicha. Gallo pinto, Nicaragua's national dish, is made with white rice and red beans that are cooked separately and then fried together. The dish has several variations including the addition of coconut oil and/or grated coconut on the Caribbean coast. Many of Nicaragua's dishes include indigenous fruits and vegetables such as jocote, mango, papaya, tamarindo, pipian, banana, avocado, and yucca, as well as herbs such as cilantro, oregano and achiote.
Nicaraguan music is a mixture of indigenous and European, especially Spanish, influences. Musical instruments include the marimba, a percussion instrument made of wooden keys that are struck with mallets to produce unique musical tones. The Carribbean coast of Nicaragua is known for a lively, sensual form of dance music called Palo de Mayo, which is especially loud and celebrated during the Palo de Mayo festival in May. Salsa and meringue dancing are also very popular in Nicaragua as well.
Religion is a significant part of the culture of Nicaragua, and is dominated primarily by Roman Catholicism. Religious freedom, however, which has been guaranteed since 1939, is promoted by both the Nicaraguan government and the constitution.
While most Latin Americans are known to prefer soccer, Nicaragua is marked for its strong enthusiasm for baseball. In fact, Nicaragua has produced a number of famous professional baseball players, including Dennis Martinez, the first baseball player in Nicaragua to play in the United States Major League.