List of Countries
Map of Central America

General background: Settled as a colony of Spain in the 1520s, Nicaragua gained its independence in 1821. Violent opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes by 1978 and resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought the Marxist Sandinista guerrillas to power in 1979. Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador caused the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s. Free elections in 1990, 1996, and again in 2001 saw the Sandinistas defeated. The country has slowly rebuilt its economy during the 1990s, but was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Area comparative: Slightly smaller than the state of New York.

Climate: Tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands.

Terrain: Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes.

Population: 5,023,818 (July 2002 est.)

Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and White) 69%, White 17%, Black 9%, Amerindian 5%

Religions: Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant

Language: Spanish (official)
note: English and indigenous languages on Atlantic coast

Government type: Republic

Capital: Managua

Legal system: Civil law system; Supreme Court may review administrative acts.

Economic overview: Nicaragua, one of the hemisphere's poorest countries, faces low per capita income, flagging socio-economic indicators, and huge external debt. Distribution of income is extremely unequal. While the country has made progress toward macroeconomic stabilization over the past few years, a banking crisis and scandal has shaken the economy. Managua will continue to be dependent on international aid and debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Donors have made aid conditional on improving governability, the openness of government financial operation, poverty alleviation, and human rights. Nicaragua met the conditions for additional debt service relief in December 2000. Growth should move up in 2002 because of increased private investment and recovery in the global economy.

Communication/Telephone system: Inadequate system being upgraded by foreign investment.

Places of interest:

Travel tips: Since the end of the civil war, armed criminal groups have operated out of the northern sectors of the country, especially along the Honduran border. Travelers visiting the border region should exercise a special measure of caution.