Overview of Nicaragua

Janet Grischy

Beautiful Nicaragua is a land of fascinating contrasts. Travelers can hike up live volcanoes, or visit villages dedicated to handicrafts. There are cities of stately grace, including Granada, the oldest Spanish settlement in the Americas. Yet this country is also perfect for surfers, trekkers, and knowledgeable nature-lovers. Nature is a pure wonder here, with unspoiled beaches, cloud forests, and freshwater sharks. There is something for everyone to enjoy in Nicaragua.

THE REPUBLIC OF NICARAGUA

Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy. It has legislative, judicial, and executive branches, and also a branch in charge of overseeing free elections.

Violeta de Chamorro was elected president in 1990. Since then, there have been four consecutive presidential elections which international observers agreed were free and fair. Right now, the president is Daniel Ortega, a liberal who ran on a platform of national unity and economic progress. The previous president was a conservative. The country has one of the highest rates of voter participation in the world.

NATURAL NICARAGUA

The largest nation in Central America, Nicaragua holds amazing natural diversity. In the north grows rich highland coffee, the country\'s biggest export. The south is a tropical paradise. The east is almost completely undeveloped, with tropic forests that become mangrove swamps or palm shaded beaches as the traveler moves toward the Caribbean. The west has world-famous surf and gorgeous beaches. Inland from the coast is the famous Cordillera Volcanica, an awe-inspiring sight, most of it in natural preserves. In the middle of the country are two fascinating bodies of water, Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua.

HANDCRAFTED TREASURES

Local markets, vendors, and small shops are the place to buy handicrafts. Your tour guide will know the best ones. Masaya has a famous craft market, but there are markets in every town where local people show their wares. Everyone who visits Nicaragua should consider buying a hammock. The quality is excellent, because the people actually use them. Nicaraguans also work in hemp and leather and produce fine embroidery.

Before Columbus, the most important art in Nicaragua was ceramics. It is still the artwork that best expresses the spirit of the place. There are two major streams in Nicaraguan pottery. Some potters make ceramics in the old way, using traditional forms that seem to bring back the past. Other ceramicists find new expressions for the old forms, and sometimes achieve moving modern art. Your guide can introduce you to the work of internationally famous potters, or help you choose a simple piece of folk art to serve as a reminder of your visit.

NICARAGUAN FOOD

The food of Nicaragua is simple and fresh. While it is possible to get upscale gourmet cuisine in the cities, or even the familiar foods of home, travelers will enjoy getting to know the culture of the country through its everyday dining.

A meal may include local fish simply prepared, and perhaps fried plantain. Visitors should also try gallo tinto, spotted rooster, which is red beans and rice, sometimes served with an egg at breakfast. With your meal, try a pitaya drink. This is a refreshing magenta-colored cooler made of cactus fruit and lime. Or have the local beer, Tona. For snacks, the locals eat vigoron, which is fried pork skin with yuca. Another delicious meal is a nacatamale, a meaty feast that\'s been wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.

THE ECONOMY

Nicaragua is a peaceful and friendly land, but it is not wealthy. The long civil war sapped the economy, and then came devastating hurricane Mitch in 1998. It was the worst storm in over a century, which took more than 11,000 lives in Central America. Ten years later, the country is still feeling the effects, though the physical scars are gone. After the storm the whole country pulled together to rebuild.