General Information

About Nicaragua

(information courtesy of Wikipedia)

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. It is bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. It is also located at the center of the Central American isthmus that forms a land bridge between North and South America. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east; Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast is part of the Western Caribbean Zone. The country’s physical geography divides it into three major zones: Pacific lowlands, wet, cooler central highlands, and the Caribbean Lowlands. On the Pacific side of the country are the two largest fresh water lakes in Central America—Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. Surrounding these lakes and extending to their northwest along the rift valley of the Gulf of Fonseca are fertile lowland plains, whose soil is highly enriched with ash from nearby volcanoes. Nicaragua’s abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems contribute to Mesoamerica’s designation as a biodiversity hotspot. The Central American Volcanic Arc runs through the spine of the country, earning Nicaragua its notably famous nickname: The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.

The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century and the territory became associated with the Viceroyalty of New Spain and later the Captaincy General of Guatemala. Alongside the Spanish, the British established a protectorate on the eastern seaboard beginning in the middle of the 17th century, and ending roughly two centuries later with the rise of the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Granada in the coast. The eastern seaboard retains its colonial heritage; English and Jamaican Patois are commonly spoken and the culture in the Atlantic region identifies as being more Caribbean. In 1821, Nicaragua achieved its independence from Spain and joined the Federal Republic of Central America in 1823, later leaving the Federal Republic in 1838. Nicaragua increasingly became a subject of substantial interest because of its geographic position for a canal that would service the Windward Passage. Roughly a century after operations of the Panama Canal commenced and one hundred and eighty five years after the initial plans for the Nicaraguan Canal waterway, the prospect of a Nicaraguan ecocanal has remained the subject of interest, with its construction in progress. Eighteen years after leaving the federal Republic it also became the center of William Walker’s Golden Circle filibustering in Central America. Since its independence, Nicaragua has undergone periods of political unrest, military intervention on behalf of the United States, dictatorship and fiscal crisis—the most notable causes that lead to the Nicaraguan Revolution. Although the Somoza family ruled the country in the form of a dictatorship for forty years, Nicaragua was among the first countries to sign the United Nations Charter in 1945. Prior to the revolution, Nicaragua was one of Central America’s wealthiest and most developed countries. The revolutionary conflict, paired with Nicaragua’s 1972 earthquake reversed the country’s prior economic standing. Despite the harsh economic effects of both phenomena, Nicaragua is a representative democratic republic which has experienced economic growth and political stability in recent years. In 1990, Nicaragua elected Violeta Chamorro as its president, making it the first country in the Americas and in Latin American history to democratically elect a female head of state and the second country in the Western Hemisphere to do so, following Iceland’s democratic election of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir.

The population in Nicaragua, hovering at approximately 6 million, is multiethnic. Roughly one quarter of the nation’s population lives in the capital city, Managua, making Managua the second largest city in Central America (following Guatemala City). Other major cities include León, Chinandega, Granada, Matagalpa and Jinotega. Segments of the population include indigenous native tribes from the Mosquito Coast, Europeans, Africans, Asians and people of Middle Eastern origin. The main language is Spanish, although native tribes on the eastern coast speak their native languages, such as Miskito, Sumo and Rama, as well as English Creole. Of the Spanish-speaking countries in Central America, Nicaragua is where the use of the voseo form of address is most widespread. The mixture of cultural traditions has generated substantial diversity in art, cuisine, literature, and music. Nicaragua has earned recognition and various colloquial names in reference to its geographic location, cultural achievements and recent economic development. Nicaragua’s biological diversity, warm tropical climate, and active volcanoes make it an increasingly popular destination for tourists, surfers, biologists, and volcanologists. The country has also been dubbed The Land of Poets, due to various literary contributions of renown Nicaraguan writers, including Rubén Darío, Ernesto Cardenal and Gioconda Belli.

About the Community

As mentioned on our welcome letter, our project site in the village of El Castillo is just outside of the city about an hour drive away. Each morning we will be bused up steep bumpy roads past coffee plantations and bean fields to the small village where people live the most basic of existences. They cook on a wood fire, ride on horseback or walk for transportation and their houses have dirt floors and metal outhouses. Despite these hardships the villagers are usually in freshly washed clothing and their children are clean and tidily dressed.

The El Castillo community consists of approximately 150 families who live in houses with dirt floors, corrugated metal roofs and wood salt or masonry walls. The lucky ones have outhouses but few have clean or readily accessible water. The villagers currently use hand dug wells and rain water for their potable water but it is usually contaminated. There is no medical care in the village and the local school only teaches up to sixth grade in an under supplied two room school house. The communities higher up the mountain road are in even worse shape and farther from any help. 

Helpful Donation Items

Please check back later in the fall to see a list of valuable donation items for each project site and community.


Some immunizations are recommended for travel to Nicaragua. The AYA cannot provide medical advice, but we advise that you consult with your physician regarding immunizations. It is best to do this several weeks before the trip, since some medications may take time to order. For general information about immunizations and health issues in the DR, you may also visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at

Passport Information

You will need a valid passport in order to travel to/from Nicaragua. For information about passports and visas, please visit the U.S. State Department travel website

Note: It can often take up to several months to order a new passport. If you do not already have a current passport in hand, please contact the passport office immediately at 877-487-2778