Nicaragua Facts

Compassion has been making a difference in the lives of children in need in Nicaragua since 2002. Through our work there, we gather Nicaragua facts about children in need and the community of Nicaragua. These Nicaragua facts and statistics provide a good overview of the reality of poverty and how Compassion is releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

Poverty is a common problem in the country of Nicaragua but Compassion is working to change this. The Nicaragua facts tell a discouraging story, but Compassion is bringing hope in the midst of this discouragement. With your involvement, our programs are changing the statistics one child at a time.

Don't let the hopelessness of Nicaragua facts overwhelm you. You can make a difference to a child in Nicaragua today!


Nicaragua is a word from the Nahualt, an Aztec language. It was used to describe the land occupied by the isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and Nicaragua Lake. It was taken from Chief Nicarao, who ruled the lands during the late 1400s and early 1500s

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Learn About Nicaragua

Nicaragua is a word from the Nahualt, an Aztec language. It was used to describe the land occupied by the isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and Nicaragua Lake. It was taken from Chief Nicarao, who ruled the lands during the late 1400s and early 1500s.

Nicaraguan land was inhabited during pre-Colombian times by many indigenous peoples, such as the Nicaraos, Chorotegas, Chontales and Miskitos. Christopher Columbus was the first European to explore Nicaraguan land during his fourth and last journeys to America. After Columbus, many Spanish conquerors settled on these lands. Hernández de Córdoba, from whom Nicaragua's currency is named, discovered Nicaragua Lake and founded the cities of Granada and León in 1524.

In 1625, the English arrived in Nicaragua and declared it a British Protectorate called the Mosquito Kingdom, which extended from Belize to the San Juan River. The British stayed until 1894. Nicaragua belonged to the Spanish Mexican Viceroyalty and later to the Central America United Provinces Federation, which received independence from Spain in 1821. However, the country did not achieve full independence until 1838.

Much of Nicaragua's politics since independence have been characterized by the rivalry between the Liberal elite of Leon and the Conservative elite of Granada. In 1978, a short-lived civil war broke out, resulting in the formation of the Marxist Sandinista guerrillas, who came to power in 1979. Although they were defeated in free elections in 1990, 1996, and 2001, former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega regained control after winning the country's presidential election in 2006


In 1979, the Nicaraguan government set about to improve an educational system that ranked among the worst in Latin America. In the decades before, many impoverished families had ushered their children into the work force and by the late 1970s, only 65 percent of those eligible were enrolled in primary school. During the 1980s, the government greatly increased funding for pre-university education and even launched a successful literacy campaign.

Today, Nicaraguan society is largely undereducated. However, Nicaraguans recognize that an education makes a difference in giving them good opportunities for work. Even though the overall rate of literacy is over 67 percent, it is, in fact much lower among poor families, which further limits their chances of getting good jobs. Most of these families' incomes come from working as street sellers or laborers.

Access to early childhood development interventions is limited. Additionally, the quality and relevance of education are significant problems. It takes an average of 10.3 years to complete the mandatory six years of schooling. Poverty affects school participation and many families are unable to afford the direct or hidden costs.


Freedom of religion is provided by the Nicaraguan Constitution, which states that no one "shall be obligated by coercive measures to declare their ideology or beliefs." 

Nicaragua does not have a state religion but the Roman Catholic Church is the most politically active religious denomination and has significant political influence.

Religion is not taught in public schools; however, there are private religious schools. The government pays teacher salaries in a number of Catholic primary and secondary schools.

Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, November 8, 2005,

Literature Poetry is one of Nicaragua's most beloved arts. Rubén Darío (1867-1916) is known as the "Prince of Spanish-American literature," and recent work by Nicaraguan poets, fiction writers and essayists can be found in most bookstores. Art Earthquakes and war have obliterated much tangible evidence of Nicaragua's cultural heritage, especially its colonial architecture, although León retains many fine, old buildings. The Archipiélago de Solentiname in Lago de Nicaragua is famous as a haven for artists, poets and craftspeople. Street art in the form of modernist murals is especially prominent in the university town of León. Music Many Nicaraguans favor Mexican styles of music, often characterized by guitars and marimbas. Tonada-style music is also popular. Bluefields, the largely English-speaking town on the Caribbean coast, is a center for reggae music.
Holidays and Festivals

Holy Week, March or April: Celebrated the week before Easter.
Labor Day, May 1
Independence Day, Sept. 15: This holiday commemorates Nicaragua's independence from Spain in 1821. In certain regions of Nicaragua, the day is marked by bullfights in which a matador attempts to mount and ride the bull, rather than kill it. 
Christmas, Dec. 25: Nicaraguan children celebrate Christmas throughout the month of December with contests, parties and games. The celebration concludes on Christmas Day when they receive gifts.

In addition to these national holidays, many towns and cities hold annual celebrations in honor of their own patron saints like La Fiesta de San Sebastian on Jan. 20, celebrated in Diriamba. This day is noted for its dance-theater performances. The dance routines are accompanied by traditional flutes, and drums and dancers often wear plumed hats and elaborate masks. These fiestas patronales often include parades where participants wear masks and reenact mythical battles.

Sports and Games

Baseball is the most popular sport in Nicaragua. Younger children typically favor games of tag.

Typical Foods

A traditional Nicaraguan meal consists of eggs or meat, beans and rice, salads of cabbage and tomatoes, tortillas and fruit. Also common is gallo pinto, a blend of rice and beans. Other typical dishes include bajo, a combination of beef, greens and ripe plantains and yucca; and vigorón, yucca served with fried pork skins and coleslaw.

Nicaraguan food, like that of all Mesoamerican peoples, is based on corn. Today, corn is the main ingredient used in cakes, alcohol, desserts and drinks. Cassava, beans and chili pepper are also widely used as ingredients in different Nicaraguan dishes. Some of the most recognized corn dishes are listed below:

Nacatamales: Cornflower dumplings boiled in plantain leaves stuffed with vegetables

Corn tortillas: A flatbread typically made with corn flour, water, salt and lime

Caballo Vayo: A tortilla wrap made of meat, chicken, avocado, cheese, etc. 

Gallo Pinto
1 Tb. oil
1 16 oz. can red beans
2-1/2 cups white rice

Fry the red beans and rice in oil until heated through.


All Compassion children speak Spanish. Other dialects are used in the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, and Compassion does not currently have projects in that area of the country. 


Buenos dias (Good morning)
Dios le bendiga (God bless you)
Hola (Hello)
¿Cómo está? (How are you?)
Bien (Fine)

Compassion in Nicaragua

Compassion began registering children into Nicaragua's programs in 2002. Compassion Nicaragua's first church partners were located in and around Managua, Nicaragua's capital city. Two distinct "clusters" of five centers each were established in some of the poorest areas in Managua and in nearby Cuidad Sandino. Currently, more than 41,000 children participate in 151 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Nicaraguan children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

Nicaragua Facts & Figures

Nicaragua United States
Capital Managua Washington, D.C.
Population 5,785,846 (July 2008 estimate) 303,824,640 (July 2008 estimate)

Spanish 97.5% (official), Miskito 1.7%, other 0.8% (1995 census)

Note: English and indigenous languages on Atlantic coast

English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)

Christian 80.1% (Roman Catholic 58.5%, Evangelical 21.6%), Moravian 1.6%, Jehovah's Witness 0.9%, other 1.7%, none 15.7% (2005 census)

Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, other Christian 2.3%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Literacy rate

Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 67.2%

Female: 67.8% (2003 estimate)
Male: 99%

Female: 99% (2003 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources

Urban: 90%

Rural: 63%
(2004 estimate)

Urban: 100%

Rural: 100%
(2004 estimate)

Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities

Urban: 56%

Rural: 34%
(2004 estimate)

Urban: 100%

Rural: 100%
(2004 estimate)

Climate Tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands Mostly temperate but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Percentage of population urbanized 59%
(2006 estimate)

(2006 estimate)

Life expectancy Male: 69.08 years

Female: 73.44 years (2008 estimate)
Male: 75.29 years

Female: 81.13 years (2008 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate 36/1,000
(2006 estimate)
(2006 estimate)
GDP per capita $2,800 (2007 estimate) $45,800 (2007 estimate)
Monetary unit gold cordoba (NIO) U.S. dollar (USD)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 6,400 (2003 estimate) 950,000 (2003 estimate)
Percentage of population living below $1 a day 45% (1995-2005 study) Data not available
Sources for statistics: The World Factbook, 2008; The State of the World's Children, 2008