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, the Sandinistas regained control after winning the country's presidential election in 2006.
Nicaragua's infrastructure and economy -- hard hit by the earlier civil war and by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 -- have been slowly rebuilt, but democratic institutions have been weakened under the Sandinistas.
Source: The World Factbook, 2014.
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.
Nicaraguan society remains largely undereducated. However, Nicaraguans recognize that an education makes a difference in giving them opportunities for work. Even though the overall rate of literacy is over 75 percent, it is, in fact much lower among families living in poverty, 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, and only 29 percent of children complete primary 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 in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Holidays and Festivals
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.
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.
Visit the Compassion blog to read posts about Nicaraguan culture and life in rural and urban Nicaragua.
Sports and Games
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.
Visit the Compassion blog to read a post about Christmas in Nicaragua.
Baseball is the most popular sport in Nicaragua. Younger children typically favor games of tag.
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 Recipe
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.
You may also like this recipe for Tres Leches Cake.
Compassion in Nicaragua
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)
¿Cómo está? (How are you?)
Nicaragua Facts and Figures
Compassion began its ministry in Nicaragua in 2002, when the Child Sponsorship Program was started. Both the Child Survival Program and the Leadership Development Program began in 2014.
Child Sponsorship Program
Children age 11 and younger attend the child development center 3 days a week, for 6 to 8 hours. Children 12 and older meet for 4 hours on Saturday, plus one additional day for vocational training (e.g., music, computers, sewing, carpentry, baking, hair styling, entrepreneurship and handicrafts). Extracurricular activities to build self esteem include sports, camps, field trips and art. Camps are held once or twice a year, field trips are conducted once a year, and sports and art classes are offered regularly throughout the year. Children also participate in tree planting at least once a year and cleaning up in their community twice a year.
At the child development center, each child receives a meal consisting of rice, meat, tortillas and natural juice, tea or cereal. Children also sometimes receive a snack that consists of fruit salad, rice with milk, or a thick hot drink made of corn meal. This food is intended to complement what children are already receiving at home.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Nicaragua.
||5,848,641 (2014 estimate)
Spanish 95.3% (official), Miskito 2.2%, Mestizo of the Caribbean coast 2%, other 0.5% (2005 estimate)
Note: English and indigenous languages found on the Caribbean coast
Christian 80.1% (Roman Catholic 58.5%, Evangelical 21.6%), Moravian 1.6%, Jehovah's Witnesses 0.9%, other 1.7%, none 15.7% (2005 census)
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Female: 77.9% (2005 estimate)
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands
|Percentage of population urbanized
||Male: 70.57 years
Female: 74.98 years (2014 estimate)
|Under-5 mortality rate
|GDP per capita
||$4,500 (2013 estimate)
||gold cordoba (NIO)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||9,600 (2012 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day
||12% (2007-11 study)
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014