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Nicaragua » Geography

Geography of Nicaragua

The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes

Nicaragua is part of Central America with a total surface of 130,000 sq km or 50,000 square miles. It has two vast lakes which cover a large area of the national territory with 10,000 sq km or 3,800 square miles. Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca is the largest one, 100 miles long by 40 miles wide. Within “the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes” as Nicaragua is popularly known, there are 47 lagoons and 61 mountains higher than 1,000 meters or 3000 feet above sea level. Our country also has 29 volcanoes, from which seven are active and twenty two are either dormant or extinct.

Pacific Volcanic Chain

Almost 20 percent of the country is part of the Pacific region. A volcanic chain with a series of 25 volcanoes, called the “Belt of Fire”, covers a distance of 200 kms. It stretches from Cosigüina volcano to the active Concepción volcano on Ometepe Island. San Cristóbal volcano with an altitude of 1745 m is the highest point in the Pacific basin. The plain land which lies on both sides of the volcanoes is rich in minerals, allowing farmers to grow a wide selection of agricultural products such as sugar cane, bananas, rice, corn, plantains, peanuts, cassava, water melons and other important crops for the local economy.

Waters of the Pacific

The Pacific region is also home to two big lakes, Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. The latter one is considered to be the tenth biggest fresh water lake in the world and comprises 8000 square kms. Within the lake, there are three big islands, namely Zapatera, Ometepe and Solentiname, and many more small ones. The Pacific Coast is almost 300 kms long and is characterized by a variety of beaches, some wide and long, others small and bay shaped. The south Pacific Coast is known for its turtle nesting sites and every year between July and December many Olive Ridley turtles arrive here. There are also estuaries and small rivers which flow in the Pacific Ocean. More than 60 percent of the Nicaraguan population lives in the Pacific basin.

Central Nicaragua

The Central Region of Nicaragua comprises a total area of 30% of the country and roughly the same amount of people live in this area. This region of the country is mainly formed by mountain chains descending from the north of the departments of Madriz, Nueva Segovia and Jinotega to the south of the region of San Juan River. One of these mountain chains is the “Dariense”, which extends to the coffee region of Matagalpa. Another important mountain chain is the “Cordillera Chontaleña” which covers the cattle state of Chontales.

A Coffee Producing Region

A remarkable mountain is Mogoton (2107 meters) located in the Natural Reserve Jalapa-Dipilto in Nueva Segovia, which is Nicaragua’s highest peak. Some of the most important and longest rivers cross the Central region such as Rio Coco (680 kms), Rio Grande de Matagalpa (450 kms) and the historical San Juan River (190 kms). Due to special geographic conditions, the highlands of this middle part of the country allow the perfect cultivation of high quality coffee, Nicaragua’s main export. Matagalpa, Jinotega and Nueva Segovia are the three main coffee producing regions. This part of Nicaragua is also known for a more extended rainy season, lasting around eight months.

Tropical Cloud Forests

“Esteli” is another interesting area situated in the north west of the central region. It is known for its cultivation of top quality tobacco leaves, which are being rolled by hand, then packed into cedar wood boxes and exported to foreign markets. There are also quarries of soap stone, locally known as “Marmolina”, which is crafted by locals into fine pieces of art. The unique geographic conditions of this region allow the development of several tropical cloud forests with important diversity of eco-systems. The head capitals of each department in the central region are connected by very good roads and mostly the rest of the region by dirt roads. This region enjoys several great landscapes due to its mountain formations.

Nicaragua's Caribbean Region

The vast Caribbean region covers more than half of Nicaragua’s territory, but is inhabited by only 10% of the population. This part of the country is ethnically diverse with the predominant indigenous cultures being the Sumus, Miskitos, Ramas, Garifonas and Creoles. Most of the region is flat with some small mountains at an average height of 700 m. Some of the main rivers in the Caribbean region are: “Rio Indio” born in the mountains of Nueva Guinea, Nicaragua and travels down for 70 kms; “Rio Escondido” 88 kms long and formed by the junction of three other rivers, Sikia, Mico and Rama; “Rio Prinzapolka” which originates from “Isabelia” mountain range, this river is 245 kms long and half of it can be navigated by small boats. One of the main characteristics of this region is its rainy season which extends to almost 10 months.

The Natural Biosphere Reserve of Bosawas

The Caribbean region also boasts about having the Natural Biosphere Reserve of “Bosawás” which is one of the largest rainforests in the America Continent, with an extension of 19,926 kms² (almost two million hectares). It represents 15.25 % of Nicaraguan land but is the less visited and explored Natural Reserve of Nicaragua. This biological island that may contain a large amount of unknown species. “Bosawas” is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, composed of 525 biosphere reserves located around the world, which are also considered the lungs of the planet.

Nicaragua's Reserves and Protected Areas

“Bosawas” was designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1997. Another significant Natural reserve to mention on this region is the Natural Biological Reserve of “Indio Maiz”, located in the southeast of the Caribbean. “Indio Maiz” is part of “the Rio San Juan-Nicaragua Biosphere Reserve” which comprises a group of seven different protected areas including the Wildlife Refuges of Rio San Juan and Los Guatuzos, Cerra Silva and Punta Gorda Natural Reserves, and others.

Rio San Juan - Nicaragua Biosphere Reserve is integrated to the Man and Biosphere (MAB), a world network program from UNESCO. The Biological Reserve Indio Maiz covers an area of 3,157 kms² (316,000 hectares), within its boundaries a great diversity of ecosystems can be explored such as tropical humid and rainforest, wetlands, mangroves, estuaries and marshes.

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