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The Pacific Coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th century. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades. Violent opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes by 1978 and resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought the Marxist Sandinista guerrillas to power in 1979. Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador caused the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s. Free elections in 1990, 1996, and again in 2001 saw the Sandinistas defeated. The country has slowly rebuilt its economy during the 1990s, but was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.



Middle America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Costa Rica and Honduras

Geographic coordinates:

13 00 N, 85 00 W

Map references:

Central America and the Caribbean


total: 129,494 sq km
water: 9,240 sq km
land: 120,254 sq km

Area - comparative:

slightly smaller than the state of New York

Land boundaries:

total: 1,231 km
border countries: Costa Rica 309 km, Honduras 922 km


910 km

Maritime claims:

continental shelf: natural prolongation
territorial sea: 200 NM


tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands


extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mogoton 2,438 m

Natural resources:

gold, silver, copper, tungsten, lead, zinc, timber, fish

Land use:

arable land: 20.24%
permanent crops: 2.38%
other: 77.38% (1998 est.)

Irrigated land:

880 sq km (1998 est.)

Natural hazards:

destructive earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides; extremely susceptible to hurricanes

Environment - current issues:

deforestation; soil erosion; water pollution

Environment - international agreements:

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification

Geography - note:

largest country in Central America; contains the largest freshwater body in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua



5,128,517 (July 2003 est.)

Age structure:

0-14 years: 37.7% (male 984,719; female 949,282)
15-64 years: 59.2% (male 1,510,352; female 1,527,991)
65 years and over: 3% (male 68,332; female 87,841) (2003 est.)

Median age:

total: 20.4 years
male: 20 years
female: 20.8 years (2002)

Population growth rate:

2.03% (2003 est.)

Birth rate:

26.29 births/1,000 population (2003 est.)

Death rate:

4.69 deaths/1,000 population (2003 est.)

Net migration rate:

-1.27 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2003 est.)

Sex ratio:

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.99 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.78 male(s)/female
total population: 1 male(s)/female (2003 est.)

Infant mortality rate:

total: 31.39 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 27.51 deaths/1,000 live births (2003 est.)
male: 35.08 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth:

total population: 69.68 years
male: 67.68 years
female: 71.79 years (2003 est.)

Total fertility rate:

3 children born/woman (2003 est.)


noun: Nicaraguan(s)
adjective: Nicaraguan

Ethnic groups:

mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 69%, white 17%, black 9%, Amerindian 5%


Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant


Spanish (official)
note: English and indigenous languages on Atlantic coast


definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 67.5%
male: 67.2%
female: 67.8% (2003 est.)


Country name:

conventional long form: Republic of Nicaragua
conventional short form: Nicaragua
local short form: Nicaragua
local long form: Republica de Nicaragua

Government type:




Administrative divisions:

15 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento) and 2 autonomous regions* (regiones autonomistas, singular - region autonomista); Atlantico Norte*, Atlantico Sur*, Boaco, Carazo, Chinandega, Chontales, Esteli, Granada, Jinotega, Leon, Madriz, Managua, Masaya, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, Rio San Juan, Rivas


15 September 1821 (from Spain)

National holiday:

Independence Day, 15 September (1821)


9 January 1987, with reforms in 1995 and 2000

Legal system:

civil law system; Supreme Court may review administrative acts


16 years of age; universal

Source: CIA World Factbook