Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordering Honduras and Costa Rica. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east.
It is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places Nicaragua within the tropics.
The population of Nicaragua, approximately 6 million, is multiethnic. Its capital is Managua City, the third-largest city in Central America.
In 1502, Christopher Columbus was the first European to have reached what is now Nicaragua as he sailed southeast toward the Isthmus of Panama. On his fourth voyage, Columbus explored the Miskito Coast on the Atlantic side of the country, but it was not until 1524 that the first Spanish permanent settlements were founded (conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba founded two of Nicaragua's principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua was the first settlement, followed by León at a location west of Lake Managua).
Today, nearly one fifth of the territory of Nicaragua is designated as protected areas like national parks, nature reserves, and biological reserves. The country is surrounded by the Caribbean Plate, an oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Cocos Plate. Nicaragua hosts most of the Central American Volcanic Arc.
Nicaragua is among the poorest countries in the Americas, and according to the United Nations Development Programme, 48% of the population in Nicaragua live below the poverty line. It is primarily an agricultural country. Nicaragua's minimum wage is among the lowest in the Americas and in the World.
Nicaragua is considering construction of a canal linking the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, which President Daniel Ortega has said will give Nicaragua its "economic independence."
Every year about 60,000 U.S. citizens visit Nicaragua, primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. Some 5,500 people from the U.S. reside in the country now. The majority of tourists who visit Nicaragua are from the U.S., Central or South America, and Europe. According to the Ministry of Tourism of Nicaragua (INTUR), the colonial cities of León and Granada are the preferred spots for tourists. Also, the cities of Masaya, Rivas and the likes of San Juan del Sur, El Ostional, San Juan River, Ometepe, Mombacho Volcano, the Corn Islands, and others are main tourist attractions. In addition, ecotourism and surfing attract many tourists to Nicaragua.
The main attractions in Nicaragua for tourists are the beaches, scenic routes, the architecture of cities such as León and Granada, and most recently ecotourism and agritourism, particularly in Northern Nicaragua. As a result of increased tourism, Nicaragua has seen its foreign direct investment increase in the latest years.
The map of Nicaragua. In 1902 Nicaragua narrowly lost out to Panama as the preferred location for a canal through the Americas.