Nicaragua Geography

What is the terrain and geography like in Nicaragua?


The largest of the Central American Republics, Nicaragua borders Costa Rica to the south and Honduras to the north. It covers 57,143 square miles including the region’s largest fresh water lakes—Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua which total 3,500 square miles. The country is divided into three geographic sections: the drier Pacific coastal plain to the west with its low mountain ranges near the sea; the wetter and cooler mountainous extension of the Central American Highlands which runs from northwest to southeast across the middle of the country; and the hot and humid flat Atlantic lowlands along the east coast.

Most of the population is located in western Nicaragua on the fertile lowland Pacific Plains which surround the lakes and extend north to the Gulf of Fonseca. This region is the political and commercial heart of the country. Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua dominate the map of this area, and a series of young volcanoes, many still active, dot the coastal plain paralleling the Central American Highlands. The tallest volcanoes reach 5,700 feet, and two are visible from Managua.

The mountain highland provinces of Matagalpa and Jinotega, northeast of the volcanoes and lakes, are more sparsely populated and Nicaragua’s major coffee-producing areas. The easternmost section of the highlands receives the warm, wet Caribbean winds and is mainly sparsely settled rain forest, with a few operating gold mines near the town of Bonanza.

Eastern Nicaragua, with one-third of the total national territory which is an area about the size of El Salvador, has about 10% of the population and is tropical rain forests and pineflats. The region, largely ignored by the Spanish, was a British protectorate until 1860. Even today, many of the people along the Atlantic coast prefer to speak English.

Nicaragua offers appealing landscapes from the primitive Caribbean island beauty of Corn Island, to the lovely lake views near the colonial city of Granada, to the stark beauty of the semiactive volcano located between Managua and Masaya. Volcanic Lakes Xiloa and Apoyo, near Managua, are excellent for swimming and day sailing, and provide relief from the heat. Pacific Ocean beaches are nearby, and the cooler rainforest mountains of Esteli and Matagalpa are just a few hours drive away.

Managua never fully recovered from the 1972 earthquake, in which the entire city center was destroyed, and suffered further neglect through the 1980s. Today, it remains mostly deserted, with visible earthquake ruins. Managua is now a widely scattered collection of neighborhoods that rim an empty hub, with no centrally located business or shopping district. However, the area near the recently inaugurated Cathedral appears to be becoming the city’s new focal point.

Geography - note

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

Nicaragua Use of Natural Resources

Geographic Location Central America
Total Area 50,336 Square Miles
130,370 Square Kilometers
Land Area 46,328 Square Miles
119,990 Square Kilometers
Water Area 4,008 Square Miles
10,380 Square Kilometers
Land Boundaries 765 Miles
1,231 Kilometers
Irrigated Land 364 Square Miles
942 Square Kilometers
Border Countries Costa Rica 309 km, Honduras 922 km
Coastline 565 Miles
910 Kilometers
Geographic Coordinates 13 00 N, 85 00 W
Terrain extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes
Highest Point 2,438 Meters
Highest Point Location Mogoton 2,438 m
Lowest Point Location Pacific Ocean 0 m
Natural Resources gold, silver, copper, tungsten, lead, zinc, timber, fish
Time Zone UTC-6 (1 hour behind Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

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