Nicaragua: what to know?

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Nicaragua is a Central American country with a rich history dating back to pre-Spanish times. It gained independence in 1838 but was plagued by civil war due to rivalry between liberal and conservative forces. The Sandinista movement overthrew the dictatorship in 1979, but the US backed the Contras and established an embargo. Nicaragua has since moved towards democratization and is a popular travel destination for its natural attractions. It can be reached by flights and buses from various countries.

Nicaragua is a large country in Central America. It covers 50,200 square miles (129,500 square km) making it somewhat larger than the state of Mississippi. It borders Costa Rica and Honduras and has coastlines along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean.

Nicaragua had been inhabited for some time before the arrival of Europeans, but little is known of the region’s history prior to the Spanish landing. The area was inhabited in pre-Spanish times by the Nicarao tribe, who had come from Teotihuacán in the north when the mighty civilization fell in the 8th century.

Europeans first sighted Nicaragua in the early 16th century when Christopher Columbus lightly explored the Mosquito Coast. Only two decades later would the area truly be explored and the first Spanish settlements established.

Nicaragua was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain in these early years, then the Captaincy General of Guatemala, and finally as part of the Mexican Empire. In 1838 Nicaragua gained independence as a republic. From then on Nicaragua would be plagued by constant rivalry between the liberal and conservative forces in the country, often resulting in outright civil war.

At the end of the 19th century, a liberal coup elevated José Santos Zelaya to power. He would remain in power until the 19th, when the United States backed a conservative uprising against him, sending in warships after two Americans were executed. The United States moved in Marines, who remained in the country until 1909 to support the conservative regime. The United States left in 1933 after experiencing an increasingly violent guerrilla uprising.

The US left Anastasio Somoza Garcia as leader, guaranteeing US interests in the region. The Somoza family would eventually consolidate power over Nicaragua into a dictatorship, ensuring that American companies received favorable contracts in the region.

In 1961, the Sandinista movement was formed with the intention of overthrowing the dictatorship and establishing a more socialist and free political system in Nicaragua. The Sandinista uprising continued for nearly two more decades, and eventually American support for the Somozas waned. In 1979 the Sandinistas seized power under Daniel Ortega, and held power after the 1984 elections that international observers labeled both free and just, but which were later revealed to be heavily influenced by the government.

Although the United States initially continued to support Nicaragua financially after the Sandinistas took power, once Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1980, things quickly changed. The United States began supplying the Somoza-backed Contras with weapons, money, and training, and established an embargo with Nicaragua.

In 1990, following a ceasefire between the Contras and Sandinistas, general elections were held in Nicaragua. Nicaragua has since moved towards further democratization and has begun rebuilding infrastructure damaged during the Contra war. In 2006, in an election certified by the international community as free and fair, Daniel Ortega was elected to power, 16 years after his defeat.

Nicaragua is arguably the top travel destination in the Americas for young backpackers, and offers a great deal for anyone who wants to enjoy the beauty of these lush jungles and friendly locals. Banditry can be a problem in some parts of the country, but for responsible travel, the danger is minimal. The biggest attraction in Nicaragua are the natural attractions, from the hot springs of Aguas Termales la Calera, to the volcanoes of Isla de Ometepe, to the various national parks.

Flights frequently arrive in Managua from airports throughout the Americas and some European cities. Buses also connect Nicaragua to Panama and Costa Rica, and you can reach both of these countries by river as well.

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