Did you know that Nicaragua’s name is derived from a 15th century indigenous chief called Nicarao? Nicaragua, bordered by Honduras to the north and the Caribbean to the east, is the largest country in Central America. The population is mostly made up of mestizos (people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry). And while they’re not the majority, Nicaragua is home to seven Indigenous groups: they are the Chorotega, the Mískitu, the Cacaopera or Matagalpa, the Ocanxiu or Sutiaba, the Sumu or Mayangna, the Nahoa or Náhuatl, and the Rama. These peoples reside in the Pacific coast, Central and Northern regions, and on the Caribbean coast.
Many families across Nicaragua are helped financially by their relatives working overseas.Thanks to the hard work of more than 42 thousand Nicaraguans living abroad, the country received north of US$1.8bn in remittances in 2020, representing 14% of their GDP.
By the time you’ve finished reading this post, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the people, traditions, and a better understanding of Nicaragua’s culture.
The Aztecs, Mayans and later the Nicaraguan Chorotegas all grew and used corn in their cooking. Today it is still a staple in Nicaraguan gastronomy. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to its location, Nicaragua boasts of some truly fresh and delicious seafood. A great range of locally produced food and locally picked fresh fruit like papayas, mangoes, bananas, and watermelons make Nicaraguan gastronomy a genuine treat for the palate (and your health).
Nacatamales. Each one of these parcels is a delicious meal wrapped in a banana leaf. Inside you will find: a chunk of pork, a slice of onion and tomato, mint, rice, and a dough type mixture that has been mixed with paprika, sour orange juice, and salt. Most Nicaraguans would eat these on weekends and in the morning. They are quite filling!
Gallo Pinto. Considered, jokingly, the dish that the country runs on, Gallo Pinto is a staple for many people in Nicaragua. It is a rice-based dish that is made by mixing white rice with red beans and onions. It’s fried together and then eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Gallo Pinto means spotted rooster, referencing the dish’s mix of colors.
Desayuno Nica. This is a traditional breakfast dish that, like in some other countries, should see you through the morning and into the early afternoon. One of the optional ingredients that many people put in is Gallo Pinto. Other components are fried or scrambled eggs, fresh diced cheese, bell peppers, and fried plantains. Additionally, there are garnishes like sour cream or chopped tomatoes and onions.
Quesillos. Fresh homemade white cheese with finely chopped pickles wrapped in a delicious tortilla and accompanied by some chili sauce and a cup of hot chocolate. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, we don’t know what will. Best place to find these is from street vendors across Nicaragua. The verdict is still out on who makes the best ones.
Rondón. You’ve heard of one-pot chicken, but how about one-pot fish? This classic dish first came about to provide fishermen with a quick and easy meal during their busy days. The main ingredient is seafood. Any that you can catch will do. Potatoes, carrots, bell and chili peppers, plantains, and finally coconut milk (to thicken/sweeten it) are added to complete this hearty meal. It has gained popularity over the years and is now a popular dish among inhabitants on the Atlantic coast.
Vibrant colors, captivating dances, and traditional music are some of the elements that make Nicaraguan traditions so memorable. Here’s a small selection of some of the most interesting celebrations in Nicaragua, as well as some interesting facts about its culture:
Walagallo. The Walagallo is a dance that is practiced by the Garifuna people of the Atlantic region in Nicaragua. The Garifuna, who first settled permanently in Nicaragua in 1860, practice the Walagallo dance when one of their people is sick, though the practice is reserved for severe illnesses. They believe the ill affected person is sick due to possession by an evil spirit or deity. The belief is that a combination of dance, music, and incense will purge the illness from the possessed person.
La Purisima. La Purisima is celebrated annually between November 28th and December 8th and its purpose is for the people to show their gratitude and devotion to the Virgin Mary. Nicaragua’s traditions and celebrations are hugely important to its people, with variations of each popping up across the country. For example, La Purisima in Leon sees the people making a ginormous doll called La Gigantona. This huge doll can be as tall as three meters and usually dons a custom-made dress in a sevillana style. Some people choose to give her a dress of one solid color; a vibrant orange, while others may give her a dress of many colors. She also wears a hat, usually black, that completes the ensemble. It is worn by the performers who dance in it.
El Baile de Negras. Masaya is the Nicaraguan folklore hub. The city is roughly 31km south of Managua and is home to almost 200,000 people, making it Nicaragua’s fourth most populous city. Each year, El Baile de Negras is celebrated here. The dance sees couples dressed in matching and usually themed outfits. For example, the female dancer may wear a dress with feathers embroidered in and the male counterpart would also have the same detailing on his suit. Bright colors and bold statements are key to standing out. As is tradition, each dancer wears a mask over their face. The masks are painted with a Spanish likeness in mind.
The dancers visit as many houses across the city as possible. This is always prearranged as the occupants need to prepare food and beverages. It is left entirely up to the household being visited to choose what to offer the dancers. Some may choose to provide some simple snacks, whereas others may concoct an elaborate feast, perhaps with some of the dishes above! Hosts must ensure they have enough food for all the visiting dancers.
What is Nicaragua known for and what makes it unique?
Apart from its friendly people and rich culture, Nicaragua is also known for its natural beauty. Diverse is a good way to describe the landscape there. Beautiful coasts with beaches that stretch for miles. Moving inland you will find mountain ranges, lakes, and volcanoes. Let’s take a look at some points of interest.
Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America covering an area of a whopping 8,264 km². It is 26 m deep. Although a freshwater lake, there are bull sharks swimming in its waters. This makes it the only place in the world where sharks live out of saltwater environments. The lake is also home to sawfish and tarpon.
Volcanoes. Nicaragua has a vast chain of volcanoes, some of which are still active. Great for explorers or tourists looking to get some amazing snaps. 25 km from Leon you will find Cerro Negro, a volcano with an altitude of 728 meters above sea level. After you’ve had your fill of looking at the crater you could walk back down, or you could volcano board! Volcano boarding is the quickest way down and all you need is a large piece of wood, a jumpsuit, and some goggles.
Nicaragua’s breathtaking Architecture
León. Once you have dusted off your boots, you could head into León to take in the sights. Known for its Castilian Spanish architecture, you will see over a dozen churches and a massive cathedral that are utterly worth a visit. León’s Cathedral was designated as a World Heritage site back in 2011 by UNESCO. The original location of León, known today as the Ruins of León Viejo after being discovered in 1967 buried under ash and stones from the nearby volcano, Momotombo is also a world heritage site and popular tourist destination.
Granada. While also a Spanish-influenced city, Granada takes after Andalusian architecture, known for its Moorish elements. For this reason, the city is often called La Gran Sultana. The city was named Granada by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba when he registered it as one of the first European cities in the Americas.
Managua. The capital city of Nicaragua, Managua has opted for an ultra-modern style when it comes to their building design since the early 1990s. This is most prevalent in the rebuilding of the Metropolitan Cathedral. The old cathedral (Catedral de Santiago) was destroyed in 1972 along with almost 90% of the city in a devastating earthquake. Rather than restoring it, the decision was made to redesign it. Now, 63 domes are held up by a concrete cube in an industrial modernism style.
So, there you have it. If you liked this article and are now eager to learn more about some other countries, we have got you covered. Here are some more about traditions and culture: Pakistan, Mexico, and Brazil.
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