Nicaragua: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Nicaragua: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 21:16
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Nicaragua is situated in Central America between Honduras in the north and Costa Rica in the south. Its physical geography divides the country into three major zones: the Pacific lowlands, the north-central highlands, and the Caribbean lowlands or Mosquito Coast.

Geography of Nicaragua

Nicaragua, the largest country by land area in Central America, is situated between Honduras in the north and Costa Rica in the south. The Caribbean Sea lies to its east and the Pacific Ocean lies to its southwest.

Many islands lie off both its Pacific and Caribbean shores, including the Corn Islands located 80 - 95 km (50 - 59 mi) off the Caribbean coast. Other notable islands include the Miskito Cays, the Pearl Cays, the Nancital Archipelago, Juan Venado Island, etc.

Nicaragua hosts the two largest lakes in Central America, Lake Nicaragua, and Lake Managua. Lake Nicaragua is the second-largest lake in Latin America after Lake Titicaca.

The country is situated within the Central America Volcanic Arc, with 19 active volcanoes forming a northwest-to-southeast chain running along its western coast.

Nicaragua has a tropical climate with little seasonal variation in temperature and two distinct rainfall seasons: a wet season from May to November and a dry season from December to April. Temperatures range from 21 - 27 ˚C (70 - 80 ˚F) throughout the year.

Map of Central America

Location map of the countries of Central America

The Natural and Geographic Landscape of Nicaragua

Geographic Regions

The physical geography of Nicaragua divides the country into three major zones:

  • the Pacific lowlands

  • the north-central highlands

  • the Caribbean lowlands

Pacific Lowlands

In the west, the Pacific lowlands extend inland approximately 75 km (46 mi) from the coast. It is a region of lakes and is densely populated.

The soil along the Pacific coast is volcanic. The natural vegetation of the lowlands is dry forest but much of it has been converted to agriculture or pasture. About 80% of the area is fertile and it is well-cultivated.

Except for a line of volcanoes that runs between the Gulf of Fonseca, Lake Managua, and Lake Nicaragua, most of the area is flat. Lake Nicaragua is bisected by volcanos that have led to the formation of numerous islands, the largest of which is Ometepe Island.

Because Western Nicaragua is located where the Caribbean Plate and the Cocos Plate collide, it is subject to earthquakes and volcanic activity. Many tremors and quakes occur each year, some of which cause severe damage. The capital city of Managua was virtually destroyed in 1931 and again in 1972.

The Pacific lowlands experience a rainy season from May to November and a dry season from December to April. The annual average temperature is about 27 °C (80 °F) and precipitation averages around 1,900 mm (75 in).

North-Central Highlands

North and east of the Pacific lowlands is a triangular area of rugged mountain ridges approximately 900 - 1800 m (3,000 - 6,000 ft) in elevation alternating with deep valleys. The western slopes are relatively dry while the eastern slopes are covered in rainforest.

The central mountains form the country's main watershed and mostly drain eastward to the Caribbean Sea. The few rivers that do flow to the west, empty into the Pacific Ocean or Lakes Managua and Nicaragua.

In the northern highlands, temperatures are cooler than in the lowlands and average around 18 °C (64 °F). Prevailing winds are from the northeast and are cool on the high plateau and warm and humid in the lowlands.

Caribbean Lowlands

Occupying more than half of the country, the eastern Caribbean lowland plains are among the widest in Central America, averaging 100 km (60 mi) in width.

Also known as the Mosquito Coast (or Miskito Coast), this vast lowland region skirts the Caribbean Sea for about 360 km (225 mi).

The coastline is broken by river mouths, deltas, and coastal lagoons. Coral reefs, islands, cays, and banks occur along the country's continental shelf which is the widest in Central America.

Soils on the Caribbean coast are varied, including both fertile areas along waterways and relatively infertile areas in the pine-savanna and rainforest regions.

The climate is slightly cooler and much wetter in the east than in the west. Here, the rainy season lasts for about nine months out of the year and the dry season runs from March through May, while annual precipitation averages around 3,800 mm (150 in).

Topographic map of Nicaragua

Topographic map of Nicaragua

Islands and Archipelagos

There are approximately 160 islands in Nicaragua, located either off the Caribbean and Pacific coasts or within inland lakes.

Notable Islands

  • the Corn Islands (Caribbean Sea)

  • the Miskito Cays (Caribbean Sea)

  • the Pearl Cays (Caribbean Sea)

  • the Nancital Archipelago (Lake Nicaragua)

  • Juan Venado Island (Pacific Coast)

  • Calala Island (Caribbean Sea)

  • Rama Cay (Bluefields Lagoon)

  • Ometepe Island (Lake Nicaragua)

  • Solentiname Islands (Lake Nicaragua)

  • Zapatera Island (Lake Nicaragua)

  • Islets of Granada (Lake Nicaragua)

Bodies of Water

Notable Rivers

  • San Juan River

  • Sapoá River

  • Tipitapa River

  • Estero Real

  • Negro River

  • Tamarindo River

  • Río Grande de Matagalpa

  • Juan River

  • Prinzapolka River

  • Escondido River

  • Indio River

  • Maíz River

  • Tuma River

Notable Lakes

  • Lake Nicaragua

  • Lake Managua

  • Xiloa Lagoon

  • Lake Apanás

  • Asososca Lagoon

  • Lake Jiloá

  • Lake Masaya

  • Lake Nejapa

  • Lake Tiscapa

  • Lake Apoyo

  • Lake Apoyeque

Detailed map of Nicaragua

Detailed map of Nicaragua

Natural Regions

Flora and Fauna

Nicaragua is a biodiverse country, home to a rich variety of plants and animals.

According to the Global Biodiversity Index, Nicaragua is the 41st most biodiverse country in the world; with 685 species of birds, 75 amphibian species, 1,076 species of fish, 200 species of mammals, 197 species of reptiles, and 5,796 species of vascular plants.

Ecoregions

The terrestrial ecoregions found in Nicaragua include:

  • Cayos Miskitos-San Andrés and Providencia moist forests

  • Central American Atlantic moist forests

  • Central American montane forests

  • Costa Rican seasonal moist forests

  • Isthmian-Atlantic moist forests

  • Central American dry forests

  • Central American pine-oak forests

  • Miskito pine forests

  • Gulf of Fonseca mangroves

  • Lesser Antilles mangroves

  • Mosquitia-Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast mangroves

  • Northern Dry Pacific Coast mangroves

  • Rio Negro-Rio San Sun mangroves

  • Southern Dry Pacific Coast mangroves

Political Divisions

For administrative purposes, Nicaragua is divided into 15 departments and two (self-governing) autonomous regions.

Departments (capital city):

  • Boaco (Boaco)

  • Carazo (Jinotepe)

  • Chinandega (Chinandega)

  • Chontales (Juigalpa)

  • Estelí (Estelí)

  • Granada (Granada)

  • Jinotega (Jinotega)

  • Leon (Leon)

  • Madriz (Somoto)

  • Managua (Managua)

  • Masaya (Masaya)

  • Matagalpa (Matagalpa)

  • Nueva Segovia (Ocotal)

  • Rivas (Rivas)

  • Río San Juan (San Carlos)

Autonomous Regions (capital city):

  • North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (Puerto Cabezas)

  • South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (Bluefields)

Map of administrative divisions of Nicaragua

Map of the administrative divisions of Nicaragua