Nicaragua: Natural Landscape

Nicaragua: Natural 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 geography divides the country into three major zones: the Pacific lowlands, the north-central highlands, and the Caribbean lowlands or Mosquito Coast.

The Natural Landscape of Nicaragua

Nicaragua, Central America's largest country by land area, 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 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 along its western coast.


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


Nicaragua has a tropical climate with slight seasonal variations 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

Natural Geography 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.

Most of the area is flat except for a line of volcanoes that runs between the Gulf of Fonseca, Lake Managua, and Lake Nicaragua. 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. As a result, many tremors and quakes occur each year, some of which cause severe damage. For example, the capital city of Managua was virtually destroyed in 1931 and again in 1972.

Volcano map of Nicaragua

Map depicting the volcanos of Nicaragua

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 are 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 rainforests.

The central mountains form the country's main watershed and mostly drain eastward to the Caribbean Sea; however, 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, cool on the high plateau, and warm and humid in the lowlands.

Caribbean Lowlands

The eastern Caribbean lowland plains occupy more than half of the country and 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).

River mouths, deltas, and coastal lagoons break the coastline. Coral reefs, islands, cays, and banks occur along the country's continental shelf, the widest in Central America.

Soils on the Caribbean coast vary, including 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

  • Coco River

  • San Juan River

  • Sapoá River

  • Tipitapa River

  • Estero Real River

  • Negro River

  • Brito 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

Nicaragua is a biodiverse country, home to many plants and animals.

Ecological Regions

The following is a list of terrestrial ecoregions in Nicaragua, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Nicaragua is in the Neotropical realm. Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate.

Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest

  • Cayos Miskitos-San Andrés and Providencia moist forests

  • Central American Atlantic moist forests

  • Central American montane forest

  • Costa Rican seasonal moist forests

  • Isthmian-Atlantic moist forest

Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests

  • Central American dry forests

Tropical and subtropical coniferous forests


  • Gulf of Fonseca mangroves

  • Mosquitia–Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast mangroves

  • Southern Dry Pacific Coast mangroves

  • Rio Negro–Rio San Sun mangroves

  • Lesser Antilles mangroves

  • Northern Dry Pacific Coast mangroves

Nicaragua land use map

Nicaragua land use and vegetation map

Administrative Divisions

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

Departments (capital city):

  • Boaco (Boaco)

  • Carazo (Jinotepe)

  • Chinandega (Chinandega)

  • Chontales (Juigalpa)

  • Estelí (Estelí)

  • Granada (Granada)

  • Jinotega (Jinotega)

  • León (León)

  • 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 depicting the administrative divisions of Nicaragua