Geography & Climate


Nicaragua is a country in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Costa Rica and Honduras. Approximately the size of Greece or the U.S. state of New York, it is the largest country in Central America. The country covers a total area of 129,494 square kilometers (120,254 square kilometers of which are land area) and contains a diversity of climates and terrains. The country’s physical geography divides it into three major zones: Pacific lowlands, the wetter, cooler central highlands, and the Caribbean lowlands. Geographic coordinates: 13°00′N 85°00′W.

Temperature varies little with the seasons in Nicaragua and is largely a function of elevation.The”hot land,” is characteristic of the foothills and lowlands from sea level to about 750 meters (2,461 ft) of elevation. At night temperatures drop to 21 to 24 °C (69.8 to 75.2 °F) most of the year. The tierra templada, or the “temperate land,” is characteristic of most of the central highlands, where elevations range between 750 and 1,600 meters (2,461 and 5,249 ft).The “cold land,” at elevations above 1,600 meters (5,249 ft), is found only on and near the highest peaks of the central highlands. Daytime averages in this region are 22 to 24 °C (71.6 to 75.2 °F), with nighttime lows below 15 °C (59 °F). Rainfall varies greatly in Nicaragua. The Caribbean lowlands are the wettest section of Central America, receiving between 2,500 and 6,500 millimeters (98.4 and 255.9 in) of rain annually. The western slopes of the central highlands and the Pacific lowlands receive considerably less annual rainfall, being protected from moisture-laden Caribbean trade winds by the peaks of the central highlands. Mean annual precipitation for the rift valley and western slopes of the highlands ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 millimeters (39.4 to 59.1 in). Rainfall is seasonal—May through October is the rainy season, and December through April is the driest period.

During the rainy season, Eastern Nicaragua is subject to heavy flooding along the upper and middle reaches of all major rivers. Near the coast, where river courses widen and river banks and natural levees are low, floodwaters spill over onto the floodplains until large sections of the lowlands become continuous sheets of water. River bank agricultural plots are often heavily damaged, and considerable numbers of savanna animals die during these floods. The coast is also subject to destructive tropical storms and hurricanes, particularly from July through October. The high winds and floods accompanying these storms often cause considerable destruction of property. In addition, heavy rains (called papagayo storms) accompanying the passage of a cold front or a low-pressure area may sweep from the north through both eastern and western Nicaragua (particularly the rift valley) from November through March. Hurricanes or heavy rains in the central highlands, where agriculture has destroyed much of the natural vegetation, also cause considerable crop damage and soil erosion. In 1988 Hurricane Joan forced hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans to flee their homes and caused more than US$1 billion in damage, most of it along the Caribbean coast.