Nicaragua's eastern tropical lowlands make for a striking change from the rest of the country. Gone are the volcanoes, hills and valleys, and in their place is lush, tropical rainforest drenched between May and December with heavy rainfall. Most of the population are the African-influenced Miskito people who live in the northern lowlands, mainly around Puerto Cabezas. Their economy is based on timber, fishing and mining. To reach the Caribbean port of Bluefields and the idyllic and peaceful Corn Islands, you can fly or take the famous 'Bluefields Express' downriver. English is widely but not universally spoken.
This area, together with roughly half the coastal area of Honduras, was never colonized by Spain. From 1687 to 1894 it was a British Protectorate known as the Miskito Kingdom. It was populated then, as now, by the Miskito, whose numbers are estimated at 75,000. There are two other indigenous groups, the Sumu (5000) and the Rama, of whom only a few hundred remain, near Bluefields. Also near Bluefields are a number of Garífuna communities. Today's strong African influence has
its roots in the black labourers brought in by the British to work
the plantations and in Jamaican immigration. The Afro-Nicaraguan people call themselves
(Creoles). The largest number of inhabitants of this region are Spanish-speaking
. The Sandinista Revolution, like most other political developments from the Spanish- speaking part of Nicaragua, was met with mistrust. Although the first Sandinista junta recognized the indigenous peoples' rights to organize themselves and choose their own leaders, many of the programmes failed to encompass their social, agricultural and cultural traditions. Relations deteriorated and many engaged in fighting for self-determination. A low point was reached when the Sandinista Government ordered forced resettlement of many Miskito villages, burning to the ground what was left behind. About half the Miskito population fled as refugees to Honduras, but most returned after 1985 when a greater understanding grew between the Sandinista Government and the people of the east coast.
The Autonomous Atlantic Region was given the self-governing status in 1987; it is divided into Región Autonomista Atlántico Norte (RAAN) and Región Autonomista Atlántico Sur (RAAS). In Nicaragua, the Caribbean coast is almost always referred to as the Atlantic coast.
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