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Wedge-shaped Nicaragua may be the largest country in Central America, but it is also one of the least visited.
Many travellers who spend any time there find - much to their surprise - that Nicaragua is their favourite country in
the isthmus. Perhaps because it doesn't yet fully cater for the tourist experience, Nicaragua is an incorrigibly vibrant
and individualistic country, with plenty to offer travellers prepared to brave Nicaragua's superficial obstacles of economic
challenges, undermaintained roadways and crammed public transport.
Cuba aside, Nicaragua is unique in Latin America in having pulled off a bona fide revolution of the people. The revolution
of 1978-79 and the civil war that followed in the 1980s, while ravaging the country, has also given it one of the most dramatic
of recent histories. At times it seems that every Nicaraguan has both horrifying and uplifting personal stories to tell. And even
though Nicaragua's long-suffering people would rather forget many aspects of the war, the country's political past continues
to inform every minute of its present.
During the 1980s Nicaragua was the destination of choice in Central America for young, socialist-minded internacionalistas -
foreign volunteer workers who came to the country to aid the Revolution by working in the education and health sectors. From
1996 onwards, the Alemán government discontinued many of the programmes that brought the internacionalistas to Nicaragua
and tourism slumped, which was bad news for the country's hotel owners and tour operators. Recent years, however, have seen
tourist numbers increase as part of the general upturn in interest in Central America.
In comparison with the Maya ruins of Guatemala or the national parks of Costa Rica, Nicaragua offers few traditional tourist
attractions - almost no monuments or ancient temples remain, and earthquakes, revolution and war have laid waste to museums,
galleries and theatres. For years the country has suffered from a chronic lack of funding, and high inflation and unemployment have
also impoverished Nicaragua's infrastructure. However, no one visits Nicaragua and remains immune to the country's
extraordinary landscape of volcanoes (17 in all), lakes, mountains and vast plains of rainforest . A smattering of beaches -
the majority of them on the Pacific Coast - continues to attract the budget surfing and backpacking crowd, while culture and
the arts are very much alive in Nicaragua, and it is here you can buy some of the best-value high-quality crafts in the isthmus.
More than anything, though, the pleasures and rewards of travelling in Nicaragua come from interacting with the inhabitants of
the country's complex society. Its people are well-spoken, passionate, engaged and engaging - Nicaraguans tend to be witty
and exceptionally hospitable. The best thing you can do to enjoy Nicaragua is to arrive with an open mind, some patience and
a willingness to practise your Spanish.
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