In 1502, Nicaragua was inhabited by over a million indigenous Indians when Christopher Columbus stopped briefly along its Caribbean coastline.
Twenty years later the Spanish had established permanent settlements here in their on-going colonization efforts across the Americas. Over time, most of its original people were decimated.
The Spanish colony of Nicaragua was ruled from the Spanish empire's regional capital of Guatemala, with one exception - as the British influenced (or controlled) much of its Caribbean coastline, an area inhabited by Miskito (Mosquito) Indians.
After the overthrow of the Spanish King by Napoleon, Nicaragua and others declared their independence from Spain in 1821. Then, Nicaragua, as well as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras formed the United Provinces of Central America, but that federation quickly dissolved, and Nicaragua became an independent republic in 1838.
As factions fought for control of this new country, the U.S. inserted its considerable stabilizing power, and in fact, invaded Nicaragua on many occasions. In the early 20th century, the U.S. Marines left, and Nicaragua quickly fell under the repressive four-decade regime of the Somoza family.
Strong resistance to that brutal regime began in the late 1970s, organized by the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The Sandinistas eventually took control of the country, instigated land reforms, as well as important health and literacy changes.
The U.S. remained unhappy about the removal by the Somoza family and the Reagan administration supported a heavily armed counterrevolutionary movement against the Sandinistas. They were called the "Contras" and they terrorized the countryside and inflicted great damage to the already weak economy.
The Contras were secretly funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with revenues from the sale of weapons to Iran (Iran-Contra Scandal). The civil war ended in 1990, but Nicaragua, all but destroyed by decades of fighting, would soon be dealt another tragic blow.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch arrived and became the worst natural disaster in Nicaragua's history; killing over 10,000 people, more than 40,000 homes damaged or destroyed, and most bridges and roads simply washed away.
In 2004, the World Bank forgave most of Nicaragua’s international debt, and though the country still struggles to survive, there is much optimism in this beautiful, yet fragile land.