Which Countries Border Nicaragua?

The border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Editorial credit: Wollertz / Shutterstock.com.
The border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Editorial credit: Wollertz / Shutterstock.com.

Officially known as the Republic of Nicaragua, Nicaragua is a country that is located in Central America. The capital city, which is also the largest city, is Managua. In total, Nicaragua has an area of about 50,338 square miles, which makes it the 69th largest country in the world. In the Central American isthmus, Nicaragua is the largest country. The country shares a land border with two nations namely Honduras and Costa Rica. The former country is located to the northwest of Nicaragua while the latter is located to the south. In addition to the land border, the country shares a maritime border with two countries namely El Salvador and Colombia.

Nicaragua - Honduras border

This border has a length of about 218 miles and goes all the way from the Gulf of Fonseca in the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea coast. The Caribbean Sea coast acts as a border between northern Nicaragua and southern Honduras. Aside from the Caribbean Coast, the Coco River makes up a section of the eastern border. The Honduran side of the border passes through departments such as Gracias a Dios, Olancho, and a few others. The Nicaraguan side of the border goes through a number of places including the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, Nueva Segovia, and Madriz. This border was formed after the two countries gained independence. Prior to gaining their independence, Nicaragua was part of the United Provinces of Central America while Honduras was part of the Central American Federation. The formation of the border happened after the unions, which lasted between 1823 and 1838, split up.


One of the major sources of conflict between the two countries has been the area around the Gulf of Fonseca. The sea is shared by three countries namely Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras. However, the sea has been closed to all three countries by international law. Each of the three countries has been allowed control over a littoral zone that measures about three nautical miles along the shores of the countries. Despite the law, the three countries have been involved in disputes with one another of who has control over the gulf and any islands within.

A decision on a dispute from 1992 by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) saw to it that Honduras got the islands of El Tigre while El Salvador got the islands of Meanguerita and Meanguera. In that dispute, Nicaragua was not bound by the decision since it was not a party to the conflict. However, the ICJ ruled that the three countries had to share control of the other areas as a "tridominium."

Another dispute involving land also existed in the early stages of the 1930s. A war was almost caused due to the simple act of the Nicaraguans issuing a stamp with an image of a territory that was considered to be in Honduras. In fact, the issue went as far back as 1906 during the times of King Alfonso XIII of Spain. In that year, King Alfonso gave the territory in the stamp to Honduras. Fortunately, the two nations have never had an all-out war.

Nicaragua – Costa Rica border

This border is about 192 miles running in an east-west path in a route that sees it pass close to the River San Juan and Lake Nicaragua. This border also extends between the coasts of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. On the Nicaraguan side, it passes through several departments such as Rivas and Rio San Juan Departments. On the Costa Rican side, it passes through the provinces of Guanacaste, Alajuela, Limon, and Heredia. Just like with Honduras above, these two countries were part of a federation before the formation of the border. The federation, which was known as the United Provinces of Central America, existed between 1826 and 1838.


One boundary issue has been along the San Juan River. As per the Cañas-Jerez Treaty, which was signed in 1858, the border between the two countries runs along the right side of the river from its drainage point to a location about three miles downstream. The mouth of the river is at the port of San Juan del Norte while the downstream location is at Castillo Viejo, which is an ancient fortification. Going by this treaty, then the whole of the San Juan River along this stretch belongs to Nicaragua although Costa Rica has a right to use it for commerce. Costa Rica also has other rights, which include a tax exemption of all commercial goods unless there is a mutual agreement.

However, in 1998, there was a dispute after Nicaragua decided to prevent police officers from Costa River from using the river. Nicaragua claimed that Costa Rica had breached the 1858 agreement, which is why they charged the police officers a fee of $25 and enforced a visa requirement for visitors from Costa Rica. Consequently, the Costa Rican government filed a complaint to the ICJ, which was resolved in 2009. In the ruling, the ICJ ruled that Nicaragua had breached the agreement by preventing the free movement of tourists. In addition, the ICJ ruled that Coast Rica was wrong to send its police officers to navigate the river while armed or use the river to deliver supplies to their posts.

In recent years, the number of disputes between the two countries has gone down since the importance of the river has gone down slightly. In the past, Costa Rica was always wary of the fact that the river, which was crucial for interoceanic trade, would completely belong to Nicaragua. However, since 1914, things changed after the Panama Canal was opened. In addition, Nicaragua began constructing a dry eco-canal of their own. Consequently, the disputes have reduced although they surface from time to time.

More recently, in 2010, there was a conflict that arose from Google Maps. According to the Costa Rican Deputy Foreign Minister, the borders published by Google were erroneous and led to Nicaraguan military entering Costa Rica. Another conflict was the conflict of Guanacaste Province in 1825. Despite the conflicts, the two countries have never gone to war.


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