Geography and climate
Nearly one fifth of the territory is designated as protected areas like national parks, nature reserves, and biological reserves. The country is bordered by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Geophysically, Nicaragua is surrounded by the Caribbean Plate, an oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Cocos Plate. Since Central America is a major subduction zone, Nicaragua hosts most of the Central American Volcanic Arc.
Nicaragua has three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific Lowlands, fertile valleys which the Spanish colonists settled, the Amerrique Mountains (North-Central Highlands), and the Mosquito Coast (Atlantic Lowlands). The low plains of the Atlantic Coast are 60 miles wide in areas. They have long been exploited for their natural resources.
 Pacific Lowlands
Located in the west of the country, these lowlands consist of a broad, hot, fertile plain. Punctuating this plain are several large volcanoes of the Cordillera Los Maribios mountain range, including Mombacho just outside Granada, and Momotombo near León. The lowland area runs from the Gulf of Fonseca to Nicaragua’s Pacific border with Costa Rica south of Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is the largest freshwater lake in Central America (20th largest in the world), and is home to some of the world’s only freshwater sharks (Nicaraguan shark). The Pacific lowlands region is the most populous, with over half of the nation’s population. The capital city of Managua is the most populous and is the only city with over 1.5 million inhabitants.
The eruptions of western Nicaragua’s 40 volcanoes, many of which are still active, have sometimes devastated settlements but also have enriched the land with layers of fertile ash. The geologic activity that produces vulcanism also breeds powerful earthquakes. Tremors occur regularly throughout the Pacific zone, and earthquakes have nearly destroyed the capital city, Managua, more than once.
Most of the Pacific zone is tierra caliente, the “hot land” of tropical Spanish America at elevations under 2,000 feet (610 m). Temperatures remain virtually constant throughout the year, with highs ranging between 85 and 90 °F (29.4 and 32.2 °C). After a dry season lasting from November to April, rains begin in May and continue to October, giving the Pacific Lowlands 40 to 60 inches (1,016 to 1,524 mm) of precipitation. Good soils and a favorable climate combine to make western Nicaragua the country’s economic and demographic center. The southwestern shore of Lake Nicaragua lies within 15 miles (24 km) of the Pacific Ocean. Thus the lake and the San Juan Riv
er were often proposed in the 19th century as the longest part of a canal route across the Central American isthmus. Canal proposals were periodically revived in the 20th and 21st centuries. Roughly a century after the opening of the Panama Canal, the prospect of a Nicaraguan ecocanal remains a topic of interest.
In addition to its beach and resort communities, the Pacific Lowlands contains most of Nicaragua’s Spanish colonial architecture and artifacts. Cities such as León and Granada abound in colonial architecture; founded in 1524, Granada is the oldest colonial city in the Americas.
 North-Central Highlands
The Central Highlands are a significantly less populated and economically developed area located in the north but narrow southeastward between Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean. Forming the country’s tierra templada, or “temperate land”, at elevations between 2,000 and 5,000 feet (610 and 1,524 m), the highlands enjoy mild temperatures with daily highs of
75 to 80 °F (23.9 to 26.7 °C). This region has a longer, wetter rainy season than the Pacific Lowlands, making erosion a problem on its steep slopes. Rugged terrain, poor soils, and low population density characterize the area as a whole, but the northwestern valleys are fertile and well settled.
The area has a cooler climate than the Pacific Lowlands. About a quarter of the country’s agriculture takes place in this region, with coffee grown on the higher slopes. Oaks, pines, moss, ferns and orchids are abundant in the cloud forests of the region.
 Caribbean Lowlands
This large rainforest region is irrigated by several large rivers and is sparsely populated. The area has 57% of the territory of the nation and most of its mineral resources. It has been heavily exploited, but much natural diversity remains. The Rio Coco is the largest river in Central America; it forms the border with Honduras. The Caribbean coastline is much more sinuous than its generally straight Pacific counterpart; lagoons and deltas make it very irregular.
Nicaragua’s Bosawás Biosphere Reserve is located in the Atlantic lowlands; it protects 1,800,000 acres (728,434 ha) of La Mosquitia forest – almost seven percent of the country’s area – making it the largest rainforest north of the Amazon in Brazil.
Nicaragua’s tropical east coast is very different from the rest of the country. The climate is predominantly tropical, with high temperature and high humidity. Around the area’s principal city of Bluefields, English is widely spoken along with the official Spanish. The population more closely resembles that found in many typical Caribbean ports than the rest of Nicaragua.
A great variety of birds can be observed including eagles, turkeys, toucans, parakeets and macaws. Animal life in the area includes different species of monkeys, anteaters, white-tailed deer and tapirs.