Nicaraguan culture has strong folkloric, musical and religious traditions that are strongly influenced by European culture, but also include indigenous sounds and flavours. Nicaraguan culture can also be defined into several distinct strands. The Pacific coast has strong folklore, music and religious traditions that were heavily influenced by Europeans. The country was colonised by Spain and its culture is similar to that of other Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. The indigenous groups that historically inhabited the Pacific coast have been largely assimilated into the mestizo culture.
The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was once a British protectorate. English is still predominant in this region and is spoken in the country along with Spanish and indigenous languages. Its culture is similar to that of Caribbean nations that were or are British possessions, such as Jamaica, Belize, the Cayman Islands, etc. Unlike the West Coast, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean coast have retained their own identity and some still speak their mother tongue as their first language.
The music of Nicaragua is a mixture of indigenous and Spanish influences. Musical instruments include the marimba and other instruments that are common throughout Central America. The Nicaraguan marimba is played by a seated player who holds the instrument in his lap. It is usually accompanied by a bass violin, a guitar and a guitarrilla (a small guitar similar to a mandolin). This music is played at social occasions as a kind of background music.
The marimba consists of hardwood plates mounted on bamboo or metal tubes of different lengths. It is played with two or four hammers. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is known for a lively and sensual form of dance music called Palo de Mayo, which is popular throughout the country. It is particularly loud and celebrated during the Palo de Mayo festival in May. The Garifuna (Afro-Indian) community is known for its popular music called Punta.
Nicaragua benefits from a variety of international influences in the field of music. Bachata, merengue, salsa and cumbia have gained prominence in cultural centres such as Managua, Leon and Granada. Cumbia dancing became popular on Ometepe Island and in Managua with the introduction of Nicaraguan artists, including Gustavo Leyton. Salsa became extremely popular in the nightclubs of Managua. Through various influences, the form of salsa dance varies in Nicaragua. Elements of New York style and Cuban salsa (Salsa Casino) have gained popularity in this country.
Dancing in Nicaragua varies depending on the region. In rural areas, hip movements and turns are more emphasised. In the cities, the dance style focuses on more sophisticated footwork in addition to movements and turns. Combinations of Dominican and American styles can be found throughout Nicaragua. Bachata dancing is very popular in Nicaragua. A considerable amount of bachata’s influence comes from Nicaraguans living abroad, in cities such as Miami, Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, New York City. Recently, tango has also been appearing in cultural cities and among social dances.
Nicaraguan cuisine is a mixture of Spanish food and dishes of pre-Columbian origin. The traditional cuisine changes from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean coast. On the Pacific coast, local fruits and corn are the staple, while Caribbean coast cuisine focuses on seafood and coconut.
As in many other Latin American countries, maize is a staple food and is used in many popular dishes, such as Nacatamal and Indio Viejo. Maize is also an ingredient in drinks such as pinolillo and chicha, as well as in sweets and desserts. Besides maize, rice and beans are also eaten very frequently.
Gallo pinto, the national dish of Nicaragua, consists of white rice and red beans that are cooked separately and then fried together. There are several variations of this dish, including the addition of coconut milk and/or shredded coconut on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans start their day with gallopinto. Gallopinto is usually served with carne asada, salad, fried cheese, plantains or maduros.
Many Nicaraguan dishes contain local fruits and vegetables such as jocote, mango, papaya, tamarind, pipian, banana, avocado, yuca and herbs such as cilantro, oregano and achiote.
Nicaraguans are also known to eat guinea pigs, tapirs, iguanas, turtle eggs, armadillos and boas, but efforts are being made to curb this trend.