Bluefields is the largest and most important of the three municipalities on the Atlantic Coast and is located 380 kms east of Managua, in the Region Autonoma del Atlantic Sur (RAAS) and on the western shore of behind the bluffs at the mouth of the Rio Escondido on Bluefields Lagoon. It is the administrative capital of the RAAS and has the principal offices of the Regional Government and the Regional Council. It also has two universities, BICU and URACCAN, and the principal NGO's within its municipal boundaries. It has a population of between 30,000 and 43,000, depending on which survey you look at and an additional 6,000 to 14,000 living in the surrounding communities. In 1992 the population urbanization has increased with the migration from the rural to the city. There has been an annual population increase of about 2,000+ new people each year for the past eight years. This has created a serious problem with adequate and safe water and sanitation. This problem is compounded every year with the migration of people from the rural areas and from the pacific.
The population of Bluefields is multiethnic, multi-language and multicultural. Mestizos make up about 57% of the total population with Creoles making up 36% and Miskitos, Garifunas, and Ramas making up the remaining 7%. Spanish is the official language but English and Miskito are used in everyday conversations.
The municipality of Bluefields is composed of 19 barrios and 58 surrounding rural communities. The distribution of RAAS is 82% of the inhabitants live in the municipality of Bluefields and the other 18% are living in the surrounding communities. The population density for this area is 8 habitants/km2. A survey taken in 1996 recorded 19,976 persons over the age of 16 and 17,955 under the age of 16. These figures are consistent with the general composition of the population of Nicaragua.
The climate for this region is tropical with the average temperature annually at 26║C and a maximum temperature of 32║C. The average rainfall in the RAAS is between 160 and 180 inches of rain annually. The rainy season begins in May and lasts through December with the dry season in March, April, and May but even then there is a good chance of rain. Normally it is very humid because the elevation of Bluefields is 20 feet above sea level and is located at 12║ north latitude, which is just over 750 miles north of the equator.
Transportation creates no problem in Bluefields but you have to remember that Bluefields is a land locked island. The primary forms of public transportation are buses, mini-buses, and taxis. There are adequate taxis and buses running every day. The cost is 2 cordobas for the bus and mini-bus and 5 cordobas for the taxis before 10 pm and then it changes to 10 cordobas. Buses run from 6 am until 8 pm and the taxis run as long as there are customers. The primary form of transportation outside of Bluefields is by panga. Due to the high cost of gasoline this form of transportation is very expensive. Rides to El Bluff cost 15 cordobas each way and rides to Pearl Lagoon cost 60 cordobas one way. There is only one land route to Bluefields from Managua. This is by truck or bus and terminates or starts at El Rama. To get to or from El Rama to Bluefields one must take a ponga and the cost is 100 cordobas one way. There are four or five daily flights by La Costena to and from Managua with the cost of 759 cordobas for a round-trip ticket. The airfield is 3 km south of the main business district. Although there is no problem with transportation within the limits of Bluefields there is a serious problem connecting Bluefields with the rest of Nicaragua and other places. Aquatic transportation is not sufficient to meet all the demands of Bluefields and is very expensive. Products cost upwards of 40% to 50% more in Bluefields than in Managua because of the increased cost of transportation. Bluefields is not self-sufficient and must depend on outside sources for most of its essential daily supplies.
The predominately economic activities in this region are from fishing and the exploitation of wood but the central economic activities in Bluefields proper are in the service and commercial sectors. Large portions of these businesses are in the informal sector. There is very little industrialization in the region. This is an example of urbanization without industrialization. There are several small businesses in the industrial sector but these employ only a limited number of people. Unemployment and underemployment are serious problems in this region and on the whole are above the statistics for the rest of the country. Although fishing takes place on both coasts of Nicaragua, its potential is greater on the Caribbean. The interaction between the rivers, bays, and lagoons represents an excellent source of food and safe refuge where different marine species can evade the high salinity of the ocean and the depredation of species other species during the first stages of their life cycle. Several areas off the coast are considered some of the best zones for shrimp, which is one of the largest exported products. Industrial fishing on the Caribbean coast began in the late 1950s and was marked with intense fishing for both shrimp and lobster. Seafood is one of the most important exports and the Caribbean Coast accounts for 89% of the gross income obtained nationally from fishing. More than 80% of the Coast people are employed in this sector. Many of the residents of Bluefields are connected either directly or indirectly with this particular sector, through the service or commercial sectors.
Food and Lodging
There are a number of hotels and restaurants located in Bluefields. They are rated by local standards from first class to low class. The first class hotels are South Atlantic I and II and Tia Irene. The only middle class hotel is Mini Hotel. The low class hotels are Hollywood, Dorado, Costa Sur, Mardra Maus, Pearl Lagoon and Lobster Pot. The first class hotels charge in the neighborhood of $25 US for a single with increased charges for more people. Tia Irene has one room with the capacity for ten people. All of the first class hotels have air conditioning and televisions in each room. Several of the other hotels have televisions in the rooms. The Mini Hotel charges from 60 cordobas to 150 cordobas. The lower class hotel charges between 40 cordobas to 70 cordobas. All are located in the Barrio Central except for Tia Irene, which is in Barrio Ponteen. All of the first class hotels have restaurants and bars attached to the hotel. Ratings for the restaurants are classed the same way. The first class restaurants are Chez Marcel, Salamar, El Flotante, Arco Iris, and Tia Irene. Medium restaurants are Bella Vista, South Atlantic I and II, Hollywood, Pescado Frito, Cima Club, Barbie's and Mini Cafetin. Low classed restaurants are China Nica, Squirus, Aeropuerto, Galzxy, and Incognito. Besides these restaurants there are numerous fritongas that provide very good meals for around 20 cordobas. None of the clubs provide live entertainment but all have stereo systems that provide music in the middle class or lower restaurants it is very loud and hard to talk over. There are several nightclubs or rancheros located in Bluefields. They provide a variety of different music. The Eclipse, Caimieto, and Four Brothers all have Reggae and Costean music and Bachaus is primarily salsa and merengue. Of all the nightclubs, Four Brothers is the best and most popular with the Creole population and Bachaus for the younger and Mestizo crowd. They are open from Thursday through Sunday, from 9 pm until 2 am.
The municipality of Bluefields is the largest and the oldest city on the Atlantic Coast. The orgin of the city is placed around 1602 and is said to be named after a Dutch pirate by the name of Abraham Blaauveld, who is reported to have used this area as a base of operation. Other versions that are equally accepted, but less glamorous, are that this area was called "Campos Azules". This translates from Spanish to English as Bluefields. So it is up to you to pick which origin you like but the name will remain the same. The British fist occupied this area in 1633. Occupied is a better term than settled because unlike the Spanish the British did not colonize the area but used it as a base of operations for their ships. In 1730, the British did establish a colony in this area with direct dependence with the government in Jamaica. In this way the British established and commanded a zone of influence, in conjunction with the Miskitos as governing authority, form Honduras to Panama. In 1740, the English established the Miskito Territory and in 1744 transferred authority from Jamaica to the Atlantic Coast and established Bluefields as the capital of Miskitolandia. In 1847 the first Moravan missionary arrived in Bluefields and two years later in 1849 established the first Moravian church. It was not until 1894, under the authority of General Santos Zelaya, that the Atlantic Coast came under direct authority of the government of Managua. The Atlantic Coast has a very interesting and active history and one should read up on the history before visiting this area to really understand what happened in the past and why those events are still having effect on the events today.
Things to Do
One of the biggest social attractions in Bluefields is the month long festival in May called "Palo de Mayo". This takes place all month but the high point of the festival is in the third week of May. It is a combination of Creole and English customs with local music, dancing, and general merry making. In past years it had not been celebrated very much but new interest in the traditional music and dancing has revived this tradition and it is well worth the time to visit and participate in this festival. Another festival that got its start in the early 1920s is the festival of San Jeronimo. The lagoon is not a good place for swimming because it is an alluvial bay that is fed by the one major river and several smaller streams. It is muddy all of the time but it is a good place for the fish to breed. If you would like to swim you need to take a panga to El Bluff and walk to one of the beaches on the Caribbean. Other points of interest around Bluefields are trips to Pearl Lagoon and Pearl Cays. Boats leave every morning for Laguna de Perlas, which is about one hour north of Bluefields and additional trips can be planned to the many indigenous villages on Pearl Lagoon. The trip up to Pearl Lagoon is worth the trip alone. You travel across the bay and then follow the river up to the next lagoon. The jungle closes in on you several places and you also get to see as many of the local homes that are next to the river as well as people traveling on the river. When staying at Pearl Lagoon the best places to eat and stay, and the only place to stay is Miss Ingrid's. There are two places to eat now. Miss. Ingrid's and Del's, both are excellent places with the price running between C$20 and C$70 for a meal. There are daily flights to Corn Island and the big boats run once a week, to on Wednesday and return on Sundays. The cost for the big boat is C$50 each way. The boat trip takes between 4 and 7 hours depending on the condition of the engines and many times it is very crowded with people and cargo but all in all it is fine. Corn Island and Little Corn Island are beautiful Caribbean islands and have great swimming and snorkeling. English is spoken on the islands but for the first time visitor it can be hard to understand but just repeat yourself and ask them to speak slowly and you will have no problem being understood or understanding what they are saying. The biggest festival on the islands is Crab Soup Day, which is in August, and celebrate the freeing of the slaves by the British in 1841.
There are numerous churches in Bluefields but the two most prominent churches are the Moravian and Roman Catholic. These two denominations make up the largest percentage of church members and they are also used in giving direction on how to get to most places in Bluefields. There is also a very active Evangelical movement in Bluefields, which are represented by the Mormans, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventist, and other lesser movements. The Moravian Church just celebrated its 150th anniversary this year (1999). Basic services are provided by ENEL (power), ENITEL (telephone), BANIC-Banco Popular, Calley Dagnell (banking), Bomberos (fire protection), Policia Nacional (police), Cruz Roja (red cross/ambulance), Oficina de Correos (post office), Central de Salud (hospital), and Ministerio de Gobernacion (general governement business- across from the park), Most of these are located in the central business sector with only the hospital (San Pedro) and Cruz Rojo (Fatima) located outside of this area. If you are in need of supplies for your kitchen, you can find both in several stores in Barrio Central. Bendana and Hermanos Chow are both located across from each other, one block east of the Moravian Church and one block south (or rather away from the lagoon) are two locations that sell TVs, radios, and other electronic items for your home. The best electric warehouse is located in San Mateo but is often crowded and the selections go very fast but have the best prices in town. Bendana is the best hardware store and the owners are very helpful and speak English. The best contact for information about the local NGOs would be ADEPHCA and the person to talk with is Sidney Francis who is the president of the ComitÚ de ONA. Adephca is located two doors down (towards the bay) from the Post Office (which is located in Barrio Central).
I find that this, for the most part, is a very safe area but one should always use common sense when walking at night. I have traveled all over, very late at night and have had no problems with anyone. The people are very helpful and will go to extremes to be helpful. Housing and food are expensive with the average home renting in the neighborhood of $100 US monthly. Meals and basic food items tend to be more expensive than on the Pacific. The Atlantic Coast is an exciting and wonderful place to visit and live and found my time here very enjoyable.
Patrick M. Ramsey