Departments of Nicaragua

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Blogger Wilder Wilson (source [7]) posted this information (my translation from his Spanish): " Without a doubt, the territory of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaraga is the area that has used the most names in the course of its history: Veragua or Cariari, Tagusgalpa, Costa de los Misquitos (Mosquito Coast), Department of Zelaya, Special zones I and II, to wind up in 1987 with the Autonomous Regions. We have always had a coast, whether it be Atlantico or Caribbean, a theme that brings us to the present day with the recent constitutional reform of 2014, in which the legislators incorporate the decision of the International Court of Justice which as it pertains to us the Caribbean Sea is restored to Nicaragua by the aforesaid decision, and in the political constitution of Nicaragua. Law No. 854, amendment to the political constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua. published in the official daily gazette, number 26, 2014-02-12: Every reference to "Costa Atlántica" in the onstitution or in legislation, should read "Costa Caribe."

Nicaragua abandoned DST after a two-year trial in 2005-06.

Sorin Cosoveanu pointed out to me the results of the 2005 census.

"Administrative Subdivisions of Countries" shows Nicaragua divided into sixteen departments. As a sidelight, it mentions that there is an alternative division into six regions and three special zones. Each of the regions and special zones consists of one or more departments, except that Zelaya department is split into two special zones: Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte, and Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur. The FIPS and ISO standards have now begun to treat these special zones as department-level divisions.

Erratum: Population data in the book are 1990 estimates, not a 1991 census.

ISO 3166-2 Newsletter Number I-2 was published on 2002-05-21. For Nicaragua, it replaces Zelaya department with two autonomous regions named Atlántico Norte and Atlántico Sur.

Country overview: 

ISO codeNI
LanguageSpanish (es)
Time zone-6


Nicaragua has been independent for the whole 20th century.

Other names of country: 

  1. Danish: Nicaragua
  2. Dutch: Nicaragua, Republiek Nicaragua (formal)
  3. English: Republic of Nicaragua (formal)
  4. Finnish: Nicaragua
  5. French: Nicaragua m
  6. German: Nicaragua n
  7. Icelandic: Nikaragúa
  8. Italian: Nicaragua m
  9. Norwegian: Nicaragua, Republikken Nicaragua (formal)
  10. Portuguese: Nicarágua, República f da Nicarágua f (formal)
  11. Russian: Республика Никарагуа (formal)
  12. Spanish: Nicaragua, República f de Nicaragua f (formal)
  13. Swedish: Nicaragua
  14. Turkish: Nikaragua Cumhuriyeti (formal)

Origin of name: 

Named for Nicarao, chief of the tribe of Nicaraos

Primary subdivisions: 

Nicaragua is divided into fifteen departamentos (departments) and two regiones autónomas (sing. región autónoma: autonomous regions).

Nueva SegoviaNI.NSNU13208,5233,4911,348COcotal
Región Autónoma del Caribe NorteNI.ANNU17314,13032,82012,672ABilwi
Región Autónoma del Caribe SurNI.ASNU18306,51027,54610,636ABluefields
Río San JuanNI.SJNU1495,5967,5402,911ASan Carlos
17 divisions5,142,098130,37350,337
  • Department: except RACN and RACS, which are autonomous regions.
  • HASC: Hierarchical administrative subdivision codes. If periods are replaced by
    hyphens, these are the same as the department codes from
    ISO/DIS 3166-2.
  • FIPS: Codes from FIPS PUB 10-4.
  • Population: 2005-05-28 census (source [5]).
  • Area: Column totals include lakes.
  • Zone: Nicaragua is unofficially divided into three zones: Atlantic (A), Central (C), and Pacific (P).

Postal codes: 

Correos de Nicaragua , Nicaragua's postal service, says that the country has a set of five-digit postal codes, in which the first digit represents the department, the next two digits represent the municipality, and the last two represent the district. I'm not sure how that works out when there are seventeen departments. The postal service site doesn't have any facility for looking up specific postal codes yet.

Further subdivisions:

See the Municipalities of Nicaragua page.

The departments are subdivided into municipios (municipalities). Since 1982-07-26, there has also been a subdivision into six regions and three special zones. However, the departments are still the divisions most often referenced. The regions are:

Región IEstelíEstelí, Madriz, Nueva Segovia
Región IILeónChinandega, León
Región IIIManaguaManagua
Región IVJinotepeCarazo, Granada, Masaya, Rivas
Región VJuigalpaBoaco, Chontales
Región VIMatagalpaJinotega, Matagalpa
Región Autónoma del Caribe NorteRositaZelaya (part)
Región Autónoma del Caribe SurBluefieldsZelaya (part)
Zona Especial IIISan CarlosRío San Juan


The parts of Zelaya are also known by their acronyms, RAAN and RAAS; or as Zelaya Norte and Zelaya Sul. In the latest FIPS list, they have separate codes of NU17 and NU18, respectively, superseding Zelaya.

Territorial extent: 

  1. Granada includes Zapatera Island in Lake Nicaragua.
  2. Río San Juan includes the Solentiname Archipelago in Lake Nicaragua.
  3. Rivas includes Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua.
  4. Zelaya includes Nicaragua's Caribbean islands: the Corn Islands (Isla Grande del Maíz and Isla Pequeña del Maíz), the Cayos Miskitos, and some islets.

The UN LOCODE page  for Nicaragua lists locations in the country, some of them with their latitudes and longitudes, some with their ISO 3166-2 codes for their subdivisions. This information can be put together to approximate the territorial extent of subdivisions.

Origins of names: 

  1. Granada, León, and Segovia were named for cities in Spain.
  2. Gracias a Dios: Spanish for thanks to God, name bestowed on the cape by Columbus in 1502 after finding refuge from a storm in its lee
  3. Managua: possibly from ethnic name
  4. Nueva Segovia: Spanish nueva: new, named when the department was split from Segovia
  5. Zelaya: after general and president José Santos Zelaya

Change history: 

  1. 1900: Nicaragua consisted of the departments of Chinandega, Chontales, Granada, Leon, Managua, Masaya, Matagalpa, Segovia, Rivas, and Zelaya (also known as Mosquito Reservation).
  2. ~1902: Districts of Cabo Gracias a Dios, Prinzapolka, Rio Grande, and Siquia formed from the eastern parts of Chontales, Matagalpa, and Segovia; Estelí and Jinotega also split from Segovia; Carazo split from Granada.
  3. ~1915: District of San Juan del Norte split from Chontales.
  4. ~1938: Status of Cabo Gracias a Dios changed from district to comarca; Boaco split from Chontales; Segovia split into Madriz and Nueva Segovia; Zelaya merged with the four districts.
  5. ~1957: Río San Juan formed from parts of Chontales and Zelaya.
  6. ~1977: Cabo Gracias a Dios merged with Zelaya.
  7. 1982-07-26: Six regions and three special zones formed as a higher-level subdivision of Nicaragua.
  8. ~1988-01-01: Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte and Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur established.
  9. ~1994: Name of capital of Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte changed from Puerto Cabezas to Bilwi. The municipio is still named Puerto Cabezas, and the capital is frequently called by its old name.
  10. ~1998: Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte and Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur considered to be on the same level with the departments. Before this time, they were together known as Zelaya department (HASC NI.ZE, FIPS NU16, capital Bluefields).
  11. 2005-02-01: A small part of R.A.A.S. transferred to R.A.A.N. in order to form Mulukukú municipio.
  12. 2014-02-10: Names of the autonomous regions changed, replacing Atlántico with Caribe.

Population history:

Cabo Gracias a Dios17,323
Nueva Segovia27,85627,07846,00065,719148,492208,523
Río San Juan9,08916,00021,15970,14395,596


Notes: In 1940, population of Zelaya includes Cabo Gracias a Dios and San Juan del Norte. 1963 data rounded to nearest 1,000.


  1. [1] Encyclopædia Britannica World Atlas, 1951 edition (1940 census data)
  2. [2] Encyclopædia Britannica World Atlas, 1957 edition (1950 census data)
  3. [3] Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th edition, Chicago, 1984 (1963 census data)
  4. [4] Data from the legend of a Nicaragua map, acquired in 1974 from a Nicaraguan bank (1971 census data)
  5. [5] VIII Censo de Población y IV de Vivienda : Población: Municipios, Volumen IV. Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos, 2005. Retrieved 2009-02-09. The 1995 data were retrieved about 2004-12-01 from the same site.
  6. [6] Library of Congress country study  (retrieved 1999).
  7. [7] " El caribe y la reforma constitucional del 2014 " (dated 2015-03-25, retrieved 2016-05-06).
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