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Nicaragua is off the beaten path for the typical traveler, and yet contains some of the world's most captivating scenery. Home to the second largest rainforest in the Americas, and the largest freshwater volcanic island in the world, Nicaragua's land mass holds 7 percent of the earth's biodiversity. After years of unrest, Nicaragua is emerging as the new Costa Rica, at a fraction of the expense.

Nicaragua's capital city is Managua, which is the second-largest city in Central America (after Guatemala City). It is home to 25 percent of the country's population.

The origin of the name "Nicaragua" is uncertain. Some say it's a term from the Aztec Nahuatl language, referring to the Isthmus of Rivas. Others say it means "sweet sea" in a different indigenous language. The term might also have been devised by Spanish conquistadors, who combined the name Nicarao – chief of an indigenous tribe – and agua, the Spanish word for water.

Nicaragua is the heart of Central America's volcanic region. There are forty volcanoes in Nicaragua, a number of which are still active. Although the country's history of volcanic activity has resulted in lush vegetation and high-quality soil for agriculture, volcanoes and earthquakes have caused severe damage to areas of the country in the past, including Managua.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. It's approximately the same size as the U.S. state of Alabama.

Christopher Columbus explored the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua during his fourth and final voyage to the Americas.

Nicaragua boasts the two largest lakes in Central America: Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua (which is the second-largest lake in the Americans, after Peru's Lake Titcaca).

Tourism is still relatively new to Nicaragua. But over the last seven years, Nicaragua has seen a 70 percent increase in tourism – which now represents the country's second-largest industry.

Lake Nicaragua is home to the Lake Nicaragua shark - the world's only freshwater shark – which mystified scientists for decades. Originally thought to be an endemic species, in the 1960s scientists realized Lake Nicaragua sharks were bull sharks who leaped San Juan River rapids inland from the Caribbean Sea.

The southwest shore of Lake Nicaragua lies just 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean at its shortest point. In the early 1900s, plans were made to create the Nicaragua Canal through the Isthmus of Rivas, therefore linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean through the canal, lake and the San Juan River. Instead, the Panama Canal was built. However, plans to create the Nicaragua Canal are discussed to this day to help grow the economy.

Ometepe, an island formed by twin volcanoes in Lake Nicaragua, is the largest volcanic island in a freshwater lake in the world.

Poverty is a huge problem in Nicaragua. In fact, Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti. According to the Human Development Index, Nicaragua's per-capita income is approximately $2,430, and forty-eight percent of the country's population lives below the poverty line.

Nicaragua is the first country in the Americas to adopt polymer banknotes for its currency (the Nicaraguan cordoba).

Nicaragua's large colonial cities of León (the "León liberals") and Granada (the "Granada conservatives") have a rivalry dating back to the 1500s. The prominence of Managua has diffused it somewhat, but some tensions still remain.

The waves of San Juan del Sur have been ranked as some of the best for surfing in the world.

In the mid-1800s, an American named William Walker took over Nicaragua and declared himself president. His rule only lasted one year, after which he was defeated by a coalition of Central American armies and executed by the Honduran government. He did plenty of damage, however; many colonial relics in Granada still bear scorch marks from his retreat, when his troops set the city ablaze.

Although soccer (fútbol locally) is the most popular sport in Latin America, Nicaraguans are crazy about baseball. There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nicaragua: the León Cathedral, which is the largest cathedral in Central America; and the ruins of León Viejo, built in 1524 and abandoned in 1610 in fears of the nearby volcano Momotombo erupting.

Bluefields – a village on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast – was named by a Dutch pirate, who hid offshore in the early 17th century.