Exploring Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS)
The Autonomous Region of the South Caribbean Coast (RACCS) is located on the shore of the Caribbean Sea. The region is rich in natural and cultural beauty. Made up of rivers, islands and beautiful turquoise waters the area is a popular tourist attraction. The local population is multicultural and multilingual, including descendants of indigenous peoples, Afro-Caribbeans (81%), Creoles (8.5%), Miskitus (6.5%), Ulwas (2%), Garifunas (1.5%) and Ramas ( 0.5%), according to Mapa Nacional de Turismo, Nicaragua.
History & Autonomy
The differences between the Caribbean Coast and the rest of the country have their origins in colonial times, where the Pacific and central regions of the country were colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, while the Caribbean region was colonized by the English in the seventeenth century. Both crowns had different ways of administering their power, which was transmitted to the population, states Margarita C. Pou González in ‘The Status of Regional Autonomy in the Caribbean Coast of the Republic from Nicaragua.’
In 1860, the Treaty of Managua put an end to the presence of the English in the country. With the signing of this treaty, the Caribbean Coast was recognized as part of the Nicaraguan territory and the the region came to be considered a Mosquito Reserve. After many years of struggle, the peoples of the Caribbean, Atlantic coast achieved their autonomy from the central government of the country in 1987.
The Law of Autonomy empowered the peoples of the Caribbean Coast to make decisions based on needs of their cultures, explains González. In December 1984, the process of autonomy for the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast was formally initiated. To carry out this process, an Autonomy Commission was formed which recognized the profound differences between the Caribbean Coast and the rest of the country.
Names with Histories
Some of the area’s municipalities reflect British influence in their names: Bluefields, Corn Island, Pearl Lagoon, Monkey Point, Sandy Bay; and some neighborhoods like, Pointeen, Beholden, Old Bank. RACCS includes the municipalities of Bluefields, Río Grande Mouth, El Ayote, El Rama, Corn Island, Kukra Hill, El Tortuguero, La Cruz de Río Grande, Laguna de Perlas, Muelle de los Bueyes, New Guinea and Paiwas.
The South Caribbean jungles experience more rain than the Northern Caribbean, but the temperature is warm all year round. The coastline is also characterized by two extensive lagoons: Perlas and Bluefields, connected to each other by branches and secondary channels. To the south is the Monkey Point Peninsula, a coastal region with rocky cliffs leading to sandy beaches where the Punta Gorda and Maíz rivers flow.
According to Mapa Nicaragua, the trip along the Caribbean Coast used to take 10 hours; in 2019, with the construction of the highway that connects the Pacific throughout the region, that time has been reduced to seven hours. For travelers who enjoy the drive, the journey is an adventure packed with magnificent scenic views and quaint communities.
South Caribbean Places of Interest
Bluefields is a tourist site and cultural city, 360 kilometers from the capital Managua. It is considered as a gateway to other destinations on the Caribbean coast. Visitors can enjoy a variety of coconut-based cuisine and a cultural diversity influenced by the different ethnic groups that make up this community. In the month of May travelers can enjoy the traditional festivities of Mayo Ya.
Casa Museo de los Afrodescendientes
The museum is built in cured pine wood and has become part of the architectural and cultural heritage of the city of Bluefields. The cultural house is home to relics of the region’s histories. It is open to the general public from Monday to Friday.
The Caribbean Coast Research and Documentation Center is recognized as a space that promotes, preserves and highlights cultural and historical research on the Nicaraguan Caribbean Region in the city. Among historical objects, the center collects archaeological pieces of the community’s original peoples.
Iglesia Morava Central
The Moravian Church was founded in 1849 by Moravian missionaries from Germany and is one of the oldest churches in this area; the Moravian Church split from the Catholic Church in 1457 when they decided to ordain their own pastors. Moravian missionaries served as teachers and doctors, built churches, schools, hospitals, and health centers. The architecture is part of the culture and symbol of the Caribbean Coast.
Laguna de Perlas
About 40 km north of the city of Bluefields, is Laguna de Perlas. Its surrounding cities and basins are home to Afro-descendant Creole, Garífuna and Miskito indigenous peoples, all of whom inhabit the adjacent communities of Halouver, Khakabila, Brown Bank, La Fe, San Vicente, Orinoco (heart of the Garífuna culture), Marshal Point, Set Net Point and Tasbapounie, one of the towns with the greatest presence of Afro-descendants in Nicaragua.
Among the most important attractions of this municipality are the pearl cays formed by small islands surrounded by crystal clear waters and coral reefs.
These are a small formation of islands that are about 45 minutes by boat from Laguna de Perlas. Characterized by turquoise water, white sand, coconut palms and coral reefs, the cayos are a sanctuary for different aquatic species such as tropical fish, lobsters and turtles. Popular activities include diving, snorkeling, fishing, enjoying the sun and exploring the nearby keys. Sunshine, turquoise blue beaches and a private tropical flair are enjoyed in the Pearl Cays. This group of keys is located in the Caribbean Sea, approximately 35 km from the community of Laguna de Perlas. Private pangas (boats) offer transportation from Laguna de Perlas to the keys.
If you like the sun, sand and sea, another of the unique experiences is to make the 15-minute journey by speedboat (pangas), from the Bay of Bluefields until you reach Bluff Beach. Along the way, you can observe birds, islets and sailing boats. Bluff Beach has wide sands, lodgings, dining rooms, and a lighthouse overlooking the port.
Corn Island is one of the tourist wonders of Nicaragua. The island is known for its white sand beaches, turquoise water, warm weather and extensive spaces covered with coconut palms. Due to its great natural beauty and places of interest, the municipality was declared a National Tourist Heritage.
Visitors enjoy swimming, diving, snorkeling and taking photos of the local marine fauna. Diving experts are available for hire. If you want to travel to Corn Island you can travel by road leaving Managua from the Costa Atlántica terminal of the Mayoreo market, taking a bus that costs C$ 320 to the city of Bluefields, then you can take the boat that leaves on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 9:00 am, the cost of the ticket is C$ 250 one way.
The local population uses coconut as the basis of their diet. For the preparation of the dishes, coconut oil and coconut milk are commonly used. Gallo pinto, rundown, and coconut bread are staples of their daily diet. The most typical dishes among the inhabitants of this municipality are rundown and crab soup.
These are the characteristic empanadas from the Nicaraguan South Caribbean; diners savor it at any time of the day. This meal is made of flour, ground beef, goat chili, pepper, onion, chiltoma, salt to taste and achiote.
To learn more visit: Mapa Nacional de Turismo, Nicaragua.
Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is committed to improving the diversity and professional development of storytellers in the media industry as representation matters and affects the stories we tell. Latina Republic makes space for and empowers unheard voices and trains the next generation of leaders in the U.S.