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Top Nicaragua

Puerto Cabezas

Urban population: 30,000. Tel code 279. Altitude 8m



Puerto Cabezas is a sweltering backwater on the Caribbean coast, and political and economic capital of the RAAN, the North Atlantic Autonomous Region. Because it is relatively isolated and has almost no tourist attractions, it is possible you will be the only foreigner in town (bar a few missionaries), which means that you will attract attention, most of it from men catcalling and whistling – if you are a female.


Still, it is the only base from which to explore life in the coastal communities, or, for the extremely adventurous, the Miskito Keys Reserve. The area was originally inhabited by Miskito and Mayangna people, who called it bilwi – snake under a leaf. The place was then briefly called Bragmann’s Bluff, after an English pirate who is said to have landed here some centuries before, and the name was appropriated by the foreign lumber company that operated in the early 20th century. But only in 1929 was the city proper officially founded and named Puerto Cabezas, after the general who brought the English-dominated region under full control of the Nicaraguan government.


However, strictly speaking, Bilwi is the name of the city and Puerto Cabezas that of the department, though locals refer to the town with either name. Puerto Cabezas did a brisk trade in lumber culled from the forests of the hinterland through the first decades of the 20th century, but the revolutionary turmoils of the 1930s and the 1941 hurricane sent it into a relative decline. The port was still of strategic importance, though, as the invasion of the Bay of Pigs was prepared from Puerto and later, it served as an arrival point for military aid to the Sandinists from Cuba and the USSR.


Nowadays, like many points on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, it is used as transit point for cocaine traffickers – look after yourself. But most puerteños make a living from small-scale fishing (including lobster), and from agriculture – fruit, tubers and wood. Tourism is by no means an income here, yet there is some infrastructure for those who make it here: a couple of decent hotels and a handful of budget accommodations, a few restaurants and some basic services.


Other places nearby Puerto Cabezas: Corn Island, Waspám and Río Coco, Bluefields, Kakabila, Laguna de Perlas and El Rama.

By Andrea Davoust
After more than two years of working and living out of a suitcase in Eastern Europe and in various improbable African countries that no-one has ever...
08 Dec 2009

Things to do in Puerto Cabezas

Casa Museo Judith Kain

The former home of Naïve painter Judith Kain Cunningham is a bright and spacious house. It showcases her colorful paintings, which depict Miskito life, some slightly grotesque puppets showing local ...
Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua
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