Chinandega is a town and the departmental seat of Chinandega department in Nicaragua. It is also the administrative centre of the surrounding municipality of the same name. The city has a population of 121,793 inhabitants (2006) with 151,000 in the municipality. It is located about 80 miles (134 km) northwest of Managua and about 43 miles (72 km) southwest of El Guausaule, on the border with Honduras.
The region around Chinandega produces mostly agricultural products, particularly oils, flour, peanuts, shrimp, sugarcane, with sugar mills in Chichigalpa and El Viejo, and the production of liquors with an international reputation.
The weather is humid and hot because of the tropical climate. Chinandega is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean.
The department has numerous beaches, historic towns, mangroves, and ancient churches; the volcano of San Cristóbal, the highest in Nicaragua, can be found here, as well as the volcanoes of El Chonco and Casitas.
Chinandega is also a center of agriculture, and it grows sugarcane, bananas, peanuts, sesame seeds, and cashews. It is also a shrimping center, and manufactures salt. The connection with the ports of Corinto and León is very important to the economy.
Natives of the department incluye Salomón Ibarra Mayorga, writer of the national anthem of Nicaragua; Tino López Guerra, the bullfighter; the priest Tomás Ruiz; and athletes like Vicente Padilla and Próspero González.
It was a small city during the colonial era, but its location amongst fertile and flat lands, and its position as a commercial center, improved its status little by little over the course of a few years. The Spanish chronicler Friar Antonio Vázquez Espinoza in his compendium and description of the West Indies describes his visit to Chinandega in 1613 thusly: “The town of Chinandega is comprised of many Indians, plentiful corn, and all of the fruits of the earth, and appears to be a piece of paradise.”
Officially a settlement (poblado) from 1796, and well-planned roads were built at Chinandega, after the design of the engineer Antonio Rojas. On March 30, 1835, a law was instituted that mandated the established a fair that would fall on December 8 of every year.
On March 15, 1836, during the government of José Núñez, it received the title of town (villa), and on September 2, 1839, it received the title of city.
In 1842, it was named capital of the the short-lived Federal Republic of Central America, and in 1858, it became the center of a new administrative department.
The church has been restored to its former colonial splendor, and awaits the announcement that will make it the seat of a new diocese, with the church itself becoming elevated to the status of cathedral.
El Calvario ("Calvary") Parish is located in the neighborhood of the same name, and was built in 1874 by Bishop Monsignor Manuel Ulloa y Calvo. The first structure here was of adobe, but on October 11, 1885, this was destroyed by an earthquake and later rebuilt. Its patron is the Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated on the last Sunday of January every year. On May 17, the feast day of Saint Pascal Baylon is also celebrated in the parish. The church was recently restored by the COEN Foundation.
Of recent construction, its origins lie in a structure built in 1855 but was destroyed in an earthquake in 1885. It was originally built as an offering to Our Lady of Guadalupe during an outbreak of cholera. After the outbreak, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was first displayed in the church on December 25, 1856, and Pope Pius IX elevated the church to the rank of sanctuary, the first church in Central America to earn this title. It was restored by the COEN Foundation and its principal feast day is celebrated on December 12, with processions during Holy Week being celebrated here as well.
This church also suffered from severe damage during the 1885 earthquake, after which it was enlarged. The church was unofficially associated with the city's aristocracy; elaborate weddings between members of the aristocracy were celebrated within its wall. In 1923, with the arrival of the Franciscans at the church, it was completely rebuilt. Its principal feast day falls on June 13 every year. There is also a procession that is held here on January 1 of every year.
Chinandega has many colonial-era buildings, though not to the extent of the Nicaraguan cities of León and Granada, since many of them were damaged during a 1928 bombardment by the Liberal forces, who had revolted against Conservative Adolfo Díaz. Most of the city was destroyed, and only the churches remained unharmed. The city does not have a code that protects colonial architecture as León and Granada do.
Chinandega's cultural and historical riches date from before the Spanish conquest, when this region was inhabited by various indigenous tribes, who had perhaps proceded from the north, possibly present-day Mexico. There is a museum in the city, "Enrique Mantica Deshon", which contains 1200 archaeological artifacts of Pre-Columbian origin. There is also a municipal theater called "Rodrigo Callejas" which can seat 400 people.