Visit the Nicaraguan Town of Bethlehem

The Nicaraguan town of Bethlehem, located in the department of Rivas, started in 1738 as a settlement for farm workers who were cultivating indigo – the plant from which a deep blue color is obtained for dyeing fabrics. The process for growing, harvesting and processing this valuable plant appeared in an article in the New York Times in August 1890, where it was noted that certain regions of Nicaragua offered ideal conditions for the cultivation of indigo. With the seed sown in May, the indigo shrub was ready to be cut in August, with the whole process being quite labor-intensive as the fields had to be kept free of weeds that could potentially rob the plant of its rich color. The lush fields of indigo would stretch as far as the eye could see with plants being harvested for up to seven years before being uprooted and new seed sown.

During the Nicaragua National War (1856-1857) the town, which was known as Obraje at that time, was used as a camp by filibuster William Walker and his troops as they launched an attack on the town of Rivas, a fact which was recorded by Walker himself in his memoirs. In January 1862, the President of Nicaragua, Tomas Martinez Guerrero, decreed the town be named Bethlehem, reportedly because an image of the infant Jesus had made an appearance in the town. Celebrations in honor of the birth of Jesus are a highlight of the town’s annual calendar, and festivities generally start on December 16, continuing through to January 7, making this a good time to visit Bethlehem and enjoy local culture and hospitality.