Christopher Columbus landed on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast in 1502, during his fourth voyage, but with the Spanish focused on settling the Pacific coast, their hold on the Caribbean was tenuous. Portuguese, Dutch and British pirates patrolled these seas (Bluefields was named for the Dutch pirate Blauvelt), attacking and robbing Spanish vessels full of South American gold. Meanwhile, the British crown cultivated relations with the indigenous Miskito people, who had battled Mayangna and Rama communities for regional supremacy long before Columbus came calling. In 1687 they created the puppet kingdom of Mosquitia, which ruled until the mid-19th century.

During this period, British colonists moved with their African slaves from Jamaica to the Corn Islands, which until then had belonged to the Kukra and Sumu people. They also arrived in Bluefields, where slaves worked banana groves and mingled with free West Indian laborers of mixed ethnicity to form English-speaking Creole communities that are still thriving today.

English-speaking Nicaraguans have never fully bought into Spanish-speaking rule. During the Contra war, many took up arms against the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front; FSLN) while many more fled to neighboring Costa Rica to avoid the conflict, emptying villages that have still not recovered. Although the region was eventually granted special autonomy by the government in Managua, with the rights to have a say in the exploitation of its natural resources, it remains the poorest and least developed part of the country.