Granada, Nicaragua is a great place for a visit. A colourful colonial town on Lake Nicaragua full of history and charm. Provided you don’t mind it too hot and sweaty (as the temperatures hover in the mid 30s) you’re in for a treat.
I first went there a few years ago to study Spanish and you can follow that on Learning Spanish in Central America – Nicaragua
I arrived early afternoon on a chicken bus from Rivas – check out my article on Let’s talk about the Chicken Bus I had arranged to meet up with a Spanish School, fortunately, it was bang on the La Calzada, the main street. La Calzada is a place with loads of bars, restaurants, tour companies etc The school arranged a family stay with Mama Chagwa, a local character by all accounts, so I dropped off my gear at her house, did the pleasantries and went off to explore.
Of course, wandering around the streets early evening was hard work in the blistering sun so after a while of taking photographs, chatting to locals and getting to know the place, I decided to go back to the Calzada and have a bite to eat and maybe a couple of beers. There was so much choice and most bars had a ‘gringo’ feel to them, sports bars, music bars with live bands, Steak and Taco restaurants and there’s also a couple of Irish bars. As there was plenty of backpackers and travellers, it was easy to meet people and swap stories over a cold drink or two (something of I am particular fond of – the swapping stories I mean!)
The next day, I popped out with my camera to people watch and do some street photography. I wandered about the town looking for inspiration and it came to me in the Central park just off the Cathedral. I noticed how busy it was, how all the people knew each other, back in UK you’re lucky if you barely know your neighbour!
It was full of colourful people, natural interactions, busy people going about their lives. Young lovers courting in the open air, sat on park benches holding hands, listening to music on a mobile phone. Groups of street sellers playing pitch n toss in the shade, like pitching pennies to US, wagering 20 Cordobas a player each game. Money was changing hands fast and furious with no obvious problems. I couldn’t help but think, these guys walk around all day selling their wares for about $10 and yet are willing to bet almost $1 per game.
There were scores of food stands serving up the usual rice and beans, fried corn tortilla parcels with various fillings and hot dogs. Others sellers roamed with large cooler boxes offering bottles of Cola, grape flovoured Fanta or small bags of water at 3 Cordobas a shot. Ice cream sellers rolled by with their hand carts, tinkling on the bells for attention. It was an interesting place. I could spend hours chilling, chatting and taking photos.
Well as I said, I was staying with Mama Chagwa, a local woman, a gregarious middle aged woman that produced Nacatamales, to sell from her house, a greasy corn, meat and rice concoction wrapped in big green leaves (below). They are not that bad if you don’t mind greasy food but I only ever could manage one. When I came in from classes, Mama Chagwa and her friends would encourage me to practice my Spanish language skills (or lack of!).. She was a strong member of the church and asked one of her fellow congregation to show me around, I was able to find out first-hand about the civil war of the 80s and how it affected the families in Granada.
It was obvious that this colonial gem was changing, investment was here, real estate snapped up by foreign money, things were becoming dare I say it..‘classier’. Art galleries, selling work of local young artists, hostels with swimming pools, and more luxurious hotels were attracting the richer ‘package style’ tourist. The poor were getting left behind.
Still there is so much to offer in its rich history full of revolutions, war and intrigue. This is where William Walker, the filibuster came with his mercenaries and took over the country of Nicaragua, becoming president for a short period, basing himself in Granada.
There are plenty of tours to get stuck into here, The Islands Tour on Lake Nicaragua, where for about $10 – $15 you can go on a boat trip, have lunch at one of the restaurants on the Islands, coming back via the well known’ Monkey Island’. Also a trip to volcan Masaya, a must see. Looking down into the enormous smouldering cavity. Be careful of floating hot ash!
Granada is now a busy hub for the budget traveller, with lots to do and see, with many hostels offering cheap dorms, great wifi and good bars on site. Equally, there is plenty of quality nightlife and fine dining to be had with continuous investment; it’s only going to better or maybe.. more expensive…