Heading straight north, away from the booming Popoyo area, we stopped overnight in historic Granada, a quaint touristy Spanish Colonial town, just southeast of Masaya and Managua, along Lake Nicaragua. Granada is the most unique city in all of Nicaragua for it’s Spanish architecture, cathedrals dating back to the 1500s, city and lake sightseeing tours, and its history, especially of the notorious American filibuster, William Walker.
Granada, originally founded by Spanish conquistador, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba in 1524, has been invaded and taken over several times over hundreds of years. Even William Walker, a lawyer, doctor, and wannabe dictator from Nashville, tried to establish Granada as his very own English speaking colony and ruled for approximately one year: 1856 to 1857. During that time, Walker and his troops were under siege by Central American military, and one of his generals set fire to the entire city before fighting their way back and escaping across the lake. Left behind, in the smoldering ruins, Walker’s men inscribed on a lance: Aquí fue Granada (Here was Granada).
Parque Central, the heart of the city, is constantly buzzing with roaring children climbing colorful play areas, vendors of all sorts of foods and fun items, tour guides pushing sales, restaurants, music and musicians, cafes, church goers, and the multi-languages of tourists from various corners of the world. There are horse drawn carriage tours galore, but beware of the tour guide taking you. We had the misfortune of being hassled for a buggy tour while drinking Toñas in a patio bar across from the park. Unfortunately, where there are a lot of tourists, you risk the chance of encountering a sketchy and obnoxious tour guide now and then.
Looming over the constant sway of festivities is the picturesque Cathedral of Granada. The Spanish cathedral was built around 1583, and for $2, offers vast surreal views of Granada from the bell tower. The architecture is stunning with its white borders and grand pillars, mustard stucco façade, red roofed tower tops, and intricately carved windows. Indoors, the church is simply decorated, yet charming with its circular archways, diamond tiled aisle way, and dangling wrought iron chandeliers.
Just east, past the Cathedral of Granada, is Calle La Calzada, a street lined with cafes leading to an ancient stone church, Iglesia de Guadalupe, and Lake Nicaragua slightly beyond. After walking around the hot city recreating the steps of conquistadors, missionaries, and entrepreneurial canal builders, you’ll find a refreshing local favorite on Calzada, an Eskimo ice cream shop.
To the south of Parque Central, you’ll find the market area. Outdoors and in catacomb walkways, produce sellers’ tables overflow with local fruits and vegetables, women barbeque traditional foods, and queso seco stacks endure the heat. There’s also a Pali Supermarket in the middle of it all.
Meals can be found near and around the park, from smoothies to pollo a la plancha, cheap to moderately pricey. For a nice steakhouse splurge, I recommend Restaurante El Zaguán, but plan on spending some time there enjoying the food, ambiance, and conversation. Unlike expensive restaurants in the US where people often spend as much time in them as they would at In & Out, pricy Nicaraguan steakhouses are for special occasions and employees will leave you alone for a long, long time. The food at El Zaguán is richly enhanced with flavorful gourmet sauces. Their vegetables are fresh and their meats are superbly tender and well prepared. They also have a great alcohol list.
When researching hotels in the area, the La Gran Francia caught my interest with its history, pictures, location, and the fact that I couldn’t find it on most maps. La Gran Francia encompasses two beautiful stucco Spanish Colonial buildings on corners across from each other. In traditional Nicaraguan style, one perimeters a lush tropical garden and stone fountain, with an indoor and outdoor patio restaurant, bar, offices, and small living quarters. The actual hotel lobby and rooms are in the other. This building surrounds a shallow, narrow, rectangular pool, and beautifully decorated walkways lined with ornate wooden doors to the rooms. Our hotel room included a spacious bathroom, enormous antique wardrobe, high vaulted ceilings, and French door windows facing the bustling street.
We arrived before check-in, yet the staff was very accommodating by guarding our bags and parking the car while we set off to sightsee. The hotel offers close by, off-location parking at no additional charge. R rode with the attendant to see where his Forerunner would be secured, and to his amazement, the car was snuggled between, in front of, and behind, a dozen others, all parked like sardines, without a single bump or scratch.
If you’re in Nicaragua and end up having a few flat surf days, a quick trip inland and a change of scenery would pass the time more productively than downing Toñas in a hammock. Well, depends on how you look at it!