Granada (Nicaragua)

Granada is the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua and the all-time-rival of Leon. It is located on the north west side of the Lago Cocibolca. Its colored colonial buildings, interesting history and relative safety make it an important tourism destination. It is the city in Nicaragua with the highest presence of expats and one of the most touristically "developed", both these things will be immediately apparent to the visitor, especially compared to other cities in Nicaragua.

Understand

Granada, nicknamed La Gran Sultana after her namesake in Spain, is one of the oldest cities of Nicaragua and one of the first European settlements in the Americas that lasted. A rich town for most of the colonial period, Granada has always been and continues to be a conservative city. As a (sort of) "Caribbean Port", connected to the ocean by the lake and the Rio San Juan, Granada was attacked by pirates several times in its early history. However the attack that left the biggest mark on the city was carried out by an American.

When in the 1850s Granada's liberal rival León was out of ideas how to win the civil war it had with Granada on and off since the independence of Nicaragua, the liberals of León asked American "Filibuster" (back than a term for a mercenary captain that conquered Latin American countries and territories) William Walker of Tennessee for help. What they didn't know was that Walker wanted power for himself and after defeating the conservatives declared himself president and proceeded to invade other Central American countries to enlarge his new won empire, with designs of making it an US slave state. Although he was defeated by an effort of (almost) all of Central America in the end this didn't happen until he had burned down Granada and allegedly put a sign in the scorched earth claiming "here was Granada".

The town recovered however and became the dominating force culturally and politically for the next thirty years until the liberal general Jose Santos Zelaya took control of the country. You can still see a lot of the wealth and power Granada once had in its colonial houses and churches. And there is still a monument for some former president or other who was born here at almost every corner downtown.

Granada still is very much a conservative town and the ruling Sandinistas are not as well liked - to say the least - here as they are in León , which contributes to their ongoing rivalry. Today however Granada is also notable for winning awards in American magazines as one of the supposedly most live-worthy places on earth and many retired Gringos have made Granada their second home. Many colonial houses and even some small islets just out of town in lake Nicaragua are still for sale so ask the locals if you want to move here long term and have the necessary cash on hand.

Although the Gringo-influence here is stronger than in most other places of Nicaragua Granada has lost nothing of its charm and continues to attract tourists, locals and expats alike.

Get in

By plane

Fly to Managua (the capital of Nicaragua) and from there make your way by bus (every half hour from Mercado Huembes or the UCA station) or taxi (around $35 from the airport depending on your bargaining skills). As an alternative, you can take an air con shuttle for $15 from the airport to Granada. In most cases, the shuttle will deliver you to any point in Granada. There is a tourist information counter as soon as you clear immigration. Ask the representative and (s)he'll point you to a reputable shuttle service. The trip by taxi or shuttle is about 40 minutes. Another option may be to fly to the Liberia Airport over the border in Costa Rica, but it would involve about 5 hours of travel and a border crossing. Rental cars are not allowed to cross the border, but agencies will arrange for car swaps and pickups on the other side of the border. Managua is by far your best option.

There is a small airport a few miles from Granada on the highway to Masaya. The airport was served only by Nature Air, which offered flights from San Jose and Liberia, Costa Rica, the flights are now going into Managua International airport (IATA: MGA). Flights originate in San Jose, Costa Rica's capital and also from Liberia (IATA: LIR) in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

The airport on Ometepe (from where a boat takes roughly three hours to Granada) only receives domestic flights (from San Carlos, Managua and San Juan del Norte) as of 2015, but this may change in the future.

By train

The train that once existed was shut down during the era of Violeta Chamorro. So, no, there's no possibility to take any train to get there. Nevertheless, you can have the chance to visit the old train station, which is used as a technical school sponsored by the Spanish Cooperation.

By car

Yes you can get there by rental car, which is often really expensive to hire, since imported cars are expensive too and the risk of theft is high. Most of the principal highways are in excellent condition, however other obstacles can surprise you, so be alert. Secondary roads range from paved to gravel. The roads from the airport are excellent on the most direct route.

From Costa Rica, take the Panamerican Highway, which leads from San José through Liberia, the border crossing at Peñas Blancas, first bigger town in Nicaragua is Rivas, after Nandaime take a right onto the Granada-Nandaime road. Look for Granada-related signs.

By bus

Buses are available from Managua on a quarter-hour basis from 5AM to 10PM (US$1). Granada is easily reached by first-class buses from neighboring Costa Rica and Honduras.

From Costa Rica

There are two main options, either take the ordinario buses which costs half the prize (10 US) and fuzz your way through, experience a lot of interesting sights and the heat or hop on one of the (often agonizingly) air conditioned coaches, which are comfortable, take you there in about 8-10 hours (crossing the border might take a while, and you will have to exit the bus twice for passports and customs) and cost US$20. The best options going from Costa Rica to Nicaragua are Central Line, TransNica and Ticabus. Back from Granada to Costa Rica you might as well take the Tica Bus or NICABUS. Just ask any taxi driver in whatever city you are in to take you to the Nica or TICABUS-station.

From Managua, direct shuttles leave from the UCA terminal (University of Central America) for around C 18 or from Mercado Huembes. From Leon, catch a direct Leon-Managua-UCA shuttle for C$ 25. Unfortunately, there is no scheduled public transport of any kind that does the León Granada run directly, so you'll have to change buses in Managua.

From Honduras

From Tegucigalpa, you can also get the TICA bus, which leaves daily around 9AM for Managua, for around US$20. Then take another bus (at a different station), or taxi, to Granada.

By boat

There's a boat running twice a week from San Carlos via Ometepe to Granada and back. It leaves San Carlos at Tuesday and Friday at 2PM. The trip to Ometepe takes about three hours. San Carlos-Granada is roughly twelve hours one-way.

Get around

Granada is a small city; everything can comfortably be reached by foot.

By taxi

You can hire a taxi from Managua to Granada or vice versa through Taxi Managua for 45 USD.

By bus

Buses (old stylish US or Canadian schoolbuses) go just about everywhere at about every time, you see them and if you slightly look like anybody wanting to go anywhere, be sure they'll load you on their bus. Another option are the mini buses which have a bit more set time, they're more comfortable and also faster but cost a bit more.

By coche

Horse-drawn carriages, known as coches, are a wonderful way to see the extent of the city limits. From the cemetery in the southwest, to the converted Rail Station in the north, to the water front in the east. 30USD for an hour and a half tour.

By boat

Granada's islets are not to be missed, and the way to see them is by boat. Boat tours leave from Puerto Asese, about 5-10 minutes from downtown by taxi. Try to book them as a group as it gets cheaper for each individual. Also a boat that is almost full might make special deals for a single traveler or a small group

By bike

Most hotels and hostels rent bikes and if yours doesn't, some are willing to rent to people staying elsewhere. You should pay roughly $10 a day. As the city is rather flat and traffic is manageable it is a good way to get around, although the heat might get uncomfortable.

See

A view from the Parque Central towards the Cathedral

A bit further along the shore is the Centro Turistico, a park like area complete with bars and restaurants. It's a bit cleaner then the beach right down from the city.

Do

Puerto Asese marina in Granada

Learn

There are several Spanish language schools in Granada:

Casa Nica Spanish School (http://casanicaspanish.com/) is a cooperative of women that has been teaching Spanish since 1998. We tailor Spanish classes according to your skill level and interests, and we make sure that you have a lot of fun while meeting people and getting to know our community through fabulous afternoon activities. We can also provide home-stay accommodations which will further enhance your learning experience while giving you the opportunity to make friends with a local family. And, if you are interested volunteering, we can connect you with our favorite local organizations that do amazing things to improve our community.

The local Red Cross is a good option to go (The Web page of the School located there is here), since you can buy 1 on 1 Spanish lessons from them and so support them. For more options, look around for flyers.

Work

Volunteer opportunities abound. La Esperanza Granada is an organization that sends volunteers into local schools to help out, or supports women's working groups, built a community center etc. etc., for the impoverished outskirts of Granada. Volunteering is completely free of charge, minimum commitment is generally eight weeks but shorter stays are possible. Another volunteer option is Educación Plus de Nicaragua, a local NGO that educates and feeds children in the marginalized outskirts of Granada.

Buy

Granada is known around the world for its high-quality rocking chairs which can be seen all around town. The main vendors a bit out of town on the road to Masatepe.

If you want to go cheaper, there's the option to buy local and famous Nicaraguan pottery, which you can buy in town, but the better option is to go to San Juan de Oriente where there's a more varied selection and the experience of meeting the artisans.

Also very typical are the hammocks, there are several hammock stores and factories in Masaya, but you can find them made in Granada on Calle Xalteva, a half bloc west of the central park at Tio Antonio http://tioantonio.org/eng/eng_content/eng_child1.htm.

Eat

There are many street vendors selling quesillos, tamales, revueltas, carne asada, and other local specialties such as gallo pinto (rice & beans), fried plantains, nacatamales, bajo (yucca, plantain, beef mix). Very inexpensive. The local specialty is Vigoron: cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and fried pork rind (or roast pork) on mashed yucca for NIO40 from the kiosks in the parque central. Great value (provided you are not a vegetarian).

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Groceries

Granadans do most of their grocery shopping in the huge chaotic central market (along Calle El Comercio, aka Calle Atravesada, a few blocks south of downtown) or in a similarly chaotic Palí supermarket (same area).

Besides Palí, the city has two other supermarkets, cleaner, less crowded, and more upscale: La Union and La Colonia, which are located next to each other in Calle La Inmaculada about a kilometer northwest of the central square. La Colonia is the more "upscale" of the two, with a better selection of products such as wine, ice cream, or exotic (to non-Nicaraguans) fruit. There is also a good bakery a block or two west of La Colonia (on the same, southern, side of the street).

Drink

Great drinks can be purchased from local vendors at the corner in Parque Central, such as linenseed-drink, hibiscus ("jamaica") iced-tea, or red beet drink or anything else, completely overloaded with sugar. Nice alternative: The local "Cacao" drink, milk and powdered chocolate beans, almost like chocolate milk, available in most cafes. Also "Raspados" made with crushed ice and raspberry syrup are very delicious and are usually sold by vendors around the Central Park.

And then of course, the local coffee! You have the biggest range: organic, shade grown, fair trade...

Here are a few bars worth mentioning:

Sleep

Budget


Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Internet -- up to 20 cord./hour.

Stay safe

Nicaragua was rated the safest country in Central America, however, minor gang violence has been filtering into Nicaragua from Honduras and El Salvador. The capital, Managua, has the largest number of inhabitants but the majority of crime there is petty theft. Granada, the sixth largest city, is generally safe but using common sense and always walking with someone else at night here and everywhere else in the country is recommended. Robberies are known to have occurred along the Peninsula de Asese. If you plan a tour keep your wits´about you and maybe leave the camera in the hotel.

In Granada, the moneychangers are licensed and provide a terrific alternative to the banks.

Cope

Social workers in Granada strongly advise to not give money or food to begging children. In Granada the homeless situation is not nearly as severe as in other poor cities. Orphanages and charity organizations take care of homeless children, and poor people have access to charity kitchens. The kids that beg and sell items to tourists do this to make easy money, and are being exploited by adults. Anything you give to these children keeps them from the place they belong: in school.

Power outages can be frequent, especially during the dry (tourist) season. Electricity, water and internet can go out at any time and it is advised that you shower early to avoid the unexpected water shutdown. Occasionally inclement weather will create an outage, as you'd expect anywhere.

Some will advise not to drink the tap water as it will make you sick, though most have no problems. Also, make sure when you buy bottled water that the top has not been opened because some people without scruples will fill the bottles with tap water.

You must also be careful with the insects: Be sure to bring insect repellent or buy it at just about any pharmacy, as Nicaragua does have dengue. This is especially a concern during the wet season. Though malaria does exist in Nicaragua, Granada is said to be unaffected by it. Clothes that cover most of your skin as a precaution against insects can't hurt, though.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, February 13, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.