Article originally published in the December-June 2016-2017 edition of the Atmosphere magazine. Read the latest edition here.
Are you looking for an easy-to-get-to destination with unique architecture and exciting attractions? Add to that a touch of exoticism courtesy of a colourful culture, an affordable cost of living and a place where urban and rural form a magnificent mosaic, and you’ve got Nicaragua. Central America’s largest country, Nicaragua is known for its lakes and volcanoes, which make up over seven per cent of its surface area. A discovery for some and a jealously guarded secret for others, this lush, green land famous for the kindness of the locals has something for everyone. Here, we explore Granada and its surroundings, a perfect destination for an adventure that blends city and nature.
In the Heart of Granada
Nicknamed The Great Empress, Granada boasts a storied past, a heritage carefully preserved by its inhabitants. The result is stunning, inspiring tourists to pull out their cameras at every turn. The streets of downtown are lined with buildings drenched in sunshiny colours and topped with charming red-tiled roofs.
Options for Visitors
From Parque Central, you can explore Granada the old-fashioned way by horse-drawn carriage. Your driver will be happy to bring the colonial era to life for you. If you’d rather discover the city on two wheels, renting a bicycle is also a great option.
Get an authentic feel for the town by strolling around on foot. You just might come around a corner and find an elderly lady selling pastries to passersby, or another one knitting adorable baby clothes. You’ll fall in love with the local way of life!
There’s no shortage of markets in Granada, where sweet aromas and traditional crafts abound. Let yourself be tempted! Buy some leatherwork, a local specialty. Beautiful, multi-hued woven handbags with leather trim can be found at many stalls. You’ll also admire the earth-toned pottery with animal motifs, and you may even want to try the region’s world-renowned cigars, the pride of Granada.
Centro Social Tío Antonio
It’s always fascinating to get to know a city through a place that the locals themselves frequent. Case in point: Centro Social Tío Antonio, located on Calle Real Xalteva, where you can pick up a magnificent hammock handwoven by young people in need as a souvenir. Your visit will help out these youth and recognize their hard work. Adjacent to the social centre, the Café de las Sonrisas employs the deaf and offers visitors an opportunity to enjoy a break, figure out where they want to visit next and help out the community
Feel like spending some time relaxing on the water while taking in the views of the countryside? Less than five kilometres from Granada, you can set off on a lake excursion around Las Isletas, an archipelago of 360 tiny islands formed by a volcanic eruption. This is a wonderful outing that is bound to pique your interest about the people who dwell on these islands and their way of life.
Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve
This stunning natural reserve boasts an active volcano that still occasionally spouts steam and gas. It’s 1,344 metres high and contains four craters.
Several walking paths wind through the park. Keep your eyes peeled for the amazing wildlife and flora that inhabit this natural reserve, including 90 different species of orchids.
The effort to reach the summit is well worth it. You’ll find a biology research centre, where the staff can answer all your questions about the plants and animals you’ve seen.
And if you’re curious about seeing monkeys in their natural habitat, the visitors’ centre at the entrance of the reserve will tell you about its fascinating trail through the canopy. Criss-cross two kilometres and 17 observation platforms by suspended bridge or zip line. You might even see some sloths up there—adorable creatures whose faces seem to be perpetually smiling. This is a typical Nicaraguan adventure not to be missed!
Granada and its surroundings offer an authentic, off-the-beaten-path travel experience. And we suspect that your exploration of this region’s urban/rural duality will leave you wanting more of this warm, welcoming land. Granada is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Managua.
Cover photo: Carlos Adampol Galindo