Travel Diary Nicaragua - Granada, Colonial Capital on the Lake
Granada is an amazing place to visit, reminding me of other fascinating historic living cities like Fez and Istanbul.
It is also a city of contrasts. Wealth and poverty, reminders of its rich heritage
and failed municipal projects,
and quirky ones,
a destination for tourists
but also home to residents working and going about their daily lives amidst layers of history.
The heart of this vibrant city of roughly 100,000 is its Parque Central, dominated by the city's cathedral on one side.
An effective way to acquaint yourself with Granada is to simply spend a morning or afternoon walking the narrow streets leading out from the Parque without a specific destination in mind (it is safe, and hard to get lost in Granada).
While some homes and buildings have porches oriented outward towards the street,
most present shuttered doors and windows inserted in walls painted in a multitude of hues.
Inside, life is oriented around open courtyards. Peeking through windows, doors and passages rewards one with glimpses into gardens,
businesses, gyms, pharmacies and bakeries. Even a barbershop where Brendan got his hair cut (he swears it was the best he’s ever had, and at $4 the price couldn’t Even a barbershop where Brendan got his hair cut (he swears it was the best he’s ever had, and at $4 the price couldn’t be beat)!
We stayed at the Alhambra, one of the larger hotels facing the Parque. While a few luxury boutique hotels have sprung up in recent years catering to high-end tourists, the Alhambra provides a more authentic experience, featuring a nice blend of historic elements and modern convenience, helpful staff, and interesting guests. With café tables and rocking chairs on tiered porches facing the square, it also offers the best seat in town.
We did make one misstep on the afternoon we arrived. I would not suggest starting your visit to Granada with a walk down to the waterfront on a cloudy day. The wind had kicked up and the overcast skies had emptied the esplanade of people. Aside from a hostel catering to the surfer/backpacker crowd, there seemed to be a large the number of empty lots and undeveloped land facing the lake, which I assumed would be prime real estate. I thought to myself what a difference a little investment down in this part of town might make. That was before we explored the Embarcadero however.
A sign at the entrance (a replica of a colonial era fortification) indicated an entry fee, but no one was there so we just walked through. If the esplanade seemed a little forlorn, the Embarcadero resembled a scene from a post-zombie apocalypse movie.
Aside from a few bars, we found mostly litter and leaves scattered throughout empty seating areas, playgrounds, cafes and discos. We were surprised to learn that this was actually was a relatively recent municipal improvement project, opened to great fanfare only several years before.
While there was nary a sunbather to be found, at least the horses and a small herd of cows seemed to enjoy the grass that had taken root on the beach.
The Embarcadero stands as an example of how easily well-intended revitalization projects can go awry without adequate attention towards long-term maintenance and sustainability. This statue of a rather weary looking gentleman not far from the entrance didn't exactly promote a sense of fun for people going in either.
The next morning we did much better visiting the Central Market. A few blocks south of the Parque Central, this is not a tourist market but a place were people shop for their daily needs.
As we walked closer to the large covered market building marked by a tower, the streets were packed with vendors and shoppers.
Inside, a labyrinth of stalls are roughly grouped into different categories sell everything from vegetables and produce to girls’ party frocks.
The multiplicity of sights sounds and colors energized us for the rest of the day (along with Nicaraguan coffee, which I have to say is the best I have ever had).
All around town, we were struck by the widespread use of horse drawn horsepower, serving as taxis, delivering goods, to taking people to their final destinations.
That afternoon we walked up to what we thought was the shell of old cathedral we had driven by on our way into the city.
In reality it turned out to be a former hospital. We also learned that is currently in the process of being restored, although it didn’t appear work was proceeding too rapidly.
Make no mistake despite recent growth, Nicaragua is still very challenged economically. At times the reminders can be a little disconcerting for the casual tourist. While I in no way mean to trivialize that, there is also a languorous beauty and laid back charm to it all.
The palpable romanticism of the setting feels like it might have been ripped right out of the pages of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. Even the pigs and ducks in yards on the outskirts of town yard contribute to it.
Rich or poor, the people of Granada seem to enjoy a more relaxed way of life in their beautiful city. That is part of the town’s mystique. While progress is definitely being made, there is no discernable timetable, and that’s just fine.
I would go sooner, rather than later though before things move along too rapidly!