POSTCARD FROM NICARAGUA
Baroque grandeur in old Granada
Just before dawn, make your way through the
narrow cobblestone streets of Granada, cross the
still-silent Calle Vega and take a seat amid towering
palms and lush mango trees dotting the Parque Central.
Regis St. Louis, Lonely Planet
April 2, 2006
Just before dawn, make
your way through the narrow cobblestone streets of
Granada, cross the still-silent Calle Vega and take
a seat amid towering palms and lush mango trees dotting
the Parque Central. You'll have a fine vantage point
when the sun rises over Lago de Nicaragua and illuminates
the towering cathedral. Granada may be only a 45-minute
drive southeast of the capital of Managua, but watching
the day arrive here is like stepping back hundreds
The day begins
Birds soon fill the
trees and slender telephone wires around the plaza.
As if drawn to their chatter, the first carriages pull
up along the park's western edge. Sleepy drivers with
crossed arms slouch on worn leather seats and breathe
in the last bit of cool air before the day's heat descends.
Meanwhile, early-risers are just beginning to appear
on the plaza, most heading toward the market. Shopkeepers
are out sweeping the walks against the backdrop of
the looming volcano Mombacho to the south.
REFUGE: West of Parque Central stands
the 16th century Iglesia de la Merced, one
of Granada’s loveliest churches with
a weathered, Baroque façade and an
elaborately conceived interior. On a warm
morning, this cool interior makes a fine
place to rest before embarking on the day’s
adventures. Go early, before the first penitents
Once, it was
This is Nicaragua's
oldest town, founded
in 1524 by Francisco
Hernández de Córdoba.
With its access to the Caribbean by way of the Río
San Juan, Granada soon grew to be an important and
wealthy trade center, filled with opulent churches
and manicured lanes that ran right down to the lakeshore.
All the Spanish treasure passing through the city
soon attracted the attention of English pirates,
who sacked Granada three times between its founding
Yet its worst attack came from American renegade William Walker, who was bent
on ruling one Latin American country or another. In 1855, he and his band of
men conquered Granada. He even succeeded in becoming president (through rigged
elections) but was forced to flee the following year. On his way out of town,
he torched the city, leaving behind a placard that read "Aquí fue Granada" (Here
Burn some calories
For those seeking an active itinerary, the possibilities are numerous.
The nearby volcanoes make for some strenuous but rewarding hikes, with views
to the Pacific on clear days. There are also boat trips out on Lago de Nicaragua —Central
America's largest lake —to the lush and sparsely inhabited islands of Las
Isletas, or beyond, to the twin peaks dominating Ometepe. Lunch at one of the
island's restaurants, followed by a swim in the crystal-clear lake, makes for
an eminently enjoyable afternoon. Later, back in town, charming Nicaraguan, Spanish
and Italian restaurants —for some favorites, see "Where to eat" —offer
a delectable end to a glorious Granada day.
Where to stay
Overlooking the main square, La Gran Francia
is a colonial gem with a spacious courtyard, elegant
tile floors, a swimming pool and many charming features
among its comfortable rooms and suites. Doubles from
$100; 011-505-552-6000, http://www.lagranfrancia.com .
El Club, run by a friendly Dutch couple, is a converted
colonial mansion that offers a handful of attractive,
stylishly furnished rooms, all set around an inner
courtyard lined with tropical plants and cozy nooks.
Doubles from $45; 011-505-552-4245, http://www.elclub-nicaragua.com
Where to eat
At Doña Conchi, on Calle el Caimito,
you can dine in a romantically lighted patio garden
as Doña Conchi serves up deliciously prepared
specialties from her native Spain. Paella paired
with sangria is hard to top. Don't overlook the bullet
holes in the wall, supposedly left by Walker's would-be
executioners, who —on this occasion at least —left
him unscathed. Entrees from $7; 011-505-552-7376.
Mediterraneo, also on Calle el Caimito, has excellent
seafood specials, served in a beautifully set colonial
dining room. Entrees from $8; 011-505-552-6764.
From LAX, Taca offers direct flights (stop,
no change of plane) to Managua. American, Copa, Continental,
Delta, Lacsa and Taca offer connecting service (change
of plane). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $489.
After arriving in Managua, there's no need to hassle
with buses. Most taxi drivers will take you straight
to Granada for less than $25.
For more information
Nicaragua is named after the ruling native
Indian chief who was in power when the Spanish arrived.
For background on the country, tips on getting around
and more lodging information, see http://www.nicaragua.com