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Special articles about Nicaragua "Land of Oportunity"

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 of years.

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.
Iglesia La Merced
COOL 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 arrive.

Once, it was pirate bait

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 and 1685.

Walker's revenge

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 was Granada).

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, . 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,

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.

Getting there

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

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