Our Central America tour (9): Granada and environs

It was Sunday but for us it was no day of rest as we spent all day in and around the city of Grenada accompanied by local guide Gustavo as well as Eduardo.

Granada – nicknamed the Great Sultan after its Moorish counterpart in Spain – is the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua, having been founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernandez. It was burnt down in 1856, but latterly has been the subject of major restoration. These days it is a town of 123,000, noted for the charm of its cobbled streets and polychromatic colonial homes.

We set off from the hotel at 8.30 am in a different form of transport from our coach: carriages carrying five passengers and a driver drawn by two blinkered horses. It was a relaxed way to view the city sights and streets and we made six stops for Gustavo to explain some of the history of the city: the old train station which is now a railway museum, the first hospital which is now a shell awaiting reconstruction, the Gunpowder Fortress which is now a museum, the cemetery where the Picasso family has a large grave, the baroque La Merced Church where we climbed up to the top of the bell tower for wonderful views of the city, and the former Church of San Francisco which is now an archaeological museum.

It was proving to be another really hot day: around 35C/95F At this point in the tour, we were picked up by our coach and driven outside the city to the nearby area known as Pueblos Blancos (White Villages). This is a region named after the pale while stucco homes that once dominated the area. Today it is dotted with five pretty villages famed for their craftsmen.

We visited the village of San Juan de Oriente which is the most important centre of artisanal pottery in Nicaragua. Here we went to a small workshop where local people demonstrated their craft in making their famous pottery from red clay using the unique techniques of the indigenous people. Roger befriended a mother, her children and the children’s friends and had the youngest on his knee being tickled and ‘dropped’ to much laughter.

Next we went on to the gorgeous village of Catarina which is known for its mirador that presents fabulous views of Laguna de Apojo with Lago de Nicaragua on the horizon. We stopped here for lunch at the “Restorante Carolina”. After a good meal, we drove on to the town of Masaya where we were given an hour to wander round the covered market Mercado Artesanias. To be honest, the wares and gifts were rather tacky, so Roger & Vee used the time to enjoy an ice cream (banana split in the former case).

From the town of Masaya, we drove to the national park of Masaya. First, we looked round an interesting museum which explained the nature of volcanoes and the locations of those in Nicaragua. Then we drove up a deep road to have an awe-inspiring view down into the heavily smoking and sulphur smelling Nindiri crater. Another short drive and a steep walk took us to the overgrown crater of Volcan Masaya which had a huge explosion in 1772 and is still active today (a new eruption is expected at any time). We moved on to a suitable vantage point to see the sunset – a moving setting but not particularly colourful this night.

Finally about half of the group – including Vee & Roger – donned helmets and took torches to climb down a steep descent and enter one of the 17 lava tunnels in the area. Inside the large tree roots and the uneven volcanic rocks made the continued descent quite challenging. Then we all switched off our torches and in the pitch blackness listened to the beating of the wings of some of the 40,000 bats in the area. When we switched our torches back on, we could observe the numerous little bats darting swiftly from one position to another.

We were back at our hotel at 7.10 pm after another long day of over ten and a half hours. Since we had all had a large lunch, nobody wanted a heavy dinner. So Roger & Vee, together with Brian & Cally, returned to the same part of the city as last night but to a different restaurant (“Nectar”) and for a lighter meal. Roger & Vee each had a Greek salad and Roger & Brian each had a delicious local dessert called chocolate Aztec lava cake.


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