Excursion (one-half day) to Granada: A walking tour of Central America’s colonial pearl. Afterwards, a boot trip on the Lake of Nicaragua will take us past many small islands.
Historically, Granada is one of the most important cities of Nicaragua and the oldest in Central America. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the area was inhabited by the Xalteva tribe and here it was that Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba founded Granada in 1524 – named after his home town in Spain. During the colonial period, Granada controlled one of the key commercial ports in Central America, maintaining trade connections with Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama and Peru. Cocoa and tobacco were the main goods handled. The Lake of Nicaragua (Lago Cocibolca) is the largest sweet-water lake in Central America and, as shipping traffic on the lake increased, so also did the trading volume. As a result of its growing wealth and Spain’s European conflicts with Holland, England and France, the city became an object of pirate attacks between 1665 and 1885. The construction of a fortress in 1675 on the San Juan river in nearby El Castillo did not prevent repeated plundering and burnings of the city. Finally, in November 1856, a civil war against the American adventurer, William Walker, thwarted his attempt to gain control of all Central America but the city was again destroyed in the process. From 1870 onwards, Granada was rebuilt so that most of the buildings today are relics of that period.
Today, with around 110,000 people, Granada is the 7th largest metropolis in Nicaragua . It lies 47 kilometers south of the capital on the west coast of the Lake of Nicaragua at the foot of the Mombacho Volcano. Xalteva has become one of its largest residential suburbs. Granada has a charming center that tourists are only beginning to discover. Just as everywhere in Central America, the focal point of the city is around a central plaza – the Plaza Colon. In spite of the many waves of destruction, many examples of baroque and neoclassical architecture have been preserved or restored in recent years. The city center is now recognized as a jewel of colonial Spanish architecture. Up to now, however, tourism has played only a minor role in the local economy.
The best way to discover and appreciate the historical atmosphere is on foot. Wander through the narrow streets lined with colorful colonial houses. However, the most interesting aspects have to be imagined: Hidden behind the walls of private homes are small, tidy courtyards filled with tropical plants and typical handmade furniture.
The cathedral was first constructed in 1529 and is considered one of the most important colonial buildings in Central America. Destroyed by fire in 1856, the present edifice goes back to the year 1880 and was last renovated in 1905.
The Church of La Merced was built between 1781 and 1783 in baroque style. Also this construction fell victim to the fire of 1856 but was subsequently rebuilt. From the church tower, one has a superlative view of the surrounding houses with their red tiled rooftops, inner courtyards and the alleyways of the old city.
San Francisco Cloister and Church
This complex was founded in 1529 by a Franciscan monk. Between 1835 and 1867 it was used as a university and then converted again into cloister and church. Since 1986 it houses an extensive exhibition of Indian stone sculptures and a Museum of Architecture.
Casa de los Tres Mundos
This “House of three Worlds” was a project by Dietmar Schönherr and Ernesto Cardenal. As a convention center for national and international artists and guests, it is well-known beyond the borders of Nicaragua. Housed in a colonial structure from the 16th century, it was meticulously renovated between 1955 and 1988. In this cultural center, courses, exhibitions and concerts are presented. The city archives are also to be found here.
The Festung La Polvora was built in 1748/49, firstly for the purpose of storing gunpowder. Later the fort was used as a prison and today serves as a Military Museum. From one of the accessible towers, there is an excellent view over the city.
The original station was constructed in 1888 in neoclassical style. When rail traffic was abandoned, the building was remodeled to become a cooking school.
Calle La Calzada
This is the shopping and strolling street of Granada. Approximately 800 meters long and partially car-free, it runs from the Cathedral up to the Malecon Promenade on the Lake of Nicaragua. Here you will find most of the restaurants, cafés, bars, hotels, travel agencies, and souvenir shops. Many of the buildings were recently renovated and now radiate a new, old-colonial style. At the end of the street is a pier from which are many connections – some via speedboats – to the various islands and cities along the shore of the lake.
In this bustling park in the center of Granada, the local craftsmen display and sell their handmade wares such as ceramics, hammocks and other products typical to the region. A number of snack bars offer local specialties. This is also a starting point for a tour of the city in a horse-drawn carriage. Dotted with palm trees, the park is invitingly illuminated in the evening by strings of lights.
Isletas de Granada
The roughly 360 islands in the Lake of Nicaragua are of volcanic origin and covered with lush vegetation. They were created more than 20,000 years ago by the eruption of the Mombacho Volcano which explains why they lie so close together. Some of the islands are permanently inhabited – but most of them belong to wealthy Nicaraguans or foreigners who use them only as vacation retreats.
For a closer look at the magnificent villas, boat and canoe trips to the islands are available. This is also a good way to observe a variety of water birds (king fishers, tiger herons, Montezuma oropendole, ospreys, cormorants, northern jacanas, tropical kingbirds, great snowy and cattle egrets, etc.). You can also watch the local fishermen trying to snare a guapote – a specialty available at the market in Granada.