Remember when we swore off overland travel to/from the Corn Islands and vowed to fly back to Managua (here)? Well, as luck would have it – flights to Managua were sold out for the week. Unhappily, we booked a flight back to Bluefields in the morning, waited four hours for a panga to fill up and take us to Rama, boarded a bus to Managua (which wasn’t really a bus to Managua/we had to transfer in Juigalpa) that broke down en route. When we finally made it to Managua, it was well after dark and there were no more buses to Granada so we paid a taxi to drive us there. The taxi ride turned out to be the highlight of our ride – we had asked a few drivers what they would charge and this guy was the lowest and seemed friendly in his beat up (not legal) taxi. He picked up his son for the ride and to possibly leave in Granada to party for the night and we had a fun hour and a half drive down. The entire adventure cost the same as it would have to fly to Managua and bus to Granada and took an additional 15 hours.
The next day we walked around and enjoyed the historic and beautifully restored city of Granada. We climbed the clock tower for an excellent view.
From the top of the clock tower it was interesting to look down and get a view of how all the old Colonial houses have an open-air courtyard in the middle. This is true for every restaurant, store, hostel, hotel and even the gym that are all in converted colonial houses.
For a mere $8 USD we were able to hire a horse drawn carriage for a half-hour ride around the city with an English-speaking guide who proudly told us about his hometown.
Granada is Central America’s oldest city founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba. During the colonial period, Granada maintained a flourishing level of commerce with Atlantic ports, through Lake Nicaragua via the San Juan River. Due to it’s accessibility from the Atlantic Ocean, Granada witnessed many battles and invasions from the English, French and Dutch pirates aiming to take control of the country. Granada is also where William Walker, the American filibuster, took up residence and attempted to take control of Central America as a ruling president in 1856. In 1857, he was defeated by a coalition of Central American armies; but not before one of his generals set the city ablaze before escaping, destroying much of the ancient city and leaving printed the words “Here was Granada”. William Walker was executed by the government of Honduras in 1860.
Our guide informed us that it has been mostly over recent years that the city has been restored to its previous splendor – with the majority of the restoration efforts by foreign owners and investment (the old town is now too expensive for most Nicaraguans to buy in). However, he did take us by some of Nicaragua’s richest family’s houses which were stunning.
Granada is home to many beautiful churches, not surprising given the vast majority of Nicaraguans are Christian (although the number has been falling in recent years and there is no recent census data).
Although we don’t do many organized tours, we thought a trip up Volcano Masaya – an active volcano – was a must. We opted for a night tour which would be slightly less hot and included sunset views and a visit to the bat caves.
Masaya Volcano is located within Masaya National Park, Nicaragua’s first and largest National Park. The park actually contains two volcanoes – Masaya and Nindiri which are situated side by side and we walked between the outside edges of the craters during our tour.
When we first arrived at the top of the volcano, our guide asked if we would like our gas masks. Not smelling/seeing much from the parking lot everyone shook their heads; although we later regretted this while coughing as large clouds of sulfur dioxide gas blew our way. Masaya continually emits large amounts of sulfur dioxide gas which is closely studied to better understand the behavior of the volcano and also evaluate the impact of acid rain and the potential for health problems. Our guide told us stories of the locals getting sick from drinking cow milk after a large acid rain storm where the cows ingested the acid.
Once darkness fell, we were outfitted with hardhats and flashlights and marched down to the lava tunnels which are basically large bat caves.
For more photos of Granada and Masaya Volcano, check out our Flickr Album.