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Granada is a dazzling city and is the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua. The city is situated right on the cost of the fresh-watered Lake Nicaragua. Be wary about going for a swim here as this is the only fresh water lake in the world that contains sharks (specifically bull sharks). Fun fact: these bull sharks swim upstream of the San Juan River much like salmon fish do.
Common sense should always prevail, but you should be warned that it is not recommended to wander towards the lake at night. Overall, the city is gorgeous, while keeping in mind you are in a developing country and perfectly safe during the day. Sarah and I wandered around with our large and very obvious backpacks and asked locals for directions numerous times without an issue.
The main appeal in Granada was to admire the architecture, tour the islets of Granada, hike nearby Mombacho Volcano and climb the La Merced Church for sunset. Alas, we accomplished all but climbing the tower of the church for a supposed amazing sunset over the city.
Admiring the Architecture
Tour of the Islets
As with any tour you want to pick the right company and for the best price. Sarah and I took our tour with Erik Tours after walking around and speaking to different companies. Erik Tours offered us the best discount (keep in mind you should never be afraid to haggle because they want the business) of $15 instead of $20. This price included complementary use of their bicycles as well but, Sarah had a bad experience with a bike in Europe and has since shied away from using them. Please note that it is not necessary to book in advance.
The tour of the islets was relaxing and includes some guided information on their significance, stopover at El Fuerte San Pablo (used to protect the Granada from 18th century pirate invasions), and an hour long break on one of the islets that had a restaurant. El Fuerte San Pablo was smothered in mango trees which you could eat directly from the tree. Sarah and I were among everyone else in the group who of course ate them.
The mangos were delicious but the after party of mango pieces in our teeth was not so fun to pick out (bring floss or a toothpick!). If you want to be super romantic you can pick the pieces out of your significant others teeth (I may have or have not done this). The stop-off at the restaurant for drinks or snacks was totally unnecessary but inevitable.
Sarah and I also used Erik Tours for this adventure. Since we had booked the previous tour with them they gave us a discount. We paid $29 rather than their normal $35. Again, just be friendly and talk with them. In most cases they would rather knock off a few dollars to have you go with them instead of a competitor. We looked into the details of doing this hike by ourselves and found it would have been foolish.
The higher cost and unclear multiple directions/transfers to get to Mombacho was an immediate deterrent. The cost of an arranged tour with a guide and provided transportation with the inclusion of visiting the coffee plantation on the mountain was less than trying to be a rugged explorer. Hopefully you do not get carsick because the truck taking you up the volcano tackles a massive incline while bumping you up and around.
The hike was pretty and ended with a spectacular view of Granada and the islets of Granada. The entire hike is through a cloud rainforest so bring a windbreaker/waterproof jacket. Our guide provided us with abundant information on the natural flora and potential wildlife to be seen. The hike ends with a view over Granada and the islets which enable you to realize the scope of the lake and where your islet tour took or will take you.
Recommended Budget Accommodation:
Hostel Oasis was something of a 10 minute walk to the main plaza containing the Catédral de Granada. Located more in the heart of where the locals will be and not so much affluent tourists. In this neighborhood you could find those coveted sub-$2 meals complete with rice, beans, and fried plantains and chicken. Just ask the receptionist where they themselves like to eat.
What You Must Try:
Vigorón. It is a traditional Nicaraguan dish consisting of a cabbage salad called curtido (containing chopped cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and chili pepper marinated in vinegar and salt) boiled yucca, and chicharrones (fried pork with skin or with meat) wrapped in a banana leaf.
- “Vigorón Recipe (Nicaraguan Yuca, Pork Rind and Cabbage Salad).” Whats4eats. 2009. Web. 19 May 2016.
Photography by: Philip Moreira Photography