Granada Travel Blog

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Cathedral of Granada
Sunday, November 02
Well somehow Robb and Cindy managed to sleep through all of the street noise and the howling dogs (not as bad as in Thimphu, Bhutan but noisy nevertheless).  On top of that, Cindy and Cathy both froze (Cindy snuck our A.C back up to mid 70’s but Robb snuck his down to 68).  All things considered, it appears that Robb is the ultimate winner last night (no noise, no heat), Cindy and Larry in the middle (noise for Larry, cold for Cindy) and poor Cathy pulls in last with the worst of both (noisy mutts and chills).  Ah well, the life of a mom with three daughters isn’t easy.  The ladies suggested that, since both Robb and I like cold rooms, we bunk together.  Luckily I had previous knowledge of Robb’s predilection for snoring and passed…

Breakfast is included at Hotel Dario and ended up being a really good Comida Tipica with Huevos Revuelotos (scrambled eggs), Maduros (sweet fried plantains), Gallo Pinto (rice and beans - the national dish of Nicaragua) and Tocina (bacon) as well as fresh brewed Nicaraguan coffee, juice and a big fruit plate.
Comida Typica at Hotel Dario

So Granada is evidently the oldest colonial city in “The New World” having been founded in 1524 by Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba, a Spanish conquistadore who founded both cities of Granada and Leon to the north and is known as the “founder” of Nicaragua (something I would guess the original locals would argue with…).  It is a cool, old Spanish style city with lots of colonial buildings, cobble-stone lined streets like the Calle La Calzada that our hotel is located on and lots to do.  It actually has a really interesting history including an invasion by an American crazy guy named William Walker and a bunch of lunatic confederates back in the mid-1800’s.  You can read more about that on Wikipedia at Wikipedia Granada or there is a good write-up in Lonely Planet’s Nicaragua book and on their website at Lonely Planet Granada Overview

After breakfast we walked thru the main Square of Granada which was already starting to bustle with vendors, kids playing soccer and people mulling around.
Winnie the Pooh serves Nicaraguan Hotdogs!
  I had to snap the shot of the hot dog vendor with the Winnie the Pooh cart - too funny, I wonder if they are paying A.A. Milne royalties?  The dusty square is surrounded with some cool old colonial buildings, a rebuilt church which looks OK from the outside but is just ugly cement inside and a tree covered park.  We ended up walking down one of the streets and stumbling on to the local market which was a labyrinth of tiny stalls selling everything from rice and beans to unsanitary looking meat and poultry to house wares, medicines, flowers and clothing.  At the entrance to the market was a newspaper stand with the ummm… interesting picture of Sabrina who is apparently a famous, buxom Nicaraguan porn star.  We wandered around the market eventually finding our way back out of the maze and decided to head to the Granada Cemetery since today is the day of the dead.
Sabrina - Nicaragua's most famous adult movie star

We stopped at one of the old colonial churches which are scattered all over Granada, this one called Iglesa de la Merced which was really pretty and surrounded by some other cool, old buildings.  Services were going on so we didn’t want to barge in but may come back later to watch the sunset from the tower.  As you can see by the picture of the girl in the pink top, the Nica girls get dolled up for church :-)

Luck was with us today and we suddenly stumbled on the Mambacho Cigar Company and a young kid who didn’t speak much English told us we could come in and get a tour if we wanted.  Mambacho is one of the local, active volcanoes in Granada.  Robb and I were immediately enticed and so we all stepped into a large room with huge pictures of what ended up being Silvio the proprietor’s parents as well as a big shot of Arnold “The Govenator” Schwartzenegger smoking one of Silvio’s cigars with him and his brothers.
Iglesa de la Merced in Granada
  The young guy took us to the courtyard where he started demonstrating and explaining in broken English how the cigars are rolled.  He actually had Cathy, Cindy, Robb and I each roll our own cigars which was pretty cool (although not a profession I would want to engage in - they roll something like 400-500 cigars a day!).  He explained the different types of tobacco, filler and wrapper and showed us how to roll and then press the cigars which he ended up giving to enjoy the fruits of our labors.  

After we finished rolling our cigars, Silvio the proprietor came out and introduced himself (and his colorful parrot).  He is Nicaraguan but lived in the US for many years and originally ran the cigar factory with several of his brothers.  Unfortunately, they were living the high life on expense accounts and he finally wrestled control of the company and is now running it on his own.
Cute Nica Girl
  In addition to running the factory, he is an aspiring politician and actually running for Mayor of Granada in the up coming election this Sunday.  While we were talking to him, several of his cronies came by with baseball hats and t-shirts with his picture and Numero 9 which is apparently his check-box on the ballot.  

After sitting us down in the foyer and lighting our cigars as well as offering us some of his “Nicaraguan Ice Wine” (note that this was not quite as tasty as the German, Canadian or Italian varietals ;-) he took off to hit the campaign trail.  Wonder if he will pass out cigars to garner more votes?  He did have an interesting perspective on the up-coming American presidential election, feeling that if Obama is elected, all the US enemies will “poke at him” until he proves he has cojones the size of McCain’s or other more hawkish politicos…The cigars were actually really good and even Cathy and Cindy partook.
Cindy's new Profession - Cigar Roller
  Both Robb and I ended up buying a box to take home.

After finishing our cigars (nothing like smoking a cigar right after breakfast and drinking wine before lunch…) we headed up the very hot and sunny streets to the Cemetery for the Day of the Dead celebration.  There were lots of people (and of course food, drink and flower vendors) roaming all over the cemetery.  We walked all through the grounds where there are lots and lots of crypts and monuments, some of them simple and some ornate.   The locals were all out paying their respects, cleaning the tombstones, repainting the crypts and placing flowers on them.  Mostly they appeared to be family tombs with multiple spaces for internment, some still open waiting for the next aged or unlucky family member to join them.  Cathy commented to Robb that this could be an excellent hiding place for their precious metals currently housed at Milt and Diana’s or in innocuous boxes labeled “Machine Parts” up in one of those states that starts with W…

Walking back to our end of town, I had the pleasure (or rather lack of pleasure) of interacting with one of Granada’s less hospitable people who, was obviously a drunk and mean.
Silvio and his Bird
  He spoke perfect, LA gang member English which made me think that he had definitely spent time in the States.  After telling him that I wouldn’t give him five dollars, he said “You better hope you never need my help.  I am a gang member and we will strip you naked and cut off your skin…”  I told him he should rethink his strategy instead of pissing off tourists.  As we walked away he yelled, “This is MY country, not the US!”  We kept an eye on him for the next few minutes and like most of them, he was all bluster and crawled back into whatever hole he crawled out of and didn’t bother us anymore.  

Once we made it back to town, we decided it would be a good idea to get some Cordobas instead of paying for everything with dollars and finally found the bank and an ATM.
Yolanda enjoying the fruits of her labor
  As we were walking over to the Caldwell Banker office to meet with Robb’s contact and take a look at some of the Isletas on Lake Nicaragua, we met Ricardo the tour guide.  He was a very funny guy claiming to be the original tour guide in Granada and had lived in the US for a while so his English was perfect.  He was working us to go on a sunset tour of Granada and the local sites with him in a horse cart (but one “with good horses, not like those scrawny, underfed ones in the park…”) which we might do after we finish up with the real-estate stuff.  

We found the Caldwell Banker office right off of the park and met Guy the Surfer and Real Estate agent originally from Zimbabwe then the US and now living in Nicaragua with a El Salvadorian fiancée.  He is a really interesting guy who ended up falling in love with surfing and followed the waves down here.
Larry, Cindy, Silvio, Cathy and Robb at Mombacho Cigar Company
  He gave us a bit of an education on real-estate options in Nicaragua including the pros and cons of buying an isleta and why he favors Nicaragua over Costa Rica in terms of investment.  We agreed that we would go grab lunch and meet him back at the office afterward to take a boat out and visit some of the properties.  Lunch was a pretty good beef steak with chimichurri sauce at one of the restaurants right off of the square (with a few Tona’s to break the heat) and it wasn’t long before we were back in the office ready to head out on the water.

We hopped in Guy’s car and drove down to the “marina” to catch a panga out to see the islands.  Guy had explained that there are really two sides of the lake in terms of the isletas, the first side was a bit less remote and has electricity available whereas the other side is a bit more remote with no access to the grid so you have to use solar, wind or generators.
Silvio for Mayor
  Our first stop was at a small isleta that already has a structure on it (which Guy explained can be good since that means there is a foundation, etc. already there even if you were to tear the building down and start over).  The asking price was $150,000 but it has been on the market for over a year and he thought the owner would take less.  On the way there, Guy told us that this property also had a pool that was empty the last time he was out.  None of us was clear on why you would want a pool when your island is on a beautiful, freshwater lake but whatever.

Well apparently it has rained a lot since the last time Guy was at this island.  As we pulled up, we saw the ramshackle building (worthy of immediate demolition) as well as the overflowing pool.
Tombs at Granada Cemetary
  Since it rained most of October, the water level is about eight feet higher than normal.  Perhaps this caused some of the disappointment in this particular isleta by submerging the dock and maybe a bit of the property.  We landed and decided to check it out anyway and all decided it would be an awesome location for a budget horror flick, perhaps something like The Evil Dead IV.  Somehow I don’t see Morgan, Bailey and McClain enjoying this one too much…

I am sure that Guy could see the look on everyone’s faces but luckily, he knew of a nicer island across the way that had a nice house on it and is currently for sale.  We hopped in the panga and motored to a much nicer, bigger island that actually had some elevation to it as well as being beautifully landscaped with lush gardens and tropical plants.
Robb and Cathy on their Fantasy Island in Lake Nicaragua
  The Panamanian owner was there with a crew cleaning up and showed us around the two bedroom house and two bedroom guest house.  It was actually really nice and looked like a fun place to hang out.  They are asking $400,000 but again, Guy felt you could get a better deal.  Not exactly what Robb and Cathy were looking to spend, nor are they really ready to have to worry about maintaining a property so far from home.  Owning a chunk of land that they could develop in the future is the real idea so we bid farewell and headed back to land watching sunset on the lake.  

We ended up sitting at a small bar/restaurant on Calle la Calzada where we shared Tona’s with Guy and talked about Nicaragua.  Tomorrow we are going to visit the other side of the Lake to see the more remote sites before heading off to Lake Ometepe.
Robb's Gourmet Kitchen on his island
  While we were relaxing, a bunch of kids in giant Day of the Dead dancer costumes came by entertaining everyone.  Guy suggested El Zaguan Restaurant as a great place for quality Nicaraguan food.  Robb and I had another pre-dinner cigar from our recently acquired stash from Mombacho and then walked to the restaurant.  The food was really good with Robb having the giant grilled meat platter, I had the local Guapote fish fried, Cindy had Chicken Kabobs and poor Cathy who is vegetarian had salad and some tostones con queso (mushed, fried plantains with cheese).  

After dinner, we went back to Hotel Dario and Robb, Cathy and I went swimming in the nice little hotel pool which was really refreshing after a hot day of wandering all over Granada.
Rowboat on Lake Nicaragua
  All in all, a great first day on our long overdue travels.

Saturday November 1st
So we headed off to O’Hare Airport in plenty of time with Cathy and Cindy’s dad Milt at the helm and checked in without any complications.  Since we used Frequent Flyer points for the flights, our route was somewhat circuitous involving two puddle-jumper flights, first from Chicago to Memphis and then Memphis to Miami followed by the flight to Managua.  The Embraer planes are small and none to comfy but compared to the sixteen hour Delhi to Chicago flight last year, no big deal.

We landed in Memphis and decided to get into the Central American swing of things by having Bloody Mary’s and Beers at the Memphis airport.
Sunset on Lake Nicaragua
  After a brief layover, we took off for Miami where we managed to grab a quick lunch and a beer before taking the flight to Managua.  Unfortunately, once again on the flight to Managua, the movie was Swing Vote (there seems to be a pattern here - hopefully on our return once the election fervor has subsided there will be something more entertaining than a lame-ass Kevin Costner film…) so I spend the whole time messing around with photos on my laptop.

Immigration in Managua was a breeze and as soon as we exited the airport, a nice old guy with a sign with Cindy’s name on it found us and whisked us off to Granada.  Whisked might be a bit of a euphemism as he was quite the cautious driver.  The road from Managua to Granada is pretty good and, even though it was early evening, we could see lush vegetation and a nice moon over the lake.
Robb's New Friend
  Much of the drive was scented with the smoky smell of sugar cane and whatever else burning - it’s amazing how simple smells like that can be so intoxicating in one place and not in another.  I can’t really think of a time in the States that the smell of a pile of smoldering vegetation, plastic, etc. made me happy but it instantly happens here.  It’s also kind of funny how, when we are travelling in the third world, we tend to analyze things less than at home and just go with the flow (like getting in a beat up old car with a stranger who doesn’t speak English and heading out into the countryside on dark, deserted roads…) It’s all so fun!

Anyway, the drive from the airport at Managua to Granada is only about 45 minutes, the last part of which we actually got to see a bit of pretty, colonial Granada.
Mombacho Caldera from Lake Nicaragua
  After winding through the streets we ended up on a pretty, brick paved street Calle la Calzada that had hotels, bars and restaurants on either side of the street with stalled traffic everywhere (mostly because locals in cars were stopping to talk with their friends imbibing at the local bars). 

We meandered down the street and pulled up to the Hotel Dario which is a beautiful, up-scale hotel with high-ceilinged rooms with A.C. and paddle fans, a really nice wooden balcony overlooking a garden/fountain area and small balconies over the street with great views of everything including the Granada Cathedral.  It is one of the pricier places in Granada at about $90/night but since this is a short vacation relative to our jaunts over that last few years, it doesn’t really matter for a few nights.  Good call Yolanda! (but just to be clear, get me on sabbatical again and we are back to our $25-40/night budget!)

It ends up that pretty much everywhere in Nicaragua, you can pay in Cordobas (the national currency) or dollars which was good since we stupidly forgot to change any money at the airport.
The nicest isleta property we saw on Lake Nicaragua
  After settling into our cushy accommodations, we headed out for a walk on the street and ended up plopping down into some chairs right on Calle la Calzada at a bar/restaurant called Nectar for some refreshing cocktail beverages and snacks (which ended up being dinner…)  Cindy tried a Nica Libre which is really just a Cuba Libre but made with Nicaraguan Rum instead of Cuban rum, Cathy and Robb opted for a pitcher of Sangria and I felt obligated to try the “national drink” of Nicaragua called the Macua which is a Guava and Rum drink that was a little to girly for me.  Robb and I then sampled the local brews, Victoria and Tona ultimately opting for the Tona as our beer of choice.  The food at that place was just OK, really just appetizers, but we were too lazy to venture much further, instead deciding to sit street-side and watch the hordes of break-dancing Nicaraguan kids performing (and asking for one dollar of course…)

We did wander up to Parque Central, the main square in Granada where we cautiously walked around the somewhat dark and deserted park.
Little Girl rowing on Lake Nicaragua
  Not much was going on there, nor did it look all that great a place to be at night so we headed back towards the water and casually walked back up to Hotel Dario and crashed in order to be ready to check out Granada in the morning.

Monday, November 03
After another tasty breakfast at Hotel Dario where Robb made best friends with another Nicaraguan bird (this one not quite as extravagant as Silvio’s colorful parrot at the cigar factory yesterday), we walked over to Coldwell Banker to meet Guy and head out to the more remote side of the isletas where the islands are all “off the grid” and need wind or solar power.  Guy had told us that this side of the lake had better views of Mombacho and was just a few minutes further away.
The Marina on the "remote" side of Lake Nicaragua
  We piled into his SUV and headed down towards yesterday’s marina but turned off on a dirt road to head to the other side of the lake.  The road was less than spectacular but we arrived at what looked like a much nicer marina than yesterday’s. 

Robb promptly decided that we should go into the local store at the Marina for supplies (Tona beers and sunscreen) before heading out so that we didn’t get dehydrated.  This was an excellent idea (although the store ended up not having sunscreen which is weird for a marina store that did have hair color and condoms…whatever).  We hopped in the boat that Guy arranged and headed out on the much prettier side of the lake.

We ended up motoring around the lake on a gorgeous, sunny day stopping at one fairly large, raw isleta that Robb and Cathy actually liked and had some potential.
Guy and Robb on the nice island
  There is a nice seawall (or I guess more appropriately a lake wall) surrounding the property and one small shack on it.  It has a bit of elevation to it and a reasonable amount of buildable land.  Guy told us about building a Ranchero which is kind of like an open air Palapa building like they have in Mexico or Bali.  We tromped around through the lush growth on the island a bit, met the local ants which had a definite taste for my ankles and toes and talked about how you might be able to take advantage of the structure of the island to build a pretty cool retreat.

Just in case anyone is interested in real-estate in Granada, Guy was… a great guy and we really enjoyed the time we spent with him and his knowledge of the area.
Birds in a tree on Lago de Nicaragua and Mombacho Volcano in the background
  He has a pretty unique background and outlook as he is originally from Zimbabwe but has spent lots of time in the states with a wide variety of occupations including Risk Management and Real Estate.  A number of years ago, he got really into surfing and has been chasing the waves ever since.  He is engaged to an El Salvadorian woman and trying to figure out where to ultimately live.  If you would like to contact him in Granada, his email is and his office phone is 505-552-2908.

After the boat trip, Guy took us to the new supermarket in Granada where we picked up some road supplies as well as all investing in what he called the Nicaraguan Wonder Drug for colds Tabcin.  Cindy panicked when she couldn’t find her cordobas but eventually found them hidden somewhere in her wallet and we left with our munchies, juice and Flor de Cana Rum for the roadtrip to Ometepe Island.  Guy dropped us off at Hotel Dario and our original taxi guy who drove us from Managua to Granada a couple days ago was smiling and waiting for us ready to shuttle us off on the hour and a half drive to San Jorge where you catch the ferry to Ometepe Island.

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Cathedral of Granada
Cathedral of Granada
Comida Typica at Hotel Dario
Comida Typica at Hotel Dario
Winnie the Pooh serves Nicaraguan …
Winnie the Pooh serves Nicaraguan…
Sabrina - Nicaraguas most famous …
Sabrina - Nicaragua's most famous…
Iglesa de la Merced in Granada
Iglesa de la Merced in Granada
Cute Nica Girl
Cute Nica Girl
Cindys new Profession - Cigar Rol…
Cindy's new Profession - Cigar Ro…
Silvio and his Bird
Silvio and his Bird
Yolanda enjoying the fruits of her…
Yolanda enjoying the fruits of he…
Larry, Cindy, Silvio, Cathy and Ro…
Larry, Cindy, Silvio, Cathy and R…
Silvio for Mayor
Silvio for Mayor
Tombs at Granada Cemetary
Tombs at Granada Cemetary
Robb and Cathy on their Fantasy Is…
Robb and Cathy on their Fantasy I…
Robbs Gourmet Kitchen on his isla…
Robb's Gourmet Kitchen on his isl…
Rowboat on Lake Nicaragua
Rowboat on Lake Nicaragua
Sunset on Lake Nicaragua
Sunset on Lake Nicaragua
Robbs New Friend
Robb's New Friend
Mombacho Caldera from Lake Nicarag…
Mombacho Caldera from Lake Nicara…
The nicest isleta property we saw …
The nicest isleta property we saw…
Little Girl rowing on Lake Nicarag…
Little Girl rowing on Lake Nicara…
The Marina on the remote side of…
The Marina on the "remote" side o…
Guy and Robb on the nice island
Guy and Robb on the nice island
Birds in a tree on Lago de Nicarag…
Birds in a tree on Lago de Nicara…
Granada Hotels & Accommodations review
Luxury in Granada
The Hotel Dario is a beautiful, up-scale hotel with high-ceiling-ed rooms with air conditioning and paddle fans, a really nice wooden balcony overlook… read entire review
photo by: monoli