I had no plans to go to Granada, Nicaragua. The furthest I considered going while I was planning my trip to Playa Potrero, was to San Jose, the Costa Rican capital to see a friend. But I’d given up the idea because I wasn’t able to speak with her before I left home. I was content with spending the time catching up, reconnecting and reminiscing with my friends.
A day or two after I arrived, though, I noticed a one-day tour to Granada. That it as the first European city in the Mainland had me almost salivating with delight. Suddenly, my plan for a seven-day do-nothing-but-relax vacation evaporated as the thought of traveling to a second country and seeing a colonial city filled my head.
It didn’t matter that the trip would involve traveling 8 hours on a bus or that I was the only one of our group who wanted to go. All that was nothing compared to the adventure I imagined I’d have, the treats I knew I’d discover. I contacted Claudia at LEP Costa Rica to make the arrangements (Claudia also arranged my Congo Trail zip lining tour) and all I thought of for the next four days was the tour to Granada.
Like a lot of people, the most I knew of Nicaragua was what I remembered from reading about the Somoza dictatorship, the Sandinista Revolution, and the explosive Iran-Contra Affair – the scandal that tainted the second term of the Reagan Administration over their covert arming of the Contras, a guerrilla group that was fighting to depose the Sandinista government.
Because of these events, I knew of Managua but not of Granada. I didn’t know that Granada was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, that it was named in recognition of the Spanish defeat of the Moors in Granada, or that the Sandinista war never reached this historic city.
Granada is the capital of Granada, one of Nicaragua’s 15 departments. About 130,000 people live in the city which sits on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, a freshwater lake, the largest in Central America (the 19th largest in the world).
I also did not know that from 1856-7, an American lawyer and journalist, William Walker, took up residence in Granada and declared himself president of Nicaragua (his election was fraudulent). Walker envisioned taking control of Central America and began by Americanizing his colony, making English the official language. He also tried to reinstate slavery. While this brought him some support in the U.S. South, it made him no friends in Central America.
In December 1856, he fled Granada ahead of an advancing coalition of troops from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Before they abandoned Granada, one of Walker’s generals ordered the city burnt. So sure they were of their success that they left this note, “Aqui fue Granada” (Here was Granada).
From the moment we entered the heart of the city, I was tickled by vibrant colors everywhere – from the buildings to the ‘chicken’ buses, as the woman sitting next to me called them. (She had spent time in South America and said that’s what the expats there called them as they were as likely to carry people as they would poultry and livestock.)
I couldn’t wait to get off the bus as it pulled to a stop. All around us were historic buildings, many flanking narrow cobbled streets.
We followed Eric, our tour guide, stopping to take photos along the way and trying to keep up. Then there it was, the pièce de résistance: Granada’s Cathedral (Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción).
Built in 1583, the Cathedral was destroyed by Walker’s fire and rebuilt several times. This current building was completed in the early 1920s. Although we didn’t have time to enter the cathedral, Eric explained that it had four chapels and three naves.
Before we left the bus, Eric had told us that the town square (Plaza de la Independencia) was to have been our second stop but we were late making our first stop – a boat ride on Lake Nicaragua – so he had to switch things around. It was then that I realized how focused I’d been on seeing Granada’s colonial buildings that I’d ignored everything else about the tour. (I’ll be writing about the rest of it later.)
The Plaza de la Independencia is a large open square anchored by the impressive Cathedral, which is located on the east side of Columbus Park (Parque Colón) and several buildings, including City Hall (Palacio Municipal) and the Alhambra Hotel. On one side of the bustling park were vendors selling T-shirts and souvenirs.
We spent about 30 minutes in the Plaza, way too short to see all there was to see. Next up was lunch at a local restaurant. I can’t wait to return to Granada for a longer visit.
Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, that Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes.