Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua

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).

Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
La Catedral de 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.)

Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
Street, Granada

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.

Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
Granada street

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.

Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
The Cathedral of Granada

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.)

Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
Plaza de la Independencia, Granada

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. 

Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
Plaza de la Independencia, Granada
Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
Columbus Park, Granada
Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
Colorful bus, Granada
Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
“Chicken” bus, Granada
Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua
Taxi, Granada

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.


14 comments on “Six Hours in Granada Nicaragua

  1. Oh I’d do exactly the same as you Marcia, I never pass up an opportunity to visit somewhere new, particularly a new country. Sounds like you need to go back for much longer. Your pictures make it look very empty but I don’t suppose it was.

  2. I just saw a trip that included Grenada the other day and realized I knew absolutely nothing about the city. Looking forward to seeing what else you did on your tour – even if you had far too little time!

  3. Hi Marcia! What a surprise find! It’s so great to just be able to say “I want to do this”, and do it! Granada’s history is interesting, and I love the buildings. They have that European flair! Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

  4. There is nothing like an unplanned adventure to get the travel juices flowing. It looks like a lovely place – can’t wait to hear about the boat trip.

  5. Oh Marcia, now you’ve got me wanting to visit Granada! You are right, I also remember “Managua” from the headlines – back when I didn’t pay much attention to politics or headlines – but certainly couldn’t have identified this wonderful old city. I do hope you get back there and show and tell us more about this interesting place!

  6. This tour looks like a great way to take a break from “doing nothing”. I also seem to have trouble with doing nothing on vacation. I’ll admit that Granada is not what I expected. Also remembering its recent history in the US News, I never considered Nicaragua to be a place to visit for fun. It looks so pretty and indeed European. So, were there any chickens on the bus?

  7. When we were in Costa Rica last year I contemplated doing this day tour – but a lazy day won out. Glad to see it through your eyes though.

  8. I have heard such great things about Granada too and I’d love to see that stunning cathedral. I’m glad you were able to visit another country and get a glimpse of its culture and buildings. I hope you get to return soon for a longer visit, Marcia. That taxi is awesome!

  9. Great photos!
    Nicaraguan say that the people from Granada are really conceited and in the summer many would drive with their windows closed so everybody would think they had a/c in their car!

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