Granada is Nicaragua’s fourth largest city and perhaps it’s most treasured. The city was founded on December 8, 1524 by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, making it the oldest city in the Americas. The city still maintains that cultural and historical feel as evident by the numerous cathedrals that seem virtually untouched since their conception. Granada has been one of the most important cities in Nicaragua, historically and politically. For decades, Granada and Leon fought as to who would claim the title of Nicaragua’s most important city. Finally during the mid 1800’s, a compromise was reached relocating the capital in Managua.
Granada today is perhaps the top tourist destination in Nicaragua. It seemed as if there were more Europeans than Americans. Everywhere you look around the city center are people trying to capitalize on the tourism industry. The focal point of the city is Central Park. There are monuments, fountains, arts and craft vendors and refreshment stands all located under a tree lined canopy.
Towering over Central Park is one of Granada’s most recognized cathedrals, the Cathedral of Granada. It is brightly painted orange and it offers panoramic views of Granada from its bell towers. Surrounding the cathedral are numerous restaurants, internet cafes, and old style colonial homes.
Granada sits on the western edge of Lake Nicaragua or Lake Cocibolca as the locals call it. It is the 20th largest lake in the world and the only place where you will find freshwater sharks. These sharks can travel freely from the lake to the ocean using the rivers that flow out to the sea. Fishing for these creatures has been banned due to population decline. Within Lake Nicaragua is Isla de Ometepe, an island containing two active volcanoes. Isla de Ometepe is a frequent tourist destination as people like to hike to the top of the volcanoes. Although there is a ferry to the island from Granada, it is better to take the ferry from Rivas, which is about thirty minutes from Granada. The ferry from Rivas leaves everyday about every hour, while the ferry from Granada leaves only on Monday and Thursday usually at 2pm.
Looking over the city as a protector and sometimes destroyer is Volcano Mombacho. It is an active volcano; however, it hasn’t erupted since 1570. Tourists flock to the top of it by the few hiking trails which offers spectacular views of Lake Nicaragua and Granada itself. Volcano Mombacho was directly responsible for creating the Islets of Granada in Lake Nicaragua. The Islets are a group of over 360 islands which were formed when Volcano Mombacho blew its cone into the lake. To this day, residents will tell you that most of the islands are privately owned and some even have houses on them. Some of the islands have tourist facilities as Granada offers boat tours through the islands.
If you feel like fighting the crowds, take a walk down to the city market. It is chaotic and crowded and walking down here is like being in a night club. For tourists, it is advised not to buy anything here. Most everything that is sold in the market is cheap imitation American knock-offs. They sell everything from clothes to bootlegged DVD’s. It is on the same scale as an American flea market. But it is worth the experience to walk down here if just for a minute.
There is no airport that services Granada, so everyone must fly into Managua. Although you can take a taxi or bus, I prefer to rely on my own transportation. Car rental prices are very cheap in Nicaragua. Although everything in Granada is pretty much in walking distance or a cheap taxi ride, a vehicle comes in handy if you want to take day trips to the beach or venture outside the city. Most of the streets in Granada are one-way since the roads were built before the invention of motor vehicles. A great way to see the sites of Granada is by horse carriage and they can be rented by the hour or half-hour. Hop on one at Central Park and enjoy the historical sights and sounds of America’s oldest city