Granada Things to Do

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    Cale La Calzada - the Heart of Colonial Granada

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 26, 2011

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    Granada’s hippest strip, Calle La Calzada, starts east from the Parque Central and runs all the way to the lake. The brightly coloured street has been recently reworked with a modern pedestrian-friendly design, but with an old feel featuring cobblestone, street lamps and wide sidewalks. La Calzada is flanked by casonas (large colonial houses) and historical buildings. The street contains the city’s highest concentration of foreign tourists, with restaurants, cafés, ice cream shop, hostels, tour operator's offices, internet café and even laundry service. It’s a great place for enjoying a cold drink and people-watching.

    About halfway towards the lake is the 17th century Iglesia Guadalupe. Beyond the church you’ll pass a baseball field before arriving to the lakeshore with the ferry terminal and malecón, a lovely, recently remodeled boulevard, refreshed by a vonstant breeze. At the south end of the malecón is the Centro Turistico, an area with restaurants, discos and cafés, popular with the locals. There is a new lighting along La Calzada all the way to the lake. Taking a walk or ride at night is beautiful.

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    Las Isletas

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 25, 2011

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    One thing that I really wanted to do while in Granada was taking a boat tour to Las Isletas, a miniature archipelago of roughly 365 islands. Scattered along the shoe from granada, these delightful tiny islands were formed when Volcan Mombacho blew most of its top into the air thousands of years ago, some of which landed in Lago de Nicaragua (also called Lago Cocibolca). The islets range in size from very small to some that are large enough to have several houses built on them. There are around 1.200 people living on the islets, most are fishermen. Some islands have little hotels or luxurious houses owned by wealthy Nicaraguans (some of them can be rented). There are also uninhabigted islets with only some palm trees growing on them.

    You will surely enjoy taking a boat and cruising around Las Isletas, not only for the stunning scenery but for the aquatic birds which frequent the area, including egrets, herons and cranes. Despite consisting of mostly volcanic rock, the islands also has a lot of vegetation, mostly palm and fruit trees. There are hundreds of mango trees but unfortunately the fruits weren't in season. Normally you can spend an afternoon at an island beach swimming and taking the sun. But due to extremely lot of rain in the last months several islands were under water. Actually, there were no beaches in the time of my visit (December 2010).

    Most tour companies in Granada run trips to Las Isletas and you can also do it yourself by kayak. Petra joined me at the boat tour which we aranged with a guide that was recommended by Marcela from La Siesta. We took a taxi to the restaurant by the lake, about 1 km from the Centro Turistico entrance, where the friendly guy was waiting for us. We took a two-hour tour among the islands that were relatively close to the shore, learning about the history, life of the islanders, seeing the diversity of houses built on many of the isletas (from small simple cottages to mini mansions, as well a church and a school), local fishermen and lots of birds and monkeys.

    We enoyed the boat ride to Las Isletas, a relaxed and fun way to spend the late afternoon. And at the end we were rewarded with a magical sunset with Volcan Mombacho in the back.

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    Cementerio de Granada

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 24, 2011

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    Being the oldest colonial city in Central America means it also has the oldest cemetery. Cementerio de Granada was used between 1876 and 1922, which were some of Granada's wealthiest decades. Many wealthy families were buried here. Rich dead individuals wanted to show their wealth even in the afterlife, so huge tombs and statues were commissioned to show their family statues. This beautiful cemetery has lots of picturesque mausoleums and finely sculpted tombs, including the Presidential memorial (six Nicaragua's presidents are burried in Granada).

    The walled complex is domionated by the column-lined Neoclassical stone Capilla de Animas (Chapel of Spirits) from 1880, a scale replica of the French chapel of the same name. If you walk about 100 metres behind the chapel you'll see a large marble tomb, reminiscent of Notre Dame cathedral. No one knows who built it. The names have been chiseled away, adding to the cemetery's mysterious feel.

    To get there from Parque Central, follow Calle Real Xalteva and one block after Iglesia Xalteva turn left onto Calle el Tamarindo. Follow Calle el Tamarindo which slightly curves to the right before it takes you to the cemetery's entrance.

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    Granada's Local Market

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 23, 2011

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    Just two blocks south of Parque Central, next to the bus station, is the hustle and bustle of Granada’s local market. It starts early in the morning when people from nearby villages bring baskets filled with fresh produce and everything comes carried on people’s heads. You have to watch where you are walking otherwise someone carrying a basket of bananas will knock you over. This local market is definitely worth visiting, not only for the delicious tropical fruit, but also if you want to experience local life. It’s chaotic little market piled with colourful goods, where vendors sell everything from fruit, vegetables, beans, rice, bread, fish and meat. Anything you need can be found here.

    Visiting markets is always fun. There is a good selection of fruit and vegetables, and it’s also the way to support local economy. I was quite a regular visitor of Granada’s market. Usually I came to buy pineapple, citrus fruits and bananas. But one particular morning I wasn’t there especially for the fruit. Wanted to take the earliest bus to Rivas but arrived too early. I had one hour to kill, and what would be a better thing to do than wander around, talking to local people and soaking up the early morning market atmosphere.

    The market is open every day except holidays and covers the area around the old Market hall. Best time to visit is in the morning when it is more quiet, not too hot yet, and produce is much fresher.

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    Mi Museo

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 22, 2011

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    Mi Museo is a small museum, located in an old colonial building with a lovely interior courtyard filled with tropical plants and flowers, dating from 1868. The building was restored with attention to its original design and preserving many of the original rooms. This new museum has an array of well-presented pre-Columbian relics and if you are interested in ceramics then this is definitely the place for you.

    The private ceramics collection of Mi Museo contains artistic and archeological treasures ranging from 2000 BC until present day. The ceramics is presented along the walls in cubes of glass atop pedestals that make staircase silhouettes along the gallery walls. If you take a closer look you’ll notice designs of monkeys, jaguars, serpents and crocodiles on the pieces, each animal having a different meaning in the beliefs of the potters who created them. Items range from simple containers atop a tripod of tapered legs to rare ritual items. Big funerary urns line the walls around the courtyard.

    The museum is open Mon-Fri 8am-noon and 1:30pm-5pm. Upon entering visitors are treated to a complimentary guided tour with knowledgeable staff, an opportunity not to be missed.

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    ChocoMuseo

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 21, 2011

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    ChocoMuseo was actually the first thing that I came across on my first day in Granada. Well, not bad for a chocolate lover like me :) ChocoMuseo is a new museum in Granada, dedicated to the history of cacao and chocolate. It’s part of Hotel Spa Granada where you also find ChocoMuseo Shop and Choco Café. The museum offers a great overview of the history of cacao and chocolate. ChocoMuseo has its own factory where chocolate is made by hand, from 100% Nicaraguan organic cacao beans. The organic chocolate produced here, with 50% and 70% of cacao, does not contain additives, artificial ingredients or preservatives. They use natural ingredients such as coconut, almonds and oranges. The chocolate can be purchased in their shop.

    When I came to the museum I found a friendly young lady Natalia just making chocolate pralines. I talked to her and she offered me a tour of the museum. Don’t worry, she speaks quite good English. She also told me about the Chocolate Workshops where you can make your own chocolate bar from cacao beans and learn how to make various traditional chocolate drinks. I did not think twice, just signed up.

    ChocoMuseo also offers the Cacao Farm Tour, which is a day trip of 6 to 7 hours, and takes visitors to a picturesque cacao farm that is located in the midst of a forest near the Lago de Nicaragua. On the tour visitors can observe the processing of cacao beans, from the plantations to processing, and taste the white pulp around the beans inside the cacao nut.

    The museum is open every day from 10am to 6pm and the entrance is free.

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    Casa de los Leones & Casa de los Tres Mundos

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 20, 2011

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    One of the favourite spots in Granada is Casa de los Leones with its 17th-century Moorish stone door frame. It was named for the carved lions on its stone portal, the only part of the original building that survived Willliam Walker's 1856 pyromanical retreat. This spacious, old house, built around 1720, was once the municipal theatre, then a private house where Catholic priest, poet and Nicaragua's first culture minister Ernesto Cardenal was born. Now it is a cultural centre with exhibitions, music, dance, films and poetry readings, Casa de los Tres Mundos.

    Founded in 1986 by Ernesto Cardenal, the foundation Casa de los Tres Mundos (House of the Three Worlds) moved to its current location in 1992. The institution was created to support and promote cultural projects in Nicaragua and Central America, and to promote a cultural exchange between the European tradition and the rich artistic potential of Central America. The foundation offers a variety of courses and programs. Those who attend the centre can choose between art school, theatre school and music academy. Casa de los Tres Mundos also has a supervised library that was founded in 1995 and is responsible for the archives that document the history of Granada since 1653. A two-thousand book library of arts and performing art is also available. The foundation is a breath of fresh air to the Granada community, helping them to find their strength, creativity and unique contribution to society.

    In addition, Casa de los Tres Mundos frequently organizes cultural events that include concerts, exhibitions, theatre plays, classical ballet, folkloric dance, films and poetry readings. Stop by as soon as yo arrive in Ganada to get a schedule of that week's events. There is also a permanent painting exhibition, with some beautiful paintings of Nicaraguan painters. The exhibition can be visited free of charge. This is also a great opportunity to take a look at the beautiful colonial house which was previously called Casa de los Leones, and enjoy the tranquil surroundings. There are also books, CDs and other items for sale just inside the main entrance.

    Opening hours are Monday – Friday: 9am – 5pm.

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    Plaza de la Independencia

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 20, 2011

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    If you head north of Parque Central you come to a spacious plaza which has a movie-set quality to it. I was rather confused as I came across two different names. Thanks to Boris from La Siesta who explained it to me. The square is named Plaza de los Leones for the Casa de Leones situated on the west side of the plaza. In 1807 the king of Spain Fernando the 7th offered the facade with two carved stone lions that crown the columns, as the simbol of the kingdom. The other name is Plaza de la Independencia in reference to 1821 when Nicaragua declared its independence from Spain. The obelisk in the middle is dedicated to the heroes of the struggle for independence. So, one name from the kingdom and the other for the independence. They use both names.

    The bishop of Granada lives in the red house, at one time the presidential palace for William Walker. Next door is the telephone ofice, and just a few doors down is the historic Casa de los Leones. This beautiful colonial building is now home to Casa de los Tres Mundos, a foundation that was established as an art and culture centre, with exhibitions, music and occasional poetry readings. It's also a good place to see the inside of a traditional Granada house. On weekend nights the plaza is occasionally home to folkloric acts.

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    Antiguo Hospital San Juan de Dios

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 19, 2011

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    Located on the west side of the city, close to the Masaya highway, the old hospital Antiguo Hospital San Juan de Dios attracts photographers and urban explorers. The construction of the old hospital began in 1886 under the direction of a master builder Carlos Ferry, Granada's constructor of the 19th century, based on the drawings by the engineer Teodoro Hooch. it was inaugurated in 1905. This was the hospital used during war times. In 1998 the hospital functions were transferred to a new building, leaving the old one to fall into decay ater many years of neglect.

    Ask the guard and he will let you pass. With facade in neoclassical style, inside you find great chambers with only the sky for a roof. Here and there, structures are broken and split, threatening to shiver apart at any moment. Vegetation grows wildly from what once seemed to be old kitchens, bathrooms and nurseries, and birds and insects found their home. Hallways lie exposed to the sun, all covered in thick, hot dust. This hunting ruin is a real treasure for those who like old and abondened buildings.

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    Parque Xalteva

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 18, 2011

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    Calle Real Xalteva once connected the Spanish town of Granada to its much older indigenous neighbour, Xalteva. Now wholly assimilated, the quiet and safe neighbourhood Xalteva consists of the square, the park, the walls, all residential buildings that surround it, and is marked by Iglesia Xalteva. The whole Xalteva neighbourhood, which now looks neglected despite having been declared a national heritage, is part of a revitalization project with the help of the Councail of Andalucía, Spain, following the process that has lasted at least three years.

    Across the street from Iglesia Xalteva is a shady Parque Xalteva, uniquely beautiful stonework, built in 1892. Walking quietly between the lamp-topped columns to walk the stone-edged pathways feels like a discovery of a secret site of an ancient rituals. Lush tropical trees shade much of the small park, and decorative pools, massive aloe plants, and glimpses of brickwork make an the landscaping full of atmosphere. Even the cement benches have decorative cut-outs. The park features a neoclassical style and it seems every detail of this space has been considered carefully. In colonial times, the open area was used as a market, and later it was used for meetings of the town council. Now it's a very pleasant place to take a rest in the shadow of lush tropical trees and perfect for a picnic lunch.

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    Iglesia Xalteva

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 18, 2011

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    The bright orange and white facade of Iglesia Xalteva stands against a deep blue sky, its grand carved wooden doors open to the neighbourhood it is named for. The church as built in 1678 and marks the old indigenous neighbourhood which was separate from Granada until 1879. For some time, the church was used as a militar fortress. The facade and the interior were rebuilt after the church was desecrated by William Walker, who destroyed the birth records of the indigenous community by burning the church. In 1856 the church was rebuilt as a temple to the Virgen de la Asunción. Severely damaged by the earthquake in 1890, it was not long before another rebuilding began.

    The stunning colour scheme is relatively new and the architectural style has baroque and unexpected Islamic influences, making a delightfully surprising visual statement in the quiet western side of Granada.

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    Iglesia La Merced

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 17, 2011

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    The most attractive of Granada's churches, Iglesia La Merced can be seen as part of a very nice walk from Parque Central down the Calle Real. Originally built in 1534, it was sacked and burned by Henry Morgan in 1670 and rebuilt with its current Baroque facade between 1781 and 1783. It was damaged again by Walker's troops and then restored in 1862. The church has maintained much of its colonial charm and part of the original bell towers and facade.

    The pretty interior, painted an unusual tropical green colour, has an attractive altar and painting of the Virgin on its north side. In front of the church is a cross constructed in 1999 as a symbol of hope for peace in the 21st century.

    Don't forget to ascend the tight spiral stairs of the bell tower (open 10am – 6pm daily, entrance fee is 1 US $ - December 2010) for the most spectacular view of the city. Look over tiled roofs of old colonial houses to the Lago de Nicaragua and isletas, with Volcán Mombacho over your shoulder.

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    Museo Antiguo Convento San Francisco

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 16, 2011

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    Connected to the Iglesia San Francisco is the mustard yellow Museo Convento San Francisco. The convent was first built by Franciscan monks in 1529 and lasted 150 years before pirate Henry Morgan burned it to the ground. In 1836 it became an university and then in 1856 it housed William Walker’s troops and was burnt down once again. The old convent was rebuilt several times and is now a fully restored museum.

    As well as being a beautiful building on its own, it houses one of the country’s most interesting pre-Columbian museums. There is a huge mural at the entrance that leads to a small shop and café. The interior garden is dominating by towering 100-year-old palm trees, often full of squawking birds. The museum has a remarkable collection of pre-Columbian statues with zoomorphic forms of birds and jaguars. They were sculpted by the earlier primitive inhabitants of Zapatera Island, which is situated in Lake Nicaragua. The statues date from 800-1200 AD. The museum also has temporary exhibitions, historic photographs of Granada from the period 1890 – 1940 and some colonial period religious art, archeological findings and a gallery of the famous Solentiname naïve paintings.

    A trip to the Museo Antiguo Convento San Francisco will confirm why it is one of the most visited attractions in Granada.

    The museum is open Mon-Fri 8:30am-5:30pm, Sat&Sun 9am-4pm. Admission is 2 US $ (December 2010).

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    Iglesia San Francisco

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 16, 2011

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    The oldest church in Central America, the striking blue Iglesia San Francisco with its trio of bells is considered Granada's most beautiful church. It has a long history. The church was first built in 1529, destroyed by pirate Henry Morgan in 1679 and later by William Walker in 1856. It has risen from the ashes several times. The church was finally rebuilt in 1868 with a fine restoration of the interior and a controversial decoration of the facade which looks like a birthday cake.

    Iglesia de San Francisco is Nicaragua's oldest standing church with original steps. Right next to the church is Antiguo Convento San Francisco which houses one of the most interesting museums in the region.

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    Parque Central

    by mircaskirca Updated Feb 15, 2011

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    Parque Central, officially called Parque Colón (Columbus Park) though no one uses that name, is the main square and the heart of the city of Granada. Its tall trees and benches make it a good place to while away some time and watch the city and its people. The stalls that hide in the shade of the trees offer all types of things to buy, from pottery to books, jewelery and works of art, a great opportunity to pick up some Nicaraguan souvnirs to take home. There is also a great number of small shops and stalls selling traditional food, including the popular Granada dish vigarón which consists of a big banana leave filled with cabbage salad, fried pork skins, yucca, tomato, hot chili and lemon juice.

    Parque Central represents the city's social, cultural and economic hub. Around the park you find the magnificent Catedral, the city hall, some beautiful colonial buildings painted in bright Caribbean colours and lovingly preserved, banks, cafés, internet, tourist information and travel agencies. In one of these elegant antique colonial houses is set Hotel Plaza Colón, a very stylish hotel with interior courtyards and balconies overlooking Parque Central and the Catedral. The western side of the plaza line vibrantly painted horse carriages that can take you to a tour around the city.

    During my stay in Granada I passed through the park dozens of times, paused for something cold to drink or later in the evening to buy pupusas. It's a lovely place to walk around end enjoy the last rays of the sun and soak up the wonderful Latin American ambience of the plaza.

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