El Malecon refers to a promenade along the edge of the massively deep volcanic Laguna de Masaya, or Lake of Masaya, a crater lake of Volcan Masaya. Tree shrouded Red and yellow painted walk has a romantic quality to it. So, the city of Masaya has a waterfront on a lake with great views, but the steep descent into the waters of Volcan make it not navigable or swimmable that I could see. In the distance, one can see the rough volcanic spill from mountainous Volcan Masaya. The Malecon itself is a remarkable civic acheivement, actually, very romantic and well kept.
Mercado de Artesanías, also known as Mercado Viejo, is Nicaragua's most famous market and a major tourist draw. The entire block is a hive of stalls where you find the highest-quality arts and crafts in the country. Built in 1891, the late Gothic walls of the original market were damaged by a fire in 1966 and the inside of the market burned by Somoza’s troops during the revolution of 1978-1979. The building was abandoned for two decades. Work to repair the walls began in 1992 and the interior has been beautifully restored for its grand opening in May 1997.
Today it’s a wonderful place to stroll, with 80 exhibition stalls separated by wide and breezy walkways, and several restaurants inside the market. It’s a great place to shop without the cramped conditions of most of Latin American markets. You’ll also find ordinary shops, restaurants, cafés, ATM and even a tourist office. Every Thursday night from 7pm to 10pm there are free live performances, Noches Verbenas, usually including one of Masaya’s more than 100 folkloric dance groups with beautifully costumed performers and live marimba music, making it the best party in town.
It’s easy to stay here several hours and browse the many stalls selling everything from leather goods, traditional clothing, paintings, ceramics, soapstone sculptures, wood furniture and Masaya’s most famous craft, colourful cotton hammocks which seem to be some of the finest in the world.
Masaya has several attractive churches built in the colonial period and in the 19th century. Probably the most beautiful is the Parroquia de la Asunción from 1750, a towering late baroque structure in the northeast corner of Parque Central, officially known as Parque 17 de Octubre, named for a battle against Somoza's Guarida in 1977.
Many of the churches in Masaya were damaged by the earthquake in 2000. Among the major buildings worst hit by the earthquake was the Iglesia de San Jerónimo, which is the spiritual heart of Masaya. This attractive domed church from 1928 which is visible from kilometres around is home to the town's patron Saint Jerome, and it's the central point for the Fiesta Patronal that runs from September to December, making it the longest party in Nicaragua.
Worth having a look are also the 1935 Iglesia San Sebastián which marks Masaya's most famous neighbourhood Monimbó, and overlooking the Parque San Miguel, situated between the two markets, is Iglesia de San Miguel. Both of them are far more impressive from the outside than inside.
Masaya has got many neighbourhoods that were once separate villages with their own church and plaza. Today the centre of town is around Parque Central, also called Parque 17 de Octubre. It is a pleasant park with many benches where you can sit down and watch people. And there is a café were you can have juices, ice cream and snacks.
In the park is also the beautiful Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. The church has baroque ornaments and it dates from 1750, but was modified in the 1830s. In the earthquake 2000 the church was damaged, but it has recently been renovated and its façade is now shining white.
Laguna de Masaya is a 27 square km large crater lake situated west of Masaya. Seven blocks west of Parque Central is the malecón with great views over the lagoon and the Vulcán Masaya on the opposite side. From here the lake is 300 metres down. The water is dirty and is not good for swimming at the moment.
I only went to the malecón for the view, but there are paths leading down to the lake. A couple staying at the same hotel as me in Granada wanted to go down to the lake and walked along a small road (I don’t know where) when they got robbed by two men with machetes.
As Mercado Artesanias is quiet and well set up for tourists the Mercado Municipal is where you should come for the real local market experience. Here it is more chaotic and colourful and you can find almost anything. Everything has got its own section so there is one place to go to for fruits and vegetables, another for meat and fish and at other sections you will find clothes and shoes, toiletries, handicrafts and much more. You can also find cheap eateries.
If you arrive to Masaya by bus this is a good place to start your sight-seeing, as Mercado Municipal is situated just by the terminal.
The market was moved here after the old market had been destroyed in 1978.
Inside the black-basalt walls of the Old Market-building is the Artisans Market. Here you will find many booths full of Nicaraguan craft, things like hammocks, ceramics, leather products, paintings, hemp weaving and embroidered blouses. So if you are looking for a souvenir this is a good place to come. I don’t know of the prices though. I did not buy anything myself so I didn’t ask around, but I have heard it is more expensive here than at the other market, Mercado Municipal.
On Thursday nights there are cultural events like marimba performances and folkloric dances. Traditional food is also served.
The building was constructed in 1888, but was not used as a market until the beginning of the 20th century. In 1978 it was destroyed by Somoza’s National Guard and abandoned. Renovations began in 1994.
The market is open every day between 9 - 18.
There are several companies in Granada organising tours to Vulcán Masaya. Some of the tours are day tours, some are night tours (actually late afternoon/evening) and some include stops at the market in Masaya or in the Pueblos Blancos.
I chose to take a night tour to Vulcán Masaya with Tierra Tour. When I booked the tour I paid 30 dollars, but when I arrived at the office the next afternoon more people had signed up for the tour so I asked someone what they had paid, and it was 25 dollars (July 2009). I told the staff in the office and they gave me 100 cordobas (5 dollars) back.
We left Tierra Tour for Vulcán Masaya at 16:00. Arriving at the National Park Vulcán Masaya we drove up to the rim of the Santiago crater where we parked the car while we walked up to the Bobadilla cross for nice views. Sulphur dioxide gas was coming out of the crater making thin and thicker clouds of smoke, but some of the time you could see much of the crater.
We went back to the minibus and drove up a small road to see another crater, an inactive crater covered with green vegetation. After that we continued a little bit further to an underground tunnel, formed long ago by a lavastream. We got helmets, with headlamps, to put on the head and went in to the tunnel. We walked 180 metres into the tunnel and along the way we could see some bats hanging in the roof. After that we went to another tunnel opening where we sat down. It started to get dark and we were waiting for the bats to leave the cave. First a few bats came out then more and more, flying quickly past our heads. This was the first time I had seen bats flying out of a cave in masses and it was great they were so close.
Before leaving the national park we went up to the Santiago crater again, but this time to the opposite side from before. It was now dark and we went over to the rim to look down and deep down we saw an orange glow from the lava, but the gas cloud soon covered the crater and blew over us. It got all foggy and it felt difficult to breath. We ran back to the minibus which quickly drove away and we sat coughing for a long while.
Before 20.00 we were back in Granada.
The Masaya Vulcan is situated about 20 km southeast of Managua. The area around the volcano became a national park in 1979, Nicaragua’s first national park. The national park covers an area of 54 square km and in the park you can find two volcanoes, five craters and several short hiking trails. There is a visitor centre and museum. I visited that only in 1988/89 and 1990, but not in 2009.
The Masaya Vulcan is 934 metres high and it is a shield volcano, which means it is a volcano with shallow sloping sides. In the Masaya Vulcan the Santiago crater is still active and large amounts of sulphur dioxide gas is coming up from the crater. Deep in the bottom there is lava, but it can’t be seen . When it is dark though you can see an orange glow deep down if there is not too much smoke.
At the view point above the crater there is a cross standing. This is named after the Spanish priest Bobadilla who originally put a cross there. The Spaniards said that the Masaya Vulcan was the gate to hell.
You can drive all the way to the rim of the Santiago Crater. But in 2001 cars were damaged and one person injured when the volcano had an eruption and hot rocks were thrown up from the crater (and there has been a few other eruptions since then).
When I visited in 1988 and 1989 the gas cloud was thick and you couldn’t see much of the crater. When I visited in 1990 it was clear and you could see the whole crater. During my visit in 2009 it was mostly a thin cloud, but at times it became thicker.
There is an entrance fee to the park.
Many of the churches in Masaya suffered in the earthquake in 2000. In this photo you can see cracks caused by the earthquake. Unfortunately I don't know the name of the church. Maybe somebody can help me.