A short bus ride away from Nicaragua’s dusty, sprawling capital city of Managua is the beautifully restored colonial town of Granada. Founded in 1524 along the northwestern shore of the Lago de Nicaragua, Granada is Nicaragua’s oldest colonial city. A rich and important trading center until the 19th century, today Granada is the tourism capital of Nicaragua.
Easily one of the most attractive towns in Central America, Granada ranks toward the top of our list alongside towns such as Antigua, Oaxaca and San Cristóbal de las Casas. A small central tourist zone surrounds the plaza and stretches along Calle La Calzada which is lined with some of the best places to stay and eat in all of Nicaragua, and they’re surprisingly affordable. Everything is within easy walking distance of the plaza and it’s been our experience that most visitors don’t venture too far outside the town center.
After a full day of travel, our first night was spent relaxing in the cool evening breeze on the hostel balcony, gazing out over an endless stretch of red adobe rooftops and enjoying the sounds of cumbia music wafting up from the street below. Probably the highlight of my visit to Granada and very much how I had envisioned spending my evenings when we first began planning this trip.
After a few days in town we’ve come to find that the same scene plays out daily in the Central Plaza. Vendors set up their stands awaiting the day’s business, stray dogs wander through looking for scraps as old men siesta on park benches and customers dine at the outdoor cafés. Just before mid-day the tour buses arrive. Traditional dancers perform in the center of the plaza while artisans approach the crowds hoping to lighten the loads of pottery that weigh down their duffle bags.
After the dancers are finished and just before the tourists move on to Granada’s other attractions it’s the kids turn. A small group of young boys show up to put on a brief show of music and dance. Taking turns banging on drums and spinning around inside colorfully decorated costumes, it’s a performance that is oddly reminiscent of the Guelaguetza performances that parade through the streets of Oaxaca.
Strolling around town one of the first things you notice are all of the open doorways where shopkeepers, business owners and residents sit just inside looking out on the street. It’s not unusual to pass people sitting out in front of churches, their plastic chairs and radios taking up space on the sidewalk while they watch the day go by. As evening approaches, businesses shut down and the sun begins to set over the colored adobe buildings, friends and family pull rocking chairs out onto the sidewalks alongside their neighbors, strike up conversations and watch the day turn into night.
In the evenings, the bars and restaurants along Calle La Calzada move their tables outside and prepare for yet another busy night. Throughout the week a steady stream of residents and tourists show up for happy hour or a good meal, to listen to some live music, watch a soccer game or boxing match as we did this past Saturday, or simply to sit out under the stars chatting with friends and taking in the sights. On the weekends it takes on a slightly different feel as the crowds increase with visitors from neighboring Managua, mariachi bands, musicians and groups of young breakdancers perform in the streets and each establishment has their own private security guard on hand, keeping watch over the restaurant and chasing away the occasional stray dog.