Down breaks, accompanied by an explosion of fireworks, and the town dogs begin to yelp and howl. In the distance, a rooster crows a cheery Buenos dias and, adding to the cacophony, scores of church bells start to peal.
It is seven in the morning, and Granada is wide-awake.
The main square in the middle of this, the oldest continuously inhabited city of the America’s founded in 1524, features a huge Spanish cathedral. Once upon a time, before the Panama Canal was thought of, planned and constructed, it catered to a lively human and cargo traffic originating in Florida. The route was the most direct connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the west coast. Ships sailed from Florida to the mouth of San Juan River that originates in Lake Nicaragua, the largest in the country.
Granada, on the shores of the lake is only 17 Km away from the Pacific Ocean. Here the cargo was unloaded, and transferred to vehicles bound to the shores of the Pacific and further north to the California coast.
The plans visualized using the river and the Lake to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. It would have required digging of canals for 17 Kms only, but Americans thought earthquakes and volcanoes represented too much danger. Panama was chosen instead, although the construction cost several times more than the one planned through Nicaragua, and took much longer to complete through the malaria infested jungle. In addition, several locks had to be designed and constructed to elevate the ships and lower them again on the other side.
Today Granada has a population of 150,000, a charming market featuring indigenous produce and pre-colonial nowhere else to be found in the country.
Old buildings true to old Spanish design adorn downtown Granada. Many have been poorly maintained and are deteriorating, but a few ruins are being renovated to their previous glory. Gran Francia just next to the main square id fully restored and soon will be opened as a gourmet restaurant. The building will also feature a bar and banquet facilities for up to 60 people. Across the street, another historical building was purchased and is now being remodelled to house a 20 room hotel.
Granada offers a rustic charm, beautiful and almost empty beaches at walking distance and ample opportunities for excursions on the lake. Many of the small islands ( called isletas ) are covered with tropical forests. Mombacho Volcano is nearby, offering beautiful vistas of the Lake Nicaragua and an opportunity to see tropical rainforest up close. Highland coffee grown on the volcanic soils of Mombacho is aromatic and smooth. Because most people are unfamiliar with the coffee and its superior quality, prices are still reasonable offering great value.
Back in Granada, you will see, as in many colonial Spanish cities and towns in Central- and South America, gardens and courtyards that are hidden from view by high exterior walls. It is said that Nicaraguans create a flower garden and surround it with a house. Gran Francia in Granada fits this description very well. To truly appreciate Granada, located only 52 Km from Managua, the capital, you must go behind doors. There are a few restaurants and bed and breakfast operations catering to mainly English and German tourists who like warm weather and visit the city in winter.
The situation will soon change as Nicaragua is determined to attract millions of tourists eager to experience natural beauty and a friendly population seldom encountered in South America.
Nicaragua is safe, much safer than any other country in Central America, inexpensive, and above all, unspoiled. Rush to visit it, before it is too late.
If you go: There are several daily (eight) flights from Miami to Managua.
Grupo TACO and AA operate direct flights (2 ½ hours) or via San Salvador.
You can also fly via Houston with Continental Airlines several times every day.
There is a US $ 5.- entry permit and US $ 25.- exit fee.
Managua and Granada offer accommodations in a wide price range including two Intercontinental properties , one Holiday Inn, one Ramada and one Princess Hotel in Managua.