Nicaragua | Exploring Granada
Following our time spent in San Juan Del Sur (which you can read about here), our El Camino Travel crew headed to Granada next. The city is heavily influenced by Spanish colonial architecture and each street shows off its own rainbow for passersby. I loved the bright, inviting colors of the buildings that kept the narrow streets from feeling too much like a maze. Here we traded in the beach life for a small city experience that gave us insight into unique aspects of Nicaraguan culture and design.
After departing from San Juan Del Sur, we arrived at our home base for the next few days, La Gran Francia Hotel. For lunch we headed to the La Tortilla Cooking School where we participated in a cooking class and made tortillas and indio viejo, which is a type of chicken and vegetable stew. Here’s where I need to add in a dash of real honesty and say this may not be the best experience for you for two reasons. First, it was scorching and humid on this day and we were cooking hot food over a stove outside that had an open ceiling with the sun beating down on us. I don’t know how we all look fairly put together in these photos because it was sweltering in there and we were all sweating buckets, which stating the obvious, is not the most sanitary thing when you’re preparing a communal meal. And second, the meal itself was extremely heavy for this type of weather and the amount of flour that goes into this stew makes it a pretty unhealthy dish that I’d prefer to avoid. Regardless of those things though, it was still a good learning experience and the instructors we worked with that day were lovely.
To close on this day, we spent the afternoon exploring the city and headed out for dinner and drinks to celebrate the 4th of July abroad. This was the first time I spent this holiday outside of the United States and I certainly missed the festivities, but I also reflected on how thankful I am to be an American -- something that’s easily done when you’re away from home and in another cultural context. We are afforded so many invaluable benefits when traveling internationally: a highly regarded passport, a strong currency, and protection from a government that would step in should something catastrophic happen. Our entire worldview is shaped by the freedoms we enjoy and, regardless of the political state, they are blessings to be mindful of and grateful for.
We spent the morning touring more of Granada, which included visits to the top of La Merced church for the views, a tile factory to see how they’re made, and several shops and cafes. The creation process for the tiles involved rigorous labor in the dust and heat and I was kind of in awe of the workers’ endurance and technique. So much goes into the patterns and colors of these tiles, and yet here in Nicaragua they each sell for only $1 USD. I wanted to fill two suitcases full of them to tile my future dream kitchen one day, but that was far from realistic so I just picked out one to bring home and use as a trivet. Whenever I see this type of tile in restaurants back home I’m fondly transported back to this factory.
Granada borders Lake Nicaragua which includes the Islets of Granada, a group of 365 small islands that have hotels, private homes, and shops and can be visited via boat tours. For lunch we headed to the island eco-lodge Isleta El Espino, which had a major Swiss Family Robinson vibe with its treehouse retreat and jungle vegetation. Good views, good food, and a good time
Next we hopped back on the boat for a tour through the islets to observe the wildlife. I loved the up-close look at the greenery that enveloped the edges of the large lake. The humidity wore me down throughout the trip, but without it this landscape wouldn’t be the same. There seemed to be a dozen different textures and shades of green in every square foot and the layers of nature made no apology for taking up space and running wild. On our journey back we stopped for fresh coconuts, which changed my mind about how good coconut water can actually be since I tend to dislike any store-bought versions.
Then for this evening, I did one of the more bougie #treatyourself things I’ve done in life -- I opted to book a room at another hotel for the night. We of course already had our accommodations covered in the trip package, but my awesome travel roommate, Jennie, spotted an AHH-MAZING place called the Tribal Hotel in her Nicaragua trip research and we had to check it out. We winded down our evening with wine and apps, took in all the gorgeous decor and styling of the place, and hung out by the pool in the morning before we met back up with our crew. (side note: if you need anything designed and letter-pressed, Jennie is your girl!)
We took a short day trip from Granada to the crater lake Laguna De Apoyo. The crater of Apoyo was formed after an explosion some 23,000 years ago and over time filled with water, which stays warm partially due to the hot springs within it. We ate, swam, kayaked, and spent a relaxed afternoon in this blissful place. Oh and I must mention, I also did something really dumb here: I ordered a salad. *facepalm* I love vegetables and my body craves them after a few days if I don’t get enough fiber and nutrients. Up to this point in Granada the meals were heavy in animal proteins, bread, and fruits (those with protective rinds only - so mostly pineapple, melons, etc). Tap water in Nicaragua is unsafe to drink for travelers so you have to stick to bottled water, but guess what’s also used to wash and prepare salads? Yep, tap water, and then it’s not cooked to kill bacteria. I know, I know, it’s all my fault. At this point in the trip, the food poisoning set in bad which left me dehydrated, exhausted, and frustrated for the remainder of the trip. Be smarter than I was and stick to the safe foods and bring vitamin supplements as needed.
Once we were back in Granada, we headed to a cigar shop where they demonstrated for us how they prepare the tobacco leaves and the techniques used to roll cigars. Then we each got a turn to select the leaves for the strength of our own cigar and had a turn with rolling one for our takeaway souvenir. Overall, to me this experience was just fine -- I really have no interest in ever smoking, well, anything to be honest, so I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek out this experience but it was interesting to learn something new nonetheless.
For our final evening in Granada we headed to one of the best restaurants in the city, Espressonista, for a delicious three-course meal and drinks.
The following day we made our way back to Managua, which I cover in this post.
+ Soy Nica - Handmade quality leather goods.
+ Garden Cafe - Best smoothies in town, good food, and ohhh the blueberry muffins… I think I bought one every day I was there.
+ Monna Lisa - Italian food.
+ Toritos Bar & Restaurant - Spanish food.
+ Kelly’s Bar - Late night dancing.
+ Espressonista - Coffee house and fancy restaurant vibes.
+ Isleta Del Espino - Island eco-lodge treehouse retreat in the Islets of Granada.
+ La Gran Francia Hotel & Restaurant - Good location, very comfortable stay.
+ Tribal Hotel - Boutique luxury hotel, eclectic decor, private terraces look out over a tropical garden oasis with a pool and seating areas.
*Photos taken by Sabrina Hill.