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A bastion of old money and conservatism, Granada is Nicaragua’s most handsome and romantic city. Plied by horse-drawn carriages and overlooked by regal volcanoes, it’s an endlessly photogenic place that blends wistful colonial grandeur with teeming local street life. Centuries of attacks by marauding pirates and North American filibusters mean many of the city’s elegant Spanish houses, colourful churches and thronging public squares are careful reconstructions of earlier structures.Read more
Despite the repeated ransackings and burnings, Granada has maintained an unmistakable colonial charm. The architectural style has been described as a mixture of Nicaraguan baroque and neoclassical. Having been rebuilt on a number of occasions, the city has a fascinating visual mix of Spanish adobe tile roof structures and Italian-inspired neoclassical homes with some ornate ceiling work and balconies. Italian architects like Andrés Zapatta were contracted by the Granada elite to reconstruct the city after the many foreign-led assaults. The 20th-century writer Carlton Beals described Granada as “a haphazard picturesque little place, faintly reminiscent of Italian towns.” However, most of the houses maintain the southern Spanish trademark interior gardens and large, airy corridors. It is interesting to compare the architecture of Granada with that of Leon, which was spared much of the looting and burning that the wealthier city of Granada suffered over the centuries.
Granada also remains very much a Nicaraguan city – one full of history, spirit and indomitable good character. Beyond its fine restaurant scene and disarming aesthetic charms, you’ll find scores of outdoor attractions to entice you. The expansive waters of Central America’s largest fresh water lake, Lake Nicaragua (or Lago Cocibolca, as it’s known locally), are home to hundreds of scattered isles and enclaves, many of them occupied by lost-in-time fishing communities. Some of them, like Isla Zapatera, contain striking evidence of ancient inhabitation. Then there’s Volcan Mombacho, looming darkly to the south. This is Nicaragua’s best-managed wildlife reserve, boasting well-tended trails, commanding views, diverse flora and fauna, and, for those seeking adrenalin-charged encounters with the arboreal canopy, high-speed zip-lines.
Today, Granada has earned its place as a major tourist hub. Weary travellers will delight in the city’s well-developed infrastructure, its reputable hotels and restaurants, and its abundance of helpful tour operators.