© 2013 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Mike Hopkins. Information.
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Granada Nicaragua On Your Own – A Solo Travel Report

Text & Photos by Mike Hopkins

Traveling solo when you reach senior status can be a challenge, if you allow it. So-called "extreme" sports or adventure tours don't agree with my aging joints, but I'm not ready to just sit and read a book. Wanting to continue my travels, living life and having fun, I had to find something in the middle. I wanted warm weather but not too warm and somewhere a little but not too far off the beaten track. I settled on Granada Nicaragua after researching and learning something of its Spanish colonial history and its reputation as a rapidly growing tourist destination. With a low cost of living and moderate temperatures averaging lows in the 70s and highs in the 80s, many North American and European expatriates have purchased retirement or holiday homes in the area.

Granada Cathedral viewed from Lake Nicaragua

Spanish Colonial History and Architecture

In 1524, Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba founded Nicaragua and two of its cities – Managua and Granada. The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua borders Honduras to the north, Costa Rica to the south, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It was once considered as an inter-oceanic passage, but the Panama Canal was built instead. During the colonial period and continuing today, Granada is a major water port via the San Juan River, which connects the Caribbean Sea to Lake Nicaragua – Central America's largest lake covering about 3,191 square miles. It is said that Lake Nicaragua was formed and isolated from salty ocean waters during a pre-historic volcanic eruption thus entrapping sea creatures such as sharks and swordfish, which adapted as the water gradually freshened over time.

Nicargua Map Granada is situated on the northwest corner of Lake Nicaragua, about an hour's drive southeast of the capital city of Managua. I, however, approached from the opposite direction, arriving in Granada on TransNica, an international bus line serving all of Central America. Crossing the border from Costa Rica at Peñas Blancas was uneventful. We stopped first to get passports stamped for departure, re-boarded the bus to ride about 200 meters, stopped again to have baggage checked by customs officers and get an arrival stamp.

After checking in at the Hotel Spa Granada, I went on a familiarization walk, beginning with the hotel itself.Electic art collection, Granada Spa Hotel, Nicaragua It's a former mansion once owned by Evaristo Carazo who was the President of Nicaragua during the 1870s. Extensive renovations include open courtyards, a pool, and a spa decorated with original paintings and murals. Corridors and sitting areas are furnished with locally crafted wooden and wrought iron chairs and tables. Most of the staff speak at least basic English. Overall, I found that its colonial design, eclectic décor, and modern amenities offered a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere well worth the US$69 cost, which included a breakfast buffet and menu with cooked-to-order hot dishes.

Leaving the hotel, I paid particular attention to tall or unusual buildings to use as landmarks. While Granada seems committed to maintaining its historical architecture, renovations and new constructions are painted in traditional Spanish and tropical colors. Within a couple of blocks I reached Parque Central (Central Park) near Calle la Calzada and the historic Granada Cathedral. This is Granada's main tourist area with restaurants, bars, and travel agencies. I decided my hotel was close to the action without the noise, just the way I like it.

Friends for the Day

Normally, I'm happy to spend my time alone on vacation, walking, relaxing in parks or by the pool, browsing and souvenir shopping on my own. But on the other hand, I don't mind sharing an experience with other travelers. All it took to make friends in Granada was a greeting and a smile.

One day I booked a boat tour and carriage ride for about $35. Friends for the day in Granada Nicaragua While eating breakfast I struck up a conversation with four other visitors and invited them to join me. When the carriage driver arrived, we discussed the inclusion of my new friends and pricing. We agreed to the same carriage ride to and from the dock, doubled the boat tour to two hours, and reduced the price to $20 per person – a savings of $15 for each of us.

This pleasant outing started with a carriage ride to the boat docks via narrow streets and a lakeside entertainment park. Apparently Lake Nicaragua has dozens if not hundreds of volcanic islands and islets, and the tour introduced us to a few of them. We visited the Reducto Bateria de San Pablo, a 17th century fort built to protect Granada from marauding pirates. The walls of the fort remain intact, and there is an original cannon. Another island is dedicated as a cemetery, another is a recreational hub with a pool, bar and restaurant, and another is a nature reserve inhabited by monkeys. A procession of watercraft – fishing boats, water taxis, and even a boat carrying children to school – created a lively scene set in a backdrop of green islands, sun-dappled waters, and clear blue sky.

Monkey reserve, Lake Nicaragua Fishermen on Lake Nicaragua

Chocolate Heaven

The Choco Museo (Chocolate Museum) is collocated with the Hotel Spa Granada, and I noticed that an interactive tour was offered. I love chocolate but wondered if there was anything more I needed to know about it. With a little time on my hands, I decided the $17 price was worth a try. Actually, I found it most interesting to hear the story of Nicaraguan chocolate, from cacao tree to candy. And the best part was getting to make my own chocolate bar from scratch using a stone bowl and hand-held grinder.

In fact, I became so enthused about the properties of chocolate I took the next step and booked a choco-therapy massage (US$28). Wow! I must have died and gone to chocolate heaven for awhile. This amazing experience began when professional therapist Lilliana welcomed me at a Hotel Spa Granada Nicaraguaprivate massage room located by the pool area. Natural lighting and wafting breezes filtered inside calmingly as Lilliana gave me instructions: She would leave; I should remove my clothing, lie down backside up on the bamboo spa table, and cover myself with a handy cloth.

When I was ready, she re-entered the room and began the treatment by pouring liquid on my back. Yes. It was chocolate – with some exfoliating material added. Lilliana worked on the back of my body for about fifteen minutes and then left again momentarily while I turned myself back-to-front and replaced the cloth for modesty's sake. Returning to complete the process, she started at my face and continued to my toes. When she finished, I wrapped myself in a sheet and was led to the shower for a thorough rinse-off. I never knew that chocolate, and whatever the gritty material was, would be so cleansing. But it was, and I felt great – what an invigorating finish to my five-day holiday in Granada Nicaragua.

I’ve traveled solo extensively in the past 10 years visiting, living and/or working in more than 10 countries. During that time, I must say that my stay in Granada ranks among my best for friendly people, sights, cost, and security. I never felt threatened or witnessed a dangerous situation. The prices of lodgings, food, beverages, attractions, and souvenirs were fair, and I found plenty to do without distressing my aging joints.

If You Go To Nicaragua

>> Research: I like using internationally known sites for making reservations, mainly because I think their internet security protocols are most reliable. For Nicaragua, I began reading reviews on websites such as Expedia, Trip Advisor, and Lonely Planet for information on hotels, attractions, weather, and safety concerns. As my search for a hotel narrowed, I used Expedia and Hotels.com to compare location, amenities, pricing, then I selected one of the two to reserve and pay by credit card.

>> MH

Comment on this article

> From Crystal: Thanks for the nice article. It was thorough and felt genuine. It's especially nice when it includes pictures.

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