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Trip Report 4 nights in Grandada, trip report

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We spent four nights in Granda, NI over the Memorial Day weekend, and had a fantastic time.
Overall impression:

This is definitely a destination on the rise. The climate is very comfortable (warm, low humidity), there is a ton of very cool stuff to do in the local area and it's on the way to other destinations like Ometepe and San Juan del Sur. So it works as both part of larger itineraries or a good place to take a long weekend. Prices are very, very low compared to the rest of Central America ($1 domestic beers in restaurants!). But, the trade off is that the tourist infrastructure is not as well developed, it's difficult to find tours that fully take advantage of everything the area has to offer (especially wildlife). While everyone is incredibly nice and eager to help and provide the best experience possible, as a whole there's a lack of experience in the service aspect of tourism here, so please if you visit be willing to blow off minor little things getting overlooked like getting served a tough piece of steak with a dull knife, etc. Just roll with it and you'll have a fantastic time.

Granada:

Granada is a colonial-era city built on Lake Nicaragua, so most of the buildings have some archiectural character to them, with the religious buildings being the most interesting (though not always well-maintained due to a lack of resources). While it has stretches that are fairly gentrified and tourist friendly in the center, there's also a lot of buildings in disrepair or in a slow process of being renovated. There are a wide variety of lodging and dining choices, even the most expensive of which is reasonably priced. At night, if you get out of the main center of town, things can certainly feel sketchy and unsafe (dilapidated buildings, poor lighting) but there didn't appear to be any real danger of crime there. Indeed, we saw a very strong sense of community--neighbors gathering on porches or in the atriums of their homes (and always on rocking chairs--they really love rocking chairs there). It was refreshing to see virtually no English signs, no international chains in either lodging or dining, etc. I've heard criticisms that Granada has become to Americanized, etc, but I didn't see it. It's a place where visitors need to know Spanish, and will never be confused with southern California or Florida--no shiny condos or timeshares here.

Hotel:

Los Patios hotel is about a 10 minute walk from the town center and a 5 minute walk from the main dining/nightlife street (Call Calzada). While some people prefer to be closer to the center, this location suited us just fine--the center of Granada is really congested, noisy, chaotic--cars clogging streets and intersections, blaring horns etc. It also is set on a street where people actually live--it is a remodeled colonial house. We really loved this place--it's a fully renoved colonial home that stretches back seemingly forever, is almost fully open air inside with a series of courtyards/patios winding its way back. While the architecture and bones are of colonial heritage, the design and finishes of the hotel are thoroughly modern, like something you'd see in Dwell magazine. Each open space is designed differently, but all have some form of comfy furniture (couches, deep seating arm chairs, hanging chairs, poolside lounges, and of course hammocks). The pool is nice and long and refreshing, and cleaned multiple times each day. The room we stayed in was the balcony suite, and it was huge with magnificent views of Volcan Mombacho from both the bedroom and its balcony and the bahtroom (also good for checking out the birds that buzz around Granada). One of our favorite rooms we've ever stayed in. The service here was very good, and they did a great job of arranging all of our local tours and transportation.

Activities:

Besides walking around the city and relaxing out our lovely hotel, we saw that we'd generally recommend for just about anyone (though we didn't get to see everything we wanted to there). Certainly Isletas de Granada--an archipelago of tiny islands in Lake Nicaragua was a highlight of our time there. $25/person gets you a 2 hour tour through the islands, where you can see some rustic houses and some very expensive ones, as well as more wildlife than we were expecting, especially birds. Just a gorgeous area and one you could do most times of day--we would recommend this for just about anyone.

Also worthy doing are trips to the volcanoes Masaya and Mombacho. The two are very different,--Masaya is low, and relatively sparse in vegetation due to the dry climate and the fact that it's still very active, constantly issuing a plume of sulfur gas visible for miles and miles away. Mombacho, on the other hand, is a towering peak over 3500 feet high, and is covered in lush cloud forest but is dormant. We saw Masaya at night, which also provided the opportunity to see the bat caves (old lava tubes) though we didn't get to see the lava glow because the gas emissions were too thick. Very surreal place, like the entrance to the underworld. Mombacho is best seen early in the day--but there are definite time schedules you have to plan around, since access to the top is generally only by the big tractor truck collectivo that goes into the park from its base, which leaves only at certain hours. The highlight for me there personally was looking over an extinct crater completely covered with cloud forest vegetation and watching two short-tailed hawks screaming at and chasing after a Montezuma's oropendola (largish funky looking blackbird) up and down and around the crater walls.

For those (like me) who simply need to get some birding in, check out Montibellie private reserve, which is about 1 hour away from Granada and about 30 minutes or so outside the town (you'l need private transportation, which is not cheap (gasoline is expensive even in Nicaragua). Despite it being a low time of year for birds, we saw quite a bit, the highlights being an Elegant Trogon and quite a few long-tailed manakins. (One other note for the birders--look out especially when driving to/from the area approaching Managua airport for the Nicaraguan grackle, an extremely limited endemic bird--looks like the regular grackles you see, but the male has a greenish sheen to his head intead of purple, and the ladies have a pronounced light/white streak over the eye)

I'm still going through photos, but will add those when I'm done.

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