Set on the western shore of Lago de Nicaragua, some 50km southeast of Managua, GRANADA was once the jewel of Central America. The oldest Spanish-built city in the isthmus, it was founded in 1524 by Francisco Fernández de Córdoba, who named it after his hometown in Spain. During the colonial period Granada became fabulously rich, its wealth built upon exploitation: sited just 20km from the Pacific, the city was a transit point for shipments of gold and other minerals mined throughout the Spanish empire. In the mid-nineteenth century Granada fell to American adventurer William Walker, who briefly gained control of the city – and, by default, the entire country. Granada paid dearly for the eventual overthrow of Walker; as he retreated in the face of international resistance, he burned the city practically to the ground.
Today Granada is central to the Nicaraguan government’s tourism ambitions. Its popularity with foreign visitors has led to a large-scale restoration of the stunning old colonial buildings, many of them repainted in pastel shades, and a burgeoning network of foreign-owned bars, restaurants and hostels has sprung up. This manageable, gringo-packed city also makes a good base from which to explore the lake, volcanoes, Zapatera archipelago and Isla de Ometepe, while more adventurous travellers might head from here to San Carlos, the Solentiname islands and beyond.
There are few “must see” attractions in Granada itself, but most of the pleasure is simply in strolling the streets and absorbing the colonial atmosphere – be sure to take a peek through open front doors along Calle La Calzada to see the magnificent interior courtyards that adorn some of the private houses.