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World Heritage Site

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Blog: Granada and its natural environment

Granada and Leon have battled forever about which of the two is the most important city in Nicaragua. The Republic's Leadership even had to find a new capital in between the two rivals as a compromise: Managua. The City of Granada therefore must look with envy to Leon's 2 WHS, the only sites designated in Nicaragua so far. In the promotion of the TWHS City of Granada and its natural environment every argument possible seems to have been brought forward to turn this around.

The city was founded in 1542 and now has some 100,000 inhabitants. It's Nicaragua's "Tourism Capital": it has been a blossoming tourism and expat center since the early 21st century. It holds a particular attraction for Snowbirds from the USA. Clearly it does tick the right boxes for them: a warm climate, cute colonial town center, lots of foreigner-oriented restaurants (serving smoothies and green salads instead of the Nicaraguan staple rice and beans) and still cheap to live in.

I stayed for 3 nights in Granada, and one of the best things I did was take the self-guided Lonely Planet "Colonial Explorer" City Walk. The whole circuit takes 4 hours, and passes many structures of interest. It takes you from the harbour at Lake Nicaragua to the fortress La Polvora in the western outskirts of town. The outdoor market near the bus station is great for some couleur locale, and certainly not tourist-oriented. The view from the tower of La Merced Church definitely is the best in town: only from that point of view one notices the brick tiles that cover many of the city's roofs.

There's a whole lot of "natural environment" included in this mixed proposal too, both to the east and to the west of Granada. The isles of Lake Nicaragua (365 of them!). Zapatera Archipelago National Park. The Apoyo volcanic lagoon. And Volcan Mombacho Natural Reserve - another famous Nicaraguan volcano.

On one of my mornings in Granada I paid a visit to the Mombacho: a dormant volcano, covered by a cloud forest. The park entrance lies just 10km from Granada City. You can only reach the top of the volcano by the truck provided by the park service a few times a day. The whole excursion is a rather costly affair for foreigners: 15 dollar for the ride, 5 dollar for the park entrance, 4 dollar for maintenance and 12 dollar for a tame guided hike. Like Masaya, it leans towards a tourist trap and I feel sorry that Nicaragua takes this route. Such a contrast with the great experience that I had with Matagalpa Tours earlier in my trip, in a more off-the-beaten track location. A genuinely in nature interested guide (he was happy to tick off 2 birds he hadn't seen before) and a creative route designed for a group of one tourist did the trick.

Spanish-colonial town, "One of the most ancient cities in America", volcanoes, cloud forest, Lake Nicaragua: it is hard for Granada to find its own niche. It does resemble the Antigua Guatemala WHS, and is also not unlike Cuba's Trinidad. It surely was the prettiest town that I encountered in Nicaragua, but a future nomination will need a lot of focus.

Published 20 February 2015

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Responses to Granada and its natural environment
Els Slots (21 February 2015)

Regarding the trans-isthmian "Nicaragua Canal": no I did not notice any activity pro or contra this adventure. It might be considered "Progress", certainly by the ruling Sandinist party but probably also by the general public. What I did notice were the many signs like the one below: we're building / revamping our country! (and oh, we're Christians too)


Solivagant (21 February 2015)

PS. I have just been revisiting my photos of Granada and came across those of the Precolombian Statues in the San Francsico Museum and taken from Zapatera. My photos of the descriptions of each exhibit (always worth having in these digital days!) describe how the site was discovered by Ephraim George Squier in 1849. Now as an "informal" WHS "Connection" - one of the palace complexes at Chan-Chan is named after this same guy! He is considered one of the pioneers of Pre-columbian archaeology and his book "Ancient monuments of the Mississippi Valley" was the first study of the North American Mound Builders and their sites. The general assessment of the sites on Zapatera Island however seems to be that most remains of significance are in musea (as in Granada) and what is still in situ is badly degraded so, although pre-columbian sites south of the Maya are not well represented on the list (Joya de Ceren and the Spheres of the Diquis) it wouldn't appear that this site would score highly on that aspect either


Solivagant (20 February 2015)

Els, whilst you were in Nicaragua did you manage to explore the reality of the proposed trans-isthmian canal? "Construction" was supposed to have started in Dec 2014 (for completion around 2020?)and the route chosen misses Granada, going, on the East, from approximately the middle of the Lake on a slightly SW route, south of Omotepe to a little town called Brito whence by canal to the Pacific.
But the effects on the ecology of the lake (which is already polluted - it has been nicknamed "The world's biggest toilet"!) could well be serious. Certainly one can't see ecologists etc being very pleased -and, through them UNESCO etc!
I understand that despite the recent start on construction there is still significant opposition to the canal in Nicaragua, mainly for economic reasons - can it really compete withe an enlarged Panama Canal given the wealth of Panama? But Ortega rules the roost for now and international politics also plays a part with China and Russia "fishing" in the waters. The supposed start on construction just a few days beofre the end of 2014 seems highly suspicious.
In so far as any possible Granada nomination includes natural aspects, I would have thought it was dead in the water with the canal being built! Furthermore, when we were in Granada, we were given a free tour of the "365 Islands" by the company we had booked our San Juan River area trip with. We found these islands to have have been heavily developed as holiday homes by wealthy Nicaraguans and their ownership mired in the vicissitudes of Nicaraguan politics over the last 30 years. Whilst there were a few monkeys on monkey island and some old fort structures the Archipelago didn't seem to have a lot to commend it other than as an afternoon trip for tourists ex Granada and as a chill out location for cabins etc.
Way down at the San Juan river (SE corner of the lake) there is another set of Islands - the Solentiname - but IMO the glory of the area is the San Juan river itself, the natural corridor of Indio Maiz which crosses it and the Fortress of the Immaculate Conception situated half way along it. But that too seems to have waxed and waned as a possible nomination and all the indications I have been able to discover are that the possibility is disappearing