THE central park is the best place to start your visit to Granada.
The park is the heart of the community. Here you see history and traditions mix with daily life and commerce, and the older the community, the more colourful and enchanting the city.
The table in front of the Plaza Colon Hotel gave us a good view of the park, the Sunday strollers and market browsers. The scene was lively, so shopping we went.
Granada, founded in 1524 on the shores of Lake Nicaragua (Lake Cocibolca to the locals), has a colonial atmosphere that is charming and captivating. The park, ringed by well-maintained old buildings, fronts the cathedral -- painted a sunlight yellow, with white trim and red roof tiles. About 20 horse-drawn carriages -- coches -- line the park's north edge just steps from the Plaza Colon.
A horse-and-buggy taxi ride is a leisurely way to see the bustling urban centre of about 190,000 people, but the service is drawing the ire of animal rights advocates. The horses are scrawny, decked with garish ribbons, and spend the day hooked to the carriages and trotting the pavement in the tropical heat.
A carriage ride costs about $10. Cart driver Mauricio Sanchez took us on an hour-long guided tour of Granada. His commentary was informative, but sitting in front of us and distracted by the traffic, he was hard to hear.
For a bird's-eye view of Granada, walk about three blocks north of the park to La Merced church and climb the bell tower. The admission charge to the tower is a dollar.
Granada is safe, and walking is a good way to familiarize yourself with the city centre. Calle La Calzada is lined with restaurants and shops -- a trendy place to have a coffee or snack and watch people. Especially entertaining are the kids dressed in costume depicting a well-known figure from Nicaragua's folklore. But to catch a glimpse of La Gigantona, be quick to look in the direction of the beating snare drum as the kids run quickly through the crowd.
We arrived in Granada at the start of the weeklong annual International Poetry Festival, and in the evening joined the packed Plaza de los Leones to hear La Misa Campesina Nicaraguense. Singer and songwriter Katia Cardenal gave a moving rendition of the mass sung in a liturgical language popular when liberation theology stirred Third World Catholics to community-minded activities.
Ernesto Cardenal, pre-eminent Nicaraguan poet, priest, revolutionary and former culture minister in the Sandinista government, was one of the festival's featured stars of 100 poets from 50 countries. Most remember Cardenal as the man reprimanded by a finger-wagging Pope John Paul II when the pontiff landed in Managua in 1983.
Granada is a bustling centre. The former capital city's colonial buildings -- high walled structures with large wooden doors leading to a courtyard -- are the chief attraction for visitors and investors alike. Not long ago, HGTV featured a couple buying property in Granada.
Gringos eager to preserve the rich architectural heritage are welcomed with open arms by the municipal government. But buyers should know the ins and outs about remodelling colonial structures before buying a property.
Most visitors to Granada tend to buy pottery, hammocks and rocking chairs. Artists, craftsmen and vendors keep a watch for dollar-bearing tourists.
One of the most notable North American investors to land in Granada was Cornelius Vanderbilt. In the 1840s, he established a steamboat company to carry gold-rush miners headed to California. Vanderbilt was so successful, he was sure investors would back building a canal linking the Atlantic to Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean. Alas, the entrepreneurs behind the Panama Canal won that water fight.
If you want to venture beyond Granada, take a bus to Masaya, the bestknown market centre in Nicaragua. The bus is cheap and the ride takes about 45 minutes. Be warned, however, that the bus may be the same one you rode to elementary school. Canada ships a lot of decommissioned school buses to Nicaragua.
The trip to Masaya takes you through an area known as Pueblos Brujos -- Bewitched Villages. According to folklore, the villagers are said to believe and practise magic. Since most of the houses in these villages are painted white, the area is also referred to as Pueblos Blancos -- White Villages.
-- Postmedia News