Despite the fact that it was dark out when we arrived in Granada, Nicaragua, the air was humid. Three of my friends and I had made the 9 hour trip from San José, Costa Rica together, and as soon as we dismounted the bus, we hopped in a taxi that would take us to our hostel for the night.
On our 7-minute drive down the streets of Granada we could not believe our eyes. The beauty of this place at night was incredible. Dark and desolate, the cobble-stone streets reminded me of magnificent, old cities I had only seen in movies. We were whizzing by the colorfully painted buildings with their tall, antique doors, and I was in complete awe of it all.
Upon arriving to Casa de la Poeta (which was around 9:30 p.m.), we were greeted by a young boy that kindly opened the front gate for us and brought us inside to check us in. There was a hammock and book shelf in the corner to my left, and the other side led to the kitchen that we were free to use. Through the incredibly high wooden door was our room. We slept in bunk beds and received lockers to lock our stuff in. My experience with this hostel was great. The beds were comfortable, there was a beautiful backyard section, and I enjoyed the free,
freshly-brewed coffee the next morning (and I’m not even a coffee drinker). I highly recommend this hostel to travelers who are, how my friends say “Ballin on a budget.”
That night we went to walk the streets to scavenge for dinner because we were all starving. To my surprise, the darkness and emptiness of the streets was not scary, but rather peaceful. The noise level grew louder as we approached the strip of restaurants and bars. I’ve learned that living or traveling in Central America isn’t as luxurious for a vegetarian/vegan as it is in the U.S. Some people have never even heard the term “vegan” before. Despite this, it’s not too hard to ask for something without meat. It’s certainly more difficult than I am used to, also considering a slight language barrier, but it’s not impossible!
Saturday morning we explored Granada and it was wonderful. Fun fact: Granada is actually one of the first established cities in all of Central America, founded in 1524.
Granada is very hot in the morning and throughout most of the day, so it was a good thing there was so much in close proximity. We came across 3 different cathedrals within 4 blocks of each other (2 of them featured). The white building featured on top is actually the oldest cathedral in all of Central America.
The vivid colors of the homes were even more gorgeous during the daytime, and apparently horses and carriages are a thing here because we saw several on the road throughout the morning.
Most people’s homes had their doors wide open, and inside you could see a foyer area with chairs. If you looked further in you could see the center of their house in which there was no roof, so that the sun beamed down on some sort of huge rectangular indoor garden. There were houses of all different colors: purple, yellow, bright blue, pink, red, and green.
For breakfast we went to Café Arte. It was very cute and pleasant. While we were eating, locals were bringing their children in where art classes were being held on the opposite side of the room. To the left are some of the paintings that were displayed.
We could have taken a chicken bus to León, but because we wanted to spend Saturday morning exploring Granada and the timing didn’t fit our schedule, our hostel hooked us up with a private shuttle for just $13. It was worth it! We had a van with my 3 friends and I, and 2 other people, plus the driver. There was air conditioning, and it was a straight ride there. The chicken bus would have stopped in Managua, another reason we preferred the shuttle. The man driving the shuttle brought us right up to our hostel in León, and helped us with out bags. We arrived around 2 p.m. to Hostel El Jardin, our stomachs growling for food.
I forced my friends to walk all the way across the center city just to go to a vegetarian restaurant that the man at our hostel recommended. Cocinarte was so cozy. There were games in the corner so my friends and I decided to play a game of Spanglish scrabble and it was so fun. Not to mention that the food was delicious, and I thought most of my friends were impressed.
Upon arrival back at Hostel El Jardin, we chilled in the hammocks and got excited for our next day’s adventure: volcano boarding on active volcano Cerro Negro.
Sunday morning we were served free breakfast from the hostel. The options were pancakes with a banana or eggs. I just ate a banana and had some coffee. Our shuttle for volcano boarding would pick us up at 8 a.m. A couple that was staying at the hostel with us was also coming with us! They were from Australia and it was very interesting to talk to them about their recent travels down through Central America.
Volcano boarding all together cost $26 USD. We payed the man at our hostel $21, and then it was $5 to enter once you arrived at the volcano. They gave us a wooden sled and a drawstring bag before we ascended on our hike up the side of the volcano. The hike was harder than all of us had intended. The bottom had mostly big stable rocks, but as you climbed higher they become small and gravely, almost like trying to climb a huge pile of sand. Our feet were sinking into the ash. Our guide let us take breaks on the way up because it was about a 45 minute climb to the top.
Boarding down the volcano appears scary because when you look down and think the bottom isn’t that far, you notice actually how tiny the vans and people at the bottom are. It was similar to looking out the window of a plane. The feeling when you don’t think your that high in the air yet because you can still see houses, but then you see these tiny little vehicles moving and you realize you’re higher than you think. I did not go as fast as I thought I would down the volcano. One of my friends was going so fast and wiped out at the end, but I probably didn’t exceed 25 mph. It’s difficult, too, because the black sand buries your board as your whizzing down, so you need to break and clean it off if you have enough control. I think the hike up the volcano actually made it more worth the $26. Also they gave us water, bananas, and sliced watermelon when we reached the bottom.
In my opinion, the entire experience, rather than just the boarding part, was worth it all together. Anyone who likes a little risk and a breathtaking view would seriously love this tour.
Later on Sunday we explored more of the inner city. León is an undiscovered treasure by many as of today. A city that has fortunately not yet peaked as a tourist location quite yet. Although you may see a fellow backpackers on the sidewalk, walking into restaurants and local stores it is very unlikely you will find a person who is not a local. Despite this, there is so much to do as a tourist. We walked through a cathedral and were able to watch cultural dance performances on a stage placed in the center of the city.
The sidewalks of León could easily give you a broken ankle and are not nearly as clean and kept as Granada’s, but these characteristics added to it’s authentic effect.
Sunday morning our last little experience in León was the early morning food market. We were up and out by 6:30 a.m. I bought a dozen bananas for 15 Cordobas, which is equivalent to about $.50USD. I enjoyed the cheap, fresh fruit and lack of attention to the fact that I was not from there. Overall, my experience in Nicaragua was such an unpredictable adventure. Physically and historically beautiful.