We spent about a week in each of these cities with our friends from Honduras. Leon and Granada are classic old colonial Spanish towns with colorful concrete front facades, ancient wooden doors with heavy iron gates and door knockers, and clay tile roofs. Sidewalks are a jumble of steps, homemade grates, cobblestone, and sheer cliffs. Stray dogs sleep in any shade they can find on the sidewalks unperturbed by pedestrians stepping over and chicken buses coughing through intersections.
It’s always hot in July and overhanging roofs only offer intermittent shade and cover from brief but hard afternoon thunderstorms. These storms are no surprise and it seems like you can feel them coming, even when indoors. Folks on the street start to fish around for their tarps even while the sun is still beating down to be ready to quickly wrap up their stands and stalls from the sideways downpours. During these storms, I’d join in with the old lady across the street to watch our street fill up and turn into a river carrying away the day’s dust and the uphill market’s trash.
In Granada, we rented an apartment for a week splurging a bit for a place with a kitchen and air conditioning. We cooked some of our classics and munched on them all week which was a nice change of pace from restaurants and street vendors (veggie spaghetti and egg sandwiches this time). We learned how to use Nicaraguan kitchens and the little old lady across the street knew exactly what we meant when we went to her store asking for kitchen fire. We got our box of matches for about 4 pennies to light the propane stove. Our week in Granada was a much needed break from rocketing around Central America and allowed us to get caught up on blogging and get ahead on planning. We basked in air conditioning and reliable internet leisurely exploring the town.
Granada was smaller and better preserved than Leon but this also meant more touristy. Overall, the town was quite inexpensive as long as you avoided the touristy restaurants and cafes. There was a strip of bars along a pedestrian only street that seemed to be the epicenter for the town. Each bar had roughly the same happy hour deals of 2 for 1 drinks and menu hawkers trying to lure you in their maze of chairs and tables so that you are stuck at their restaurant/bar. My favorite spot on this street though was a shop that sold ceviche to go and put out a few lawn chairs once it started to get dark. We were there in the off season so some of the restaurants had odd hours or never really opened during the week we were there. Also, we kept thinking the corner stores were closed but later realized that you just have to ask for what you want through the gate and the attendant hands you your item through a hatch.
Granada has many beautiful buildings but didn’t have any free walking tours unfortunately. We tend to look for these in each city we visit because they help us to get our bearings quickly and we often end up meeting fun people on the tour. Also, I apologize to the tour operator who I incorrectly booked a walking tour with in Granada, Spain. Google pointed me in the wrong direction for that one. We did go on one boat tour of the tiny islands that dot the lake near Granada. It was boring and I don’t recommend it unless you have a wealthy friend who owns one of the islands!
Leon was bigger, dirtier, and more chaotic than Granada. Leon is a working city less focused or reliant on tourism. Overall, I enjoyed Leon more than Granada because of the size and diversity of things to explore but I also got a kick out of the sense of chaos and disorder of the city. The city is buzzing all the time with people shouting and vehicles racing pell-mell through the streets with no regard for stop signs, pedestrians, or potholes. The food options were diverse and unique and you had an easy time finding a tasty, cheap meal. It’s also a good hub for adventure sports outside of the city. We took a tough overnight trip with a company called Quetzaltrekkers to get our fix of volcanoes. They’re a non-profit company that provides all the gear you’d need for a camping trip and sends you out with a couple of guides to explore some far off the beaten path destinations. We went volcano boarding (tobogganing down volcanic ash), swimming in a volcanic crater lake, and camping on the top of one of Nicaragua’s highest volcanoes. We saw some stunning views but the hike up was brutal. Our packs were well over 50 pounds and the trail was loose dirt that went up forever. I was so dehydrated and got to use my rehydration salts instead of roasting marshmallows with the rest of the group. It was worth it for the views though!
On an unrelated note, I’ve noticed a trend of European or North American travelers finding a neat spot along their travels, staying there, and starting up a hostel with a few buddies. Running and owning the hostel increases their level of “coolness” I’ll call it and they get a steady stream of travelers (specifically girls) coming through their house and bar. An interesting lifestyle option for those smitten with a destination or maybe just frustrated with their opportunities back home.
My wife and I quit our jobs, sold our belongings and are hitting the road for nearly 2 years. We're blogging about our adventures, lessons learned, ideas, and recommendations. Take a gander at the content, leave a comment, or reach out to us to meet up on the road!