Granada and the Pacific Coast
Jonny's time in Nicaragua comes to a relaxing end at the Pacific Coast, but not before a stop in the impressive colonial town of Granada.
Granada is said to be Nicaragua’s most impressive colonial town; it certainly has a colourful history.
Founded by the Spanish in 1524 on the northern shore of Lake Nicaragua, and hence accessible by boat from the Caribbean and the San Juan River, it was considered the ideal place from which to explore the interior and it soon developed into a thriving hub of colonial expansion in the Americas. So beautiful and wealthy did the town become that Sir Francis Drake made it his mission to capture it for Queen Elizabeth. He never succeeded but other pirates, or Gentlemen of Fortune, like Henry Morgan and William Dampier, did manage to plunder the town on various occasions.
Then in the 1850s, with two rival governments from León and Granada vying for overall control of the newly independent country of Nicaragua, a curious character called William Walker was invited by the people of León to help them in their struggle. Arriving from his home in Louisiana with only 58 men, but all importantly the latest modern rifles, Walker quickly seized control of Granada, and in a sham election in July 1856, declared himself president. To this day, William Walker is the only US citizen to have been president of a Latin American country.
Sadly for Walker, it didn’t last long. Much to the surprise and chagrin of his employers from León, as the new president, Walker declared English the national language, the US dollar the national currency, and in a bid to woo plantation owners from the southern states of America, made slavery legal. He was booted out of office after only six months, and had to flee for his life, but not before setting fire to Granada, which destroyed most of the town. (A couple of years later, Walker tried to return but was captured in Honduras, where he was executed by firing squad.)
Over the next few years, Granada was rebuilt and is today a beautiful place to visit. With an imposing mustard-coloured cathedral dominating the town’s main square, the brightly painted former homes that line the adjacent streets are now small curiosity shops, boutique hotels, bars and restaurants. In the evening live music can be heard. Here we wandered round town, checked out two hotels – the Dario was more like a museum than a commercial residence – visited a cultural centre and a cigar factory before moving on to our final destination on this trip to Nicaragua.
Saving the best till last, we are now staying at an amazing eco-resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean called Morgan’s Rock. Set amongst 4,000 acres of primal forest, with a private crescent-shaped beach, infinity pool and some of the best-designed casitas I have ever stayed in, this place is a true tropical paradise. And even better, we have the place completely to ourselves.
At Wild Frontiers we are always on the lookout for ‘the next big thing.’ Recently Uzbekistan, Georgia and Albania have all seen a huge rise in interest and therefore tourist numbers. Could Nicaragua be next? As discerning travellers have to search ever harder for true off-the-beaten-path locations, so they will venture further afield. Although in recent decades Nicaragua has had more than its fair share of political problems, that have kept tourism at bay, I get the sense that things are changing and that the country now sits on the cusp of an exciting tourism boom.