Granada, Nicaragua – Colonial romanticism and beggars

Granada is the unquestionable centre of tourism in Nicaragua with a historic old town and lavishly restored colonial buildings. Among them is the yellow cathedral with red domes, landmark not only of the city but of the entire country. For 1 US$ / 20 NIO we are allowed to climb up the narrow spiral staircase to the belltower of La Merced church from where we have a wonderful 360° view to the city and the lake. Close to the church we find Tio Antonio Centro Social that belongs to La Merced but is religiously independent. The social institution has opened a hammock manufactory with handicapped or socially excluded adolescents. Their doors are always open, so that we can watch the production of high-quality hammocks from organically dyed cotton. Even if there is no room to store a hammock, the visit is worth it. All purchases come in useful to the kids.

Another of Granada’s specialties is horse and carriage for sightseeing tours (from 20 $ on). But don’t be deceived by the romantic tranquillity and peace in the historic district. Leaving the touristic area we discover a vivid and lively city with 120,000 inhabitants. Of course supposedly prosperous tourists attract beggars, and especially kids can be unnerving. But in all travel guides as well as in menus of many restaurants we are asked not to give kids anything but to better donate money to local aid organizations that will sensibly use it. Many kids are encouraged or even forced by their parents to beg since they get hold of more money than adults. But this produces in a long term just another generation of beggars. Why learn something if life is that easy? Other kids just don’t feel like learning something, skive off school, and roam around. With the money obtained by begging they buy something useful like a can of glue to sniff. Their life has ended already before it even started.

A cooler night than Granada is promised by Mirador de Catarina, 20 km south-west at Laguna de Apoyo in 540 m elevation. The viewpoint in Catarina is said to be the best in Nicaragua. From here we overlook Granada, Lake Nicaragua, Mombacho volcano, and of course Laguna de Apoyo. The country’s largest and maybe oldest crater lake has a perfect round form. It measure six kilometres in diameter and is 200 m deep with clear blue water. It is not very quiet here; it is a tourist attraction with many restaurants and souvenir shops (they all close at 11:30 pm). We may camp for free, but we have to negotiate the entrance fee. 100 Córdoba for a coach seem to be excessive. We aren’t that big, and only two passengers. The lady reduces to 50. Only the security man needs a tip for having an eye on us. He’s not too happy about 20 Córdoba (1 $), but accepts finally. Mirador de Catarina: N 11°54’47.7’’ W 86°04’11.9’’.

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