01/01/2017 - 01/04/2017
Our hotel in Granada, Casa del Consulado, was even prettier and closer to the center of town than our hotel in León. We naturally made a beeline for the market as soon as we'd settled in, but it was almost entirely closed due to the New Year's Day holiday. We decided to go to Restaurante El Zaguan for lunch instead, where we had the best restaurant meal of the trip. Everything was good but the highlight was a whole deep-fried guapote, a type of bass native to Lake Nicaragua.
Next up was the Chocolate Museum, where Cleo and Mei Ling got a crash course in the making of chocolate bars from the bean to the mold.
After a relaxing breakfast the next morning, we were reunited with our guide from the first day in Managua and proceeded eastward to the Masaya Volcano. This is one of the few sites in the world where it's possible to see magma within a volcano crater, but between the smoke and the ambient light we couldn't see anything besides a faint red glow. Apparently going at night is usually more rewarding.
The nearby city of Masaya has the best-known crafts market in Nicaragua. We had made it clear we wanted to split our time in Masaya between the crafts market and the municipal market, so we quickly toured the crafts stalls and bought a couple of small items as souvenirs. Nicaraguan ceramic artists are well-known for their talent and creativity and I have a beautiful pair of Nicaraguan vases at home, but buying anything fragile was not going to be possible on this trip. The municipal market was a lot more lively than the crafts market had been, and there were virtually no tourists except us.
After lunch we visited Laguna de Apoyo, a pretty crater lake between Masaya and Granada well-known for its clean, warm water. It's a popular spot for relaxation and water sports, but we were on a tight schedule so we limited our stop to a few minutes for views and pictures. Nearby was the small colonial village of San Juan de Oriente, which is famous for its ceramic artists. We stopped in a workshop for a demonstration of pottery-making and a look at some of the finished products.
Our last stop of the day was Las Isletas de Granada, an archipelago of tiny islands that surround a small peninsula projecting into Lake Nicaragua just south of Granada. About 1200 people live on the islets, many of them subsistence fishermen. However, some of the wealthiest Nicaraguans maintain luxurious second homes on private islands as well. One of the islands is inhabited only by monkeys, which were placed there for sanctuary by a veterinarian who lived nearby. We disembarked on one island that had a bar with a pool and had a couple of Toña beers before jumping back in the boat. The best part of the boat ride was the smiles that never left the kids' faces.
On our second full day in Granada we were taken on a short hike around the forested slopes of Mombacho Volcano. When we emerged from the forest on the northern side of the volcano, we had beautiful views of Granada as well as Lake Nicaragua and the islands we had visited the previous day.
We had nothing else scheduled with NA for the day, so once we were back in Granada we had a refreshing lunch at expat-run El Garaje before taking a carriage ride down to the lakefront. We couldn't really enjoy our walk by the lake because of clouds of tiny flies that sometimes got so thick we couldn't keep them out of our mouths and noses. At one point I think I rubbed one into my eye which resulted in a rather unpleasant temporary case of conjunctivitis.
We walked back to the hotel via the main tourist drag, Calle La Calzada, where we saw some beautiful buildings. Closer to the center, the street was lined with tour agencies hawking daytrips and cheap restaurants, including some incongruous Irish bars.
Besides requesting a late departure from Managua the first day, the second smart adjustment I made to our itinerary was to switch our Granada departure from early morning to afternoon. Wednesday morning ended up being our only chance to visit the Granada municipal market and we made the most of it. The market seemed to be in full swing and there was a very energetic atmosphere. We weaved up and down the narrow aisles and found a barber where I and the boys got haircuts for less than ten bucks in total. Afterwards we kept exploring until we found the food stalls, where we got an awesome lunch including our first taste of Indio Viejo.
Thanks to our long lunch we were a little late to meet our driver back at the hotel. We threw our belongings into the van as quickly as we could because there wasn't much time to get to the ferry to Ometepe.