Granada, Nicaragua – a classic stop on the Central American ‘gringo trail’ and one of my favourite cities so far. We only had a few days to explore but it was a pleasant change from all the hiking and beach basking we’ve been experiencing lately…
We caught a taxi to Granada from Rivas. All these taxis we’ve been taking may seem like quite an expensive option but, in Nicaragua, transport is so cheap that it doesn’t really matter which mode you take. For the sake of a few extra cordoba (it totalled to about £8 each for a 2 hour ride), it was nice to have a private car and save ourselves some time by going directly to our hostel.
Upon arrival into Granada, we could instantly feel the electric vibe on the streets. There were hundreds of people weaving in and out of market stalls, haggling with street vendors and dodging speeding taxis and motorbikes. The colours were vibrant and the sounds of beeping horns and chitter chatter filled the air. A total change from the silence and nature sounds of Ometepe!
We pulled up to a metal gate with a small sign saying ‘Hostel Oasis’ next to it. It didn’t look like anything special at first but once we stepped inside it was clear why so many people had recommended it.
Firstly, it’s massive! From the outside, you’d never expect it to span as far back as it does but there’s enough space for dozens of dorms, plenty of showers, a pool, chill out hammock area, massive dining room, kitchen and computer suite.
The atmosphere is nothing short of ‘backpacker-y’ – graffiti and artwork covers the walls, there’s a fridge filled with beers and, of course, there are hammocks galore. We booked a 10 bed dorm (the cheapest option) and we were worried that it might be too crazy/too difficult to sleep with that many people. Nevertheless, every bed had a personal fan, plug socket and huge locker, which made it nowhere near as grim as some of the larger dorm rooms we’ve stayed in in the past.
We met a girl in our room who had been mugged prior to her stay in the hostel – losing her passport, cards and camera. It’s always hard to hear these kinds of stories and all 3 of us try to keep our wits about us in order to prevent these things but sometimes they’re just out of anyone’s control. Luckily, we haven’t had any issues so far and -runs to touch wood- we won’t have any in the future.
The girl carried on telling us stories of people that she’d met whilst travelling and mentioned a creepy guy that invited her to his house to look at some puppies. All 3 of us sat silently remembering the time we were lured to our surf instructor’s house in Costa Rica by the promise of, yep you guessed it: puppies…. hahaha, no seriously though, it wasn’t creepy for us – but could it have been?
I think that’s the hard thing to gage when travelling – Are people just being friendly or are they being creepy? Should you say yes to hanging out and potentially have a new friend or should you steer clear of them completely because they might steal your money? If you hitchhike, are you getting into the car with a considerate person who wants to help you get from A to B or Latin America’s most wanted serial killer? I guess the answer is that we’ll never really know the answer. I tend to rely on gut instinct – if something feels a bit off then I trust my intuition but I suppose there is room for error there. Sometimes I think we’re too wary but then other times I hear stories and think maybe we’re too trusting… ahhh, my mind is wandering now and I think one day I’ll have to write a whole post on this topic, but for now let’s get back to Granada.
We arrived at our hostel in the evening and so, naturally, we were keen to go out and get dinner. There were signs around our hostel telling guests not to walk on the streets at night and to catch taxis instead and seeing as it was getting a bit dark, we decided to ask the reception staff for some advice. This is essentially how our conversation went:
‘Hi, we’re quite hungry and want to grab some food but we’ve seen signs telling us that it’s best to get a taxi when it’s dark? Is it safe to walk to the restaurants now or not?’
‘What? Yes, of course it’s ABSOLUTELY safe. The safest of safe. There is some crime on the streets later on which you need to be very careful of but, right now you are fine. Go ahead and walk and find some food. No problem whatsoever.’
‘Oh, great! Okay then. So what time of day are the signs referring to? When should we avoid being on the streets?’
‘Ummm, I would say about 7pm’
-All three of us look at the clock (which reads 6.45pm at this point) and then proceed to hail a taxi-
Alice made a joke about criminals and gang members pacing back and forth in their cages all day, rattling on the bars desperately waiting for the clock to strike 7pm. But, no, really… we still aren’t sure what kind of logic this was and we decided it was better to be safe than sorry. It’s not all just over-cautious advice, either. Two people from our hostel got stabbed while we were there (Abbie described them as ‘just little stabs’ but I’m not sure that’s really relevant… I mean a stab of any description is generally something I aim to avoid). DON’T BE PUT OFF, THOUGH! Most of the time this occurs when people are out late on the streets alone, usually drunk or high with valuables on their person – so, to some extent, you can prevent these things from happening by just being sensible. The taxis are dirt cheap as well, so it’s hardly like you have to break the bank and you won’t have to go searching the town for a good time when most of the hostels have lively environments and group bar crawl events. Or you can just use it as an excuse to get 12 hours of beauty sleep… The 3 empanadas don’t fear danger after 7pm because we are usually in bed at 7pm. Wish I was lying to you buuuuut alas, I am not.
The next day we woke up early to try the free hostel breakfast. Much to Alice’s dismay there was a choice of just pancakes or pancakes. I mean, I’m an avid supporter of the trusty pancake but even I can agree that there is such a thing as TOO much batter for brekkie. I feel so much pressure to come up with an alternative for this situation that I’ve started trying to filter my hostelworld.com choices based on whether or not pancakes are served at breakfast… Wish me luck, guys! My reputation as ‘best hostel finder’ is on the line here!
We spent our first morning exploring the town – looking round markets, appreciating the architecture and taking pictures against the colourful street walls. The sun was blazing all day and we found ourselves getting through refill after refill of our water bottles (except for Abbie, who never drinks water – the science behind this has not yet been discovered). We stopped for lunch in a gorgeous little plaza by the Granada Cathedral and all felt like we were in the heart of Europe or somewhere. We stayed for hours just enjoying the city life and agreed that we wouldn’t feel guilty for doing nothing. I had to stop myself from reeling off a speech about how content I was with my life in that exact moment – to be sitting by two of my favourite people in one of the most beautiful cities we’ve experienced yet. Counting my blessings, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
In the evening, we climbed the bell tower of the Iglesia de la Merced. The views are insane from up there, so I’d definitely recommend it but be prepared to pack some earplugs. Every 10 minutes (or so) a guy starts ringing the bell, whilst you are DIRECTLY NEXT TO said bell. We laughed until we cried and, honestly, I’m never going to be able to convey this situation to you guys in words. I have a video actually, I wonder if I can attach that to this blog post…
We cooked a vegan dinner in the hostel and by that I mean; Alice and Abbie cooked a vegan dinner while I sat on my phone writing this blog but then got distracted and started having conversations with other travellers which then led to being glared at and told to either help or write and then this whole process was repeated several times until we all had a meal on our plates and I had a blog post to share. Dream team, eh!
The next day we did laundry – always a monumental moment for us and 100% worth blogging about – before continuing to explore the town. We sat in a park for a while and heard the classic Latin American noise of ‘gunshots that aren’t really gunshots but maybe could be gunshots’. I don’t know what the sound is, exactly – people have all sorts of explanations – but every country we’ve visited so far is no stranger to this noise. We’ve decided that unless we start to see people VISIBLY panic then we’ll just continue to shrug it off. Oh, and if anyone can shed more light on this situation and say ‘hey, you guys are idiots, those sounds are just _____’ then, please, do share.
The next part of our Granada adventure involves an activity that may cause my hardcore traveller friends some discomfort…. we made chocolate. Yep. We went to one of those tourist-trap chocolate museums that exist ALLLLLLLL over Latin America, we put on an apron and a completely unnecessary chef hat and we spent 2 hours learning all about cacao. We did it. And you know why we did it? 1) Because it was raining and 2) because we actually wanted to do it. I’m sticking my middle finger up to all these ‘you’re not a proper backpacker if…’ theories. Go off the beaten path or fall into every tourist trap, stay in hammocks or stay in 5* accommodation – I don’t care, no-one should care and, finally, I have reached the end of my rant trying to justify why we paid 500 cordoba for a bar of chocolate…
It was a super fun experience and we giggled the whole way through – mainly because our guide was an absolute lunatic who made us chant ‘BATE BATE CHOCOLATE’ at every possible opportunity:
It starts of with the roasting, separating and crushing of cacao seeds before learning more about the mix of ingredients (these chocolate bars were vegan – 10 points to Gryffindor!!) and then finally creating our own concoction. Abbie put almonds in hers, Alice chose peanut butter and I opted for sea salt flakes. Controversial decision, I am aware – especially because I’m renowned for my obsession with nut butters but I thought the sweet/salt combination would be a winner. Looking back, I regret everything but hey, we live and we learn! We actually learnt quite a lot about the chocolate making process, the origins of chocolate, how cacao is harvested and different types of Aztec and Mayan chocolate products. We got quizzed at the end to test our knowledge and it was the first time I’ve felt that kind of pressure since my university exams – we all passed and are now official cacao connoisseurs!
*Adds skill to C.V. alongside my Guinness ‘pours the perfect pint’ certification*
Our chocolate making afternoon came to an end and we were faced with torrential rain and a decision to make. We could either 1) brave the rain or 2) stay inside the chocolate museum forever and ever and ever and ever. We settled on the latter, set up shop in the cafe and started to munch on our chocolate creations whilst chatting about anything and everything. The rain didn’t ease up, which meant we just kept munching and chatting and munching and chatting until we all realised we’d eaten every last bite of our pure cacao chocolate bars and started to feel a bit sick.
Even though I know this sickness was due to a sugar overdose, I’d like to think it was because we couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the beautiful city of Granada behind. Let’s just say it was a bit of both… To the bus station we go! Yeah, I said bus. Not shuttle. Not taxi. The 3 empanadas are finally getting back to grips with the budget traveller life 🤘
Until next time, amigos x