Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nicaragua part 5 - Granada

For the last 3 nights of our July trip to Nicaragua, we decided to visit the colonial city of Granada. After a lot of research, we settled on Hotel Spa Granada, which was originally the largest private colonial home in the city, but had recently been renovated and reopened as a hotel. A few days ago, it was actually featured on the Today Show as one of their top hotel bargains for travel this holiday season - you can watch a clip of the show here (HSG portion of the clip starts about 1 minute and 40 seconds in)! We actually spent our last 2 nights (more on that below) in the room they show with the pink bed.
HSG is conveniently located in the heart Granada, within easy walking distance of most of the city's attractions. Check in was quick and easy, and we were immediately shown to our deluxe room. I'm not a huge fan of the retro-modern furniture used at HSG, but the room itself was full of character and classic colonial details, including beautiful huge carved wooden doors and a super-high domed ceiling. I thought the open shower in the corner of the room was an odd touch, though my husband loved it!
We were only to spend one night in this room, though. Perhaps the best way to explain why is to give you a transcript of the conversation my husband and I had the next morning:

Bob: *with a weird look on his face that I know well--it means that he's about to give me news I won't like* "Um, so, I need to tell you something. I wasn't sure whether to tell you or not, but I'm going to.You know when I literally jumped into bed late last night and you woke up for a second and asked why in the hell I did that? And I told you that I tripped?"
Caroline: "Yes. So what really happened?"
Bob: "I stepped on a bat."
Caroline: "What what?"
Bob: "When I got up to go to the bathroom, I heard some weird noises and looked up. You know how there was a bit of light coming in the windows up near the ceiling? Well, in that light I could see a bunch of bats flying around. Then I kicked something furry on the ground in the dark. So I jumped into bed and pulled all the covers over me."
Caroline: "Let me get this straight. There were bats flying around above my head while I slept, they could have pooped on me, and you did not think of waking me up so we could change rooms? Or at least pulling the covers over me?" (Note: it was hot and I'd slept on top of the covers in a tank top and shorts)
Bob: "I really didn't want to have to switch rooms at 3AM, and know you would have insisted on it if I'd told you then. Not quite sure what to say about leaving you uncovered." *pause* "I suppose an apology is in order for that."
Caroline: (frantically checking self and belongings for guano) "I suppose a lot more than a simple apology is in order for this. Like jewelry. Or at least morning cocktails."

Needless to say, we changed rooms shortly thereafter. Our new room was actually just next door, and shared a wall with the bat cave, but did not have the same issues. We also saw workers in our original room later that day, working to make sure bats could not get in anymore, and I was pretty impressed with how quickly they took care of the problem! At any rate, we've gotten more than a few laughs out of this story, so I just can't bring myself to hold it against the hotel (especially with their rapid handling of the situation)!

As is typical in Granada (due to the architectural design of the colonial homes/hotels), the rooms at HSG do not feature windows or balconies. However, the front doors of the rooms all open out either right onto one of the hotel's courtyards or onto the second story walkways overlooking the courtyards. The 2 courtyards feature unusual artwork, lots of lush greenery and flowers, and even a small turtle!The dog paintings are part of artist Peta Kaplan-Sandzer's "Stray Dogs of Nicaragua" series.
 Doorway to our second room
At the back of the hotel, an open doorway leads to the pool, also known as the Mombacho Beach Club. As there's no beach here, I'm not sure exactly how the pool got this moniker, but it is a great place to hang out, relax, and people-watch! The pool is open to non-guests for a small fee, and we saw a pretty interesting cross-section of visitors during the hours we spent there; from quiet couples and playful families to a pair of teenagers using the pool like the backseat of a car (seriously, they were actually even sucking each others' toes at one public.....ewww) and a few older European men with their much younger Nicaraguan companions.
A poolside bar offers drinks and small plates/snacks, along with a selection of ice cream treats. The service here is quick and friendly, and the foods and drinks were all tasty! If you have any leftovers, the curious ducks who live in the courtyard will be happy to take them off your hands, despite the fact that the staff leaves out bowls of duck food and water for them!
HSG's spa treatment rooms are located just off the pool courtyard. A free spa treatment (manicure, pedicure, facial, or 30-minute massage) per room per night is included in the rates, and additional treatments are available at exceptionally reasonable prices - about $20 per hour for massages, under $10 for facials, manis, and pedis, etc. If staying more than 1 night, you can combine your spa credits for a longer massage. I had a couple of massages while there, and while they were not the best I'd ever had, the value was still very good.

We arrived in Granada around dinnertime the first night, and ended up grabbing a quick bite at Il Portico, Hotel Alhambra's outdoor restaurant overlooking Parque Central. The food and service were decent, though nothing to write home about.
A voucher for breakfast at the Garden Cafe was included in the room rate at HSG*. While the Garden Cafe is not on-site, we enjoyed the 10-minute walk each morning. Tables, chairs, and a few hammocks line a small but lush courtyard, and the gentle sound of water from a fountain helps make the atmosphere very tranquil and relaxing.
The service here can sometimes be slow as molasses, but the wait was worth it for the chompipe, an amazing buttery croissant filled with egg, turkey (I actually liked it better without this, though), avocado, cheese, and tomato. If I was ever on the Food Network's "Best Thing I Ever Ate: Breakfast", this sandwich would definitely be my pick! As usual, Bob ordered a very traditional breakfast every morning, so nothing too exciting there, but it was good.
*Note: it appears that HSG is now offering an on-premises buffet breakfast instead of the Garden Cafe vouchers. Cannot comment on food quality, but this is of course a more convenient (though likely not quite as delicious!) option for many travelers, especially for those who like to grab a cup of coffee in the morning without leaving their hotel.

We had originally planned to do a couple of excursions while in Granada, including a boat ride and tour of the islands of Lake Nicaragua and a visit to the city of Masaya and its famous handicraft market. However, after moving around so much over the course of the past week, we decided to make the last few days a bit more relaxing. When not hanging by HSG's pool, getting spa treatments, or eating, we just wandered around the city, taking in the beautiful and colorful architecture, browsing in small shops, galleries, and markets, and enjoying the atmosphere of this small colonial city.
The elusive Double Tourist Mullet
We seriously considered spending the rest of the afternoon inside this truck!
Although the weather was good for most of our time in Granada, it did start raining early the first afternoon. Luckily, we were right near the Garden Cafe, so ducked in there to stay dry and try out their lunch offerings. They have a fairly extensive menu featuring soups, salads, sandwiches, etc., and we were not disappointed with our delicious veggie (me) and pork (Bob) sandwiches!
That night, we were both craving pizza for some reason, so ended up at a pizzeria recommended by HSG's doorman. Tele Pizza was just a few blocks from HSG, and was actually really delicious. Sometimes you just can't beat a pepperoni and mushroom pie and a bottle of wine!
For lunch on our second and last full day in Granada, we stuffed ourselves with margaritas, homemade guacamole and chips, quesadillas, and chicken and beef cooked in a mole sauce and smothered with lettuce and sour cream at Tequila Vallarta. This restaurant is located on Granada's pedestrian street, La Calzada, and features both authentic and Americanized Mexican dishes.
After lunch, we headed to Pure Spa for massages. Their prices are pretty similar to those of HSG's spa, and the quality was also about the same. It's a lovely spa, built around a courtyard filled with tropical plants, and is also home to a rather large tortoise!
After leaving Pure, we headed back to HSG's pool and ended up falling into conversation with a friendly and interesting Canadian couple, C & E, who were in Nicaragua on an extended sabbatical. Before heading home, they invited us to come by the house they were renting a few blocks away for drinks and hors d'oeuvres later that evening. Bob and I accepted, and had a great time hearing more about their stay in Nicaragua and seeing the house itself (always love seeing the inside of people's homes, especially in other countries!). The value for the money in Granada was astounding - for less than it would cost for us to rent a 1-bedroom apartment in a bad area of Atlanta, they were renting a beautiful colonial home with 3 bedrooms, several living spaces, modern kitchen, courtyard with swimming pool, and even a/c! Not to mention an almost-daily housekeeper and pool service...if only my husband could work from Nicaragua!

Afterwards (though I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it), we actually went back to Tele Pizza to grab a pizza to go. In our defense, it was late and since we were being picked at 4AM the next morning so wanted something quick and easy! Once again, a yummy experience.

For our 4AM, 45-minute transfer from Granada back to the airport in Managua, I booked seats on a Paxeos shuttle. They were on time, picked us up a clean new van, and had us to the airport right on time, so I would not hesitate to use/recommend this service in the future.
Overall, we had a fantastic time in Granada, and would definitely recommend the city and Hotel Spa Granada to other travelers looking for a great value stay in a beautiful and charming location!

Note on safety:

Granada is considered to be a good bit safer than Managua, but you'll still want to take some basic precautions here as well. Be sure to have your hotel or a reputable restaurant call a legal cab for you if you need transportation - many illegal cabs are used by thieves in "express kidnappings" (you can read a good explanation of these here). Stay in well-lit areas at night, and even in the daytime try to stay away from streets that appear to be deserted. As always, be aware of your surroundings, and don't wear flashy jewelry or carry an expensive handbag, as all of these can make you a target for purse-snatchers and other criminals. I'd also read that visitors should stay away from parts of the lakefront in Granada, as these are well-known robbery hotspots. We followed all of these tips, and while I won't say we felt 100% safe all the time (there were a couple of times when we started down a street, felt a bit iffy about where we were, and decided to go in another direction), we ended up having no safety issues whatsoever in Granada.


julie said...

My first thoughts of your Granada photos was that it looked as hot as I remembered! I was there in April and it was over 100 degrees F each day and can only imagine what it was during the summer lol.

Your photos are stunning and so captured the vibrant beauty of Central America. Can't wait to read your other Nicaragua posts since it's generally off of the mainstream tourist path.

Caroline said...

Thank you so much!! I hope you enjoy the other posts just as much! And glad you've also gotten a chance to visit this amazing place!


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