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With cement-block buildings painted rainbow colors, flowering plants and shaded parks, colonial homes with clay-tile roofs and open courtyards, and narrow streets that encourage foot traffic, Granada is Nicaragua’s most picturesque city by far, its marked Baroque style of early Moorish architecture giving it a character uniquely its own. Located about a 45-minute drive from the capital of Managua and situated along the northwest coast of Lake Nicaragua (or “Cocibolca” by locals), one of the largest lakes in the world, Granada is also one of the country’s most historically important cities, both economically and politically. Founded in 1524, it was the first European city to be built on mainland America. Having slumbered even through a civil war, the city was always seen as a peaceful destination and choice getaway for businessmen, diplomats, and eventually, foreign tourists.

While the city is geographically secluded by miles of wilderness that is characteristic of the country, it is rich in natural beauty, including fertile agricultural lands, tropical rainforests, and an impressive eight volcanoes. Though the city’s surrounding limits are mostly underdeveloped with few modern amenities, efforts to repair the once-deteriorating city, which saw foreign aid and investments, today finds internet cafés, cable and cell phone service, varied and high-quality restaurants, and charming lodging options.

Many of the city’s colonial structures have been restored and converted into art galleries, boutique hotels, cafés, and other businesses. Historical attractions include the La Merced Church; and the San Francisco Church and Convent, the first church and convent built by Spanish colonists in 1529, the convent housing a museum where you can learn about ancient Pre-Columbian culture and view antique pieces and a collection of basalt statues from Zapatera Island. Renowned Central Park is popular for its carriage tours, and for a stunning panorama of Lake Nicaragua, be sure to visit the malecón.

Prior to colonization, the city was also a center for indigenous art, music, and philosophy. A local poets festival—the country’s biggest cultural celebration—is held every year.

For the active, with three volcanic lagoons, Granada is no doubt a natural playground for those seeking adventure. You can take full advantage of the crystalline waters of Nicaragua’s largest lagoon, Apoyo, for a swim, or enjoy fishing in the nearby lake.

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