Telling family and friends that you’re heading to Nicaragua, will result in one of two reactions. Most commonly they’ll say, “Nica-what?”, while looking confused. Alternatively, the colour will drain from their faces as they describe the horrors that happen in Central America. You know – the drug wars, the civil wars, crime, corruption and chaos. But, they couldn’t be more wrong.
Located between Honduras and Costa Rica, Nicaragua is known for its dramatic landscape of lakes, volcanoes and untouched beaches. Traveling south, you’ll find the small city of Granada. Hugging the shores of Lake Nicaragua – the largest lake in Central America – this city will leave you charmed with its colonial architecture and cobbled streets.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any reservations before heading to Granada. I had received warnings from family and friends, in fact a colleague went as far as to email me a Vice article that highlighted crime in the city – along with pictures of machetes and dead bodies (I kid you not).
These were the images running through my head as I stepped off the bus and onto a small street just outside of town.
I should mention at this stage that I’m pretty cheap. If there’s a way for me to save money, you can bet that I’m going to take it. So, I skipped a taxi ride to the hotel. I had done some research, and I knew my hotel was just a couple of blocks from the bus stop. An easy walk.
With my bag dragging behind me, I walked through the town, glowing phone in hand as I tried to use the screenshot of the map I had saved. See, I won’t even spend money on international roaming or WIFI.
20minutes later, walking past an old abandoned building at night, I admitted to myself that I was lost.
Rule number one when traveling, never look lost. Also, don’t walk around waving your phone in the air. Here I was, walking in the streets with all my possessions. I was a muggers dream. But, not once, did anyone even attempt to approach me in a threatening way at all. Sure, people stared as I walked by, but I never felt uncomfortable or in danger. It occurred to me then, that maybe my preconceived ideas were wrong.
I stopped in a small store, and using the little Spanish I had learned, I asked for directions. The locals were happy to help, and within a few minutes, I was pointed in the right direction and I found my hotel.
Safe? Well, duh!
Generally, I always chat to the hotel desk receptionist when I arrive. I find it best to get out all those awkward tourist questions immediately. You know the ones – can I drink the water? What time does breakfast begin? And most importantly, is it safe to walk the streets?
Having just spent the past 30min walking the streets, not only was that final question a bit late, but I already knew the answer. YES! I won’t lie, the receptionist was actually confused that I even asked.
The next day I explored the town a bit more. I loved the cobbled streets, the colourful housing, horse-drawn carriages, and sidewalks filled with tourists. It is small, so getting around is incredibly easy. The main street– Calle La Calzada – is always bustling with activity and local tour companies offer a variety of excursions within Granada and the nearby towns.
It’s a tourist hotspot, and it’s clear that the locals are not only kind and helpful, they’re also incredibly proud of their city. The streets are pristine, the price of food, drinks and activities are affordable (I would even go as far as to say cheap when compared to its neighbour – Costa Rica) and English is widely spoken.
In short, it was paradise!
I nearly died…
The only time I feared for my life was when I was using their local buses, commonly referred to as Chicken Buses. They’re often incredibly crowded and I’m pretty sure they consider the term “road worthy” more of a general guideline than prerequisite. On the bright side, they’re incredibly cheap! So, you know that’s my recommended mode of transport.
You could always use taxis, just be sure to negotiate the fee upfront. Very few drivers will use a meter. Alternatively, you could opt for private transportation. You hotel or hostel will be happy to arrange this for you, but it comes at a cost.
Nicaragua is not a wealthy country and while Granada may have more resources than the more rural areas, poverty is rife. Like all tourist hotspots, you’ll often have hawkers approach trying to sell handmade curios. Beggars may ask for spare change or food. But, simply saying no will have them moving on to the next person.
All hotels and hostels make safety a priority. Very often guards will be stationed at the front door 24hrs a day. If a guard is not present, you can be sure that hotel staff will lock the front gates. It’s also standard practice for guest to leave their room keys at reception before enjoying their day in town.
Despite the relative safety of the area, I think it’s important to use common sense. Coming from South Africa, I sometimes feel as though I have more of an awareness of my surroundings and my personal belongings when compared with other tourists. Some might say I’m paranoid. But it’s always best to stay on the safe side.
I would definitely not recommend that anyone walk along Lake Nicaragua at night. In fact, stick to busy streets and stay in groups. Pick-pockets are common no matter where you travel, so make sure you always have an eye on your purse/wallet and cell phone. Make sure you use reputable tour companies and avoid traveling to remote areas.
Seven Safety Tips:
Don’t forget to use common sense.
Avoid remote areas when traveling alone.
Always use a reputable travel company to ensure safe excursions.
When in doubt, ask! Your hotel will gladly assist with arranging transport, booking tours and providing safety tips.
Only carry what you can afford to lose – keep important documents and valuable stored safely in your hotel room.
Stay away from beaches or desolate areas at night.
Learn key Spanish phrases.
I knew the moment I stepped foot in Granada that it would become my new favourite city. I would absolutely recommend that you visit – whether you’re in a group or traveling solo. If you’re looking for a few suggestions to make your trip worthwhile, be sure to check out these attractions.
Top 5 Attractions:
Islets of Granada
Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral
Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve
My article was first published on Wow Travelers World.