I have to be cautious when writing about a country that I am only a visitor in. However, I want my readers to know my genuine experience. Living in Granada has taught my family so much about what it’s like to live in a completely different atmosphere than the United States. It has even been a big adjustment from recently living in Costa Rica.
Here’s the whole story:
This town is charming, colorful and full of history. The colonial architecture makes you feel like you’re sipping coffee in the sea-worn south of Europe. The churches, courtyards, doors, and fountains of Granada are well cared for and beloved. This old-world city lies right along Lake Nicaragua, which provides a relaxing backdrop and refreshing lake winds. It’s photographically inviting and visually unforgettable.
There are several unique restaurants in Granada, and all are much cheaper than we’re used to. La Calzada is a cobblestone street teaming with twinkling lights and outdoor seating, where we find 2 for $1 minty mojitos and a variety of cuisines. Our favorite place to eat is El Kapuyo, which is two blocks north of La Calzada. There, we can have a quiet, romantic and very flavorful three course meal for $12 each.
Public transportation is cheap as well. Ten cordobas (about 40 cents) gets me anywhere in town in a taxi. If I need to go to the grocery store, I can find a driver who will take me there, wait, and bring me back for a total of 50 cordobas ($2). If I want to get out of town, I can catch a bus or shuttle to the major cities of Nicaragua for less than a few dollars a seat, so there is no serious need to have a personal vehicle. I’m also offered a lift on the front of bicycles, by the generous gentleman of Granada. Once, I even hopped onto the front of a horse-drawn cart…which I had to soon jump off of because it was too bouncy for my daughter.
Hired help is extremely affordable. The average wage is $1/hour. My nanny charges $28 per week–four hours a day for seven days, with Sunday off. And she cleans, too!
After staying in the mountain towns of Costa Rica’s Central Valley, it’s a nice break for my legs to simply walk a level sidewalk. I can go out with both kids (ages 3 and 1) for a few hours and not feel completely defeated when we get home.
There’s lots to do in and around town.
There are museums to visit and art exhibits to admire. There are many things to do with children in Granada. To head out of town for an adventure, Granada is not far from Mombacho and Masaya volcanoes, and enchanting Apoyo Lagoon is only a half hour away. The busy capital of Managua is conveniently located forty-five minutes away.
If you’re a foreigner, you’ll be overcharged often.
I can’t say I’m ripped off 100% of the time, but very frequently. This is one thing that really frustrates me. The taxi drivers will try to keep my change. I’ll have to ask, “Donde está mi cambio?” (Where is my change?). Even then, sometimes they suddenly up the fare. I’ve learned it’s best to just give them exact change. Otherwise, I have to remind myself that I’m arguing over something like 20 cents.
Rental homes can be found around $300/month, but a shiny new gringo in town will probably pay twice as much or more (like I did). The same pair of shoes that a Nicaraguan just bought costs my feet three times as much, and a dozen eggs is instantly raised from 36 cordobas to 60 cordobas when I merrily stroll up to the shop window.
In all of these cases, the best way to handle being overcharged is to know how much it costs before you get there. Then, you can calmly and confidently say, “No, the price is this, I will not pay more.” I find that I have to repeat what I will pay three times, as their price drops to my price, or closer to it. If they don’t budge and I am sure of the actual cost, I act like I’m going to walk away from the sale, and then the amount magically dwindles.
Theft is a concern.
I don’t bring my camera out alone, ever. As a gringa, I feel like a walking target, and I don’t want to be swinging around something valuable in front of people who are struggling to support their family. It is also unwise to carry a purse, as these can be snatched easily. Don’t keep loose cash or your wallet in your pocket. A small backpack is the way to go. Or, stuff the cash in your bra, ladies. See if you can cram your phone, keys and passport in there also.
April is the hottest month, which we’re settled into now. We find it hard to manage without air-conditioning or to be out of doors during the day. Other months are more bearable, but shade must always be sought. However, the evenings are very pleasant, especially with the ever-present lake breezes. Even now at its hottest, Granada is still less humid and therefore more comfortable than Maryland in the summer.
Street children are everywhere, especially around the touristy strip of La Calzada and the central park. They rush upon us in groups or individually, holding their hands out and rubbing their tummies. They’ll come right up to our dinner table. Many of them are very talented, and perform break dancing in the center of the street. There are some organizations set in place to support many of these children. We especially enjoyed a show at Mimo Comedia Cafe, which included juggling, mime, and gymnastic-like circus acts by the kids.
As a woman walking around Granada, I am constantly cat-called. They are not just harmless, cute remarks either. Since I know some Spanish, I can understand when they say things like, “Hey little mama, do you need a father for those babies?” –to which I’ve responded, “I already have one, but thanks!” Men of all ages will stare, whistle at me and try to talk to me. I’ve sensed myself being followed and talked about inappropriately as well. If I’m feeling harassed, I’ll say, “Por favor no molestar,” which means, “please don’t bother me.” If it wasn’t so darn hot here, maybe I’d wear a poncho.
Yup, I said it. There’s caca everywhere. You have to watch out for land mines wherever you walk, since horses and dogs roam the streets (and I don’t think these are just animal droppings). There is an especially over-loaded outdoor baño hosted on the grassy corner of the oldest church in Central America, which I think is just downright desecrating.
Everywhere I go, I see a suffering animal. Some homeless dogs are walking, mangey skeletons. Horses that are used to pull wagons all day are frequently over-worked. Their hips protrude grotesquely, they are scarred by their improperly situated harnesses, and there are no animal cops down here to call. There are some animal rescues like Granada Animal Outreach and World Vets, but they can only bring aid to a small percentage of these pitiful creatures.
So, there you have it. The good, bad and the ugly of my experience in Granada, Nicaragua. Do the pros outweigh the cons? You can have a gorgeous home in a beautiful town for a lot less than you’d pay up North. You can learn Spanish and have lots of opportunities to give back to the community. You can make a real difference in the lives of others.
Could you live in Granada, Nicaragua?