Round every corner in Nicaragua there's a new experience to behold so, full of anticipation, my travelling companion Lesley and I headed for the spectacular scenery of Masaya's National Park.
The National Park is just 30 minutes by car south from the city of Masaya. Here we would see the volcano's smoking crater with its constant pool of lava and an extraordinary landscape that‘s both beautiful and bountiful. In the city of Masaya, we spent time in Nicaragua's most colourful craft market, haggled for some wonderful gifts, including stunning pieces of pottery, and then headed for Granada.
Granada, built at the same time as Leon, is a beautiful colonial city set on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, and overlooked by volcanoes, including Mombacho. It brims with atmosphere and street life, and feels very safe to wander around. It is a sophisticated city, clearly popular with Nicaraguans as well as tourists. Visitors can enjoy drinking or dining in street cafes and eateries, or can seek out one of the city's more sophisticated restaurants, we tried all options.
Our hotel in Granada was the Dario Hotel, perfectly located on the bustling street Calle La Calzada, which is full of restaurants and bars and a great place for people watching. One night we were content to sit outside our hotel, sip a couple of mojitos, eat a selection of tapas with some chilled white Chilean wine and watch Granada's world pass by. It was like a street show, worthy of the price of a cabaret ticket!
One restaurant, we were urged to try by our Nicaraguan operator, Mundo Ventura, was "El Zaguan", reputed for serving the best steaks and meats in Nicaragua. It was a pleasant stroll from our hotel, located in a narrow street behind the Cathedral. Like so many Spanish colonial buildings, the dining area was around a courtyard which was airy, brightly coloured and welcoming. El Zaguan is popular with local families, couples and tourists and even though it is apparently always busy, it isn't overwhelming and you can hear yourself speak!
The service was excellent and we chose beef, cooked over an open fire. Fish, pork and other meats are also on the menu but we wanted to test El Zaguan's reputation for beef. A trio of dips served with toasted bread and a light salad roused the taste buds for our amazing steaks (entrecote) that followed. We both agreed the steak was excellent, and did literally melt in the mouth. We chose a Malbec Reserve from Mendoza in Argentina (always a good bet) to complement the meal and were delighted with the recommendation.
Fish is plentiful in Nicaragua; it is a country of rivers, huge lakes and coastlines on the Caribbean and Pacific. We thought in contrast with our menu of the previous evening, we would look for a fish restaurant. Again just a stroll away from our hotel, we found "El Marlin", or rather Winston, who was tempting street strollers, found us! He was an asset to the restaurant and constantly checked to make sure we had everything we needed. We enjoyed being outside enjoying the street action, in spite of the flow of hawkers, who quickly and politely disappeared when asked.
The restaurant has ample seating inside where it is quiet and more private. I couldn't resist the lobster with butter and garlic, which came with a (free) glass of cold beer - I preferred to drink wine so declined the beer. Lesley selected seafood on skewers, with tasty mashed potatoes and broccoli; all looked very appetising. Our evening finished with an ice cream and a ‘nightcap' in street bar close to the Dario.
There were umpteen bars and cafe's all around the square, where the Cathedral stands in all its glory. There are also stalls selling all sorts of local foods and merchandise, with background music that will set your feet tapping. Granada confirmed everything I had read - its beauty, atmosphere, and culture made our stay, a highlight of our tour.