Granada and León, the colonial cities of Nicaragua

Ometepe was awesome, and it’s now time for us to explore the old colonial cities of Nicaragua, Granada and León.

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On our way!

Granada

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Granada is Nicaragua’s oldest colonial city. Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández, it stands at the foot of Volcán Mombacho and at the northwestern coast of Lago de Nicaragua. With its easy access to the Caribbean sea through the lake, Granada soon became rich and an important trade center. It also made it vulnerable to the English and French buccaneers, who sacked the city three times in 160 years.

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Conservative Granada was in a rivalry with liberal León, creating a civil war in the 1850s. The Leonese contracted filibuster William Walker, who conquered Granada and ruled from there before fleeing in 1856. Before leaving, he torched the city and left only a placard: “Here was Granada”.

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We found Granada to be a quite and elegant colonial city, and it was a joy to stroll its streets, churches and plaza.

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We ended our stay in Granada by going to visit the central market of the nearby Masaya, Nicaragua’s epicenter of artesanías, and by a night tour of Volcán Masaya National Park.

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The park sits within the crater of an old massive volcano, and is comprised of a pair of volcanoes: Masaya and Nindirí, for a total of five craters. Only one of those is still active, Cráter Santiago, and very much smoking. It felt quite awesome standing at the edge of a volcano that could erupt at any time!

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Crater Santiago

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… from closer!

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The night tour offered us splendid view and great explanations, and we finished at night by exploring the lava tunnels of Tzinancanostoc. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any lava because of the massive amount of smoke the crater was releasing at that moment – our main motivation for taking that tour – but it was still a very pleasant experience.

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Awesome view of the old crater

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A dormant crater

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The night is setting on Crater Santiago

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The lava tunnels of Tzinancanostoc

A bit more pictures of what a the sunset on a volcano looks like:

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León

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Francisco Hernández de Córdoba founded Old León in 1524 near the foot of Volcán Momotombo. However, it was abandoned less than a century later in 1610 after being hit by a series of earthquakes. The settlement was subsequently completely buried under layers of ash from Momotombo volcano.

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The city was moved near the important indigenous settlement of Subtiava, and served as the nation’s capital for most of the colonial period and as the ecclesiastical center for the entire region, which explains its number of beautiful churches and colonial buildings.

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Aside from its cultural aspect, we came to León for one main reason: to “surf” Cerro Negro volcano.

Volcano Boarding

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Ranked number 4th of the “10 death-defying activities to do before dying” by Readers Digest, it was a thrilling experience!

It takes place at the foot of Cerro Negro, one of the most active volcanoes in the Americas. Cerro Negro is a cinder cone volcano. Cinder cones usually explode only once. However, Cerro Negro exploded more than 20 times since its initial eruption in 1850, making it Earth’s most historically active cinder cone. And we surfed down that sh*t.

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The newest crater inside Cerro Negro

After hiking up the hot black gravel slope for 45 minutes with our boards, we made it to the summit of the crater.

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We jumped in our orange prisoners-like suits, and proceed to surf down the volcano at full speed on the board.

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Me, happy as hell

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Whereas Thomas is keeping it pro

It was 45 seconds of pure adrenaline at more than 55km/h!

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Adrien coming out of that looking like a mine worker. 

Poneloya

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We decided to end our stay in Nicaragua in Las Penitas, a nice beach just 20km west of León. Las Penitas was a pretty good spot for surfing and bodysurfing.

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This is what a monkey in the water looks like!

We also had a lot of fun partying there, as our hostel was the extension of the famous and wild Big Foot Hostel of León

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Overall, our stay in Nicaragua was really nice. Between hiking up volcanoes, discovering waterfalls, surfing, exploring and surfing down the slope of active volcanoes and kayaking, we had our share of thrilling activities and vibrating nightlife. Furthermore, having the Ruine team reunited was definitely a blast (close friends will get that)!

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