Category Archives: Granada Nicaragua

The Latest Greatest Granada Visa Run…

What a trip! Literally and in every way the easiest, smoothest, most relaxing Visa Run in 3.5 years. I always take Ticabus from downtown San Jose, Costa Rica because they take care of most of the border details when arriving or departing Nicaragua.

Changes at the border:
Before I get carried away with my enthusiastic response to this trip while in Granada, let me tell you that the Frontera has changed, physically. The Costa Rican entry/exit building is still there although the cafeteria is closed now. The Nicaraguan side has changed substantially. In the past the bus would pull up to a structure where all your carry on and stored under the bus bags were checked, and close by this structure was a middle covered area where vendors sold all kinds of things, including food. There was a separate building to the side with a Customs store where you could buy alcohol and other non-taxed items. And further beyond that middle vendor area another building with offices, an atm machine and a bathroom area. Not any more… That middle vendor area part has been remodeled into offices. The structure where bags were checked is now remodeled with a new roof and an adjacent new building of offices.

The building you pull up to on the Nica side now has an xray machine to check your bags inside at the back of the building. The area surrounding the parking for buses and private vehicles has also been set up with an organized area of vendors under cover, altho the sides are totally open. Some of the food vendors have tables and chairs under the awnings – a kind of little restaurant, if you will. There are covered areas under shade for standing while waiting for the Nica officials to stamp your passport, too, so you don’t have to stand in the sun. The wait certainly hasn’t changed…. Taking the 12:30 pm bus out of San Jose, we arrived around 6:30 pm and went through the entire border process in less than an hour; however, returning on the 7 am bus out of Grenada, our wait was almost two hours (which is darn good in comparison to past trips).

Why I loved this Visa Run specifically:
I usually stay in this area of downtown Grenada… it’s the Calzada.

photo credit: jenniferslifeinnicaragua.wordpress.com

photo credit: jenniferslifeinnicaragua.wordpress.com

This time I stayed half a block from here:

photo credit: tastingthewaves.wordpress.com

photo credit: tastingthewaves.wordpress.com

photo credit: gopixpic.com

photo credit: gopixpic.com

Through many requests that jumped from word of mouth and FB questions for a new place that was less expensive and had air conditioning (something I wouldn’t visit without as it’s very hot in Nicaragua) for less than $40,

I landed in a family home that rents out six rooms. One of those rooms has a/c. Yippee!

You walk into their entryway, which includes the living room:

RoomsforRentLivingRoom

 

I was greeted by Martin Morales, who is one of the son’s living there with their mother. They live in the front portion of the house and the rooms for rent are in the back of the house (Rooms For Rent on Facebook).  I paid $20/night for a clean room with private bath and a/c, cable tv and a comfortably servicible bed. But I got alot more for my buck here because Martin walked me around the neighborhood showing me good places to eat ($2 a meal) as well as telling me the best ways to travel and lounge by the lagoon and where to really shop for deals in Masaya (NOT the tourist market).

RoomsforRent

Don’t get me wrong. This was not a typical touristy place. This was a Nicaraguan family’s old, old, home. Well worn but clean. Usually they rent out their rooms by the week, but sometimes you can get lucky and get a room in-between those longer-term rentals.

Expenses: 
Ticabus: $78 round trip plus one other ticket out of Costa Rica within three months that you need to show when you are returning at the end of your trip.
Hotel:  $40 for 2 nights (I’m excluding the tip I gave Martin)
Food:  $6 total for 1 breakfast and 2 late lunches
Taxi:  $3 from Ticabus to Martin’s place cuz it was 8:30pm; otherwise I would have walked since it’s only about half a mile
Taxes: $27 total, including $9 for Ticabus/Costa Rica travel tax, and $14 entry Nica tax, and $4 departure Nica tax
Misc:  $20 spent at the border for water, nuts and candies, plus a postre and water on the bus home
Total Expenses:  $174
Quite a big difference from my past experiences staying close to the touristy center of town and the Calzada, where my expenses were between $350-$400, depending on which hotel I chose.

Interesting Gossip Gleaned in Misc Conversations:
… Regarding the new canal – Nicaragua does not have the machines necessary to move the earth and seas, so where are they going to get them? Through the Panama Canal (?) and then transported overland to Nicaragua? Just a question.
… Salaries at the Frontera are $2 a day. Not an hour. A day. I’m assuming part of the reason it takes so long for the Nica side to stamp your Visa is because 1) there’s no incentive to work very hard; and 2) it gives the vendors time to make more money than they would if the paperwork were expeditiously processed.
… Monthly salary for a call center dual language employee is $500, and I was told that was a REALLY GOOD income in Nicaragua.
… Taxis are actually licensed to charge 40 cordobas for a one way trip in Granada center, and 20 cordobas elsewhere one way in the city proper. The exchange rate right now is 27 cordobas to $1. In the past the taxis I’ve taken from Ticabus at night to my hotels charged me anywhere from 300 to 500 cordobas…. just sayin … negotiate from the instant you make eye contact.
… The border system is changing in Nicaragua to accommodate more trucks, cars and buses through separate areas in response to the new border up north, near Los Chiles. When Costa Rica gets it’s act together and formalizes it’s presence there (it’s in a construction trailer now; while the Nicaraguan side has formal offices) most big trucks will use that border as it’s a shorter trip  from the Limon port, instead of travelling the long way through Guanacaste to the Penas Blancas border. This ultimately is going to make the border runs a smoother operation… that’s what they say anyway… hope it’s true.

So, I had a wonderful time in Granada thanks to my host Martin Morales. Check out  his FB page, and consider utilizing his services as a Guide, Translator and as a person on the ground there with excellent English and understanding of the City, the country and cultural aspects of Nicaragua.

 

 

Incredible April: Granada, Granny Nanny & Great New House

Astrologically, April was supposed to be a b___ buster, and for me that turned out to be totally true even tho I’m not the correct gender. First, I had to find and move to a new home; Second, I had to go on my second Visa Run to Granada Nicaragua; and Third, I learned what being a granny nanny really means… not actually in that order, but suffice it to say, the month was one helluva ride…

Here’s a coupla pics of my new home:

View from my new front door

View from my new front door

View to the left of my front door

View to the left of my front door

View to the right of my front door

View to the right of my front door

Beautiful, isn’t it? Situated above what is now a roaring river with the recent rains, it’s a pristine, private casita… all I would ever ask for. There are birds galore, the sounds of the river, and I’ve been adopted by one of the property’s dogs who comes and goes, occasionally dropping by for a hug and a scratch. A mot-mot nest is just over the embankment from the front door and there are now baby squirrels tumbling about the trees in front of the computer window. Paradise found. This being the second move for me within six weeks, has cemented my decision never to move again.

I recently enjoyed my second Visa Run to Granada Nicaragua where I went on two jaunts – one around the Isletas in Lake Nicaragua (of which there are 136 from a volcanic eruption), and the other on land in a horse drawn carriage around the town itself. I stayed at a new place for me – Hotel Patio del Malinche – http://www.patiodelmalinche.com/

This Hotel is the bomb! I’ve written a review in Trip Advisor about my experience there. Short story: the place is a beautifully restored colonial home that I can’t even begin to imagine living in as a family because of its size. The facilities are clean and inviting; the staff incredibly accommodating and friendly; it’s one block off the tourist drag; the price is great and the pool just the right size. It’s now my go-to hotel in Granada.

The trip to Granada was on Ticabus and I’ll never travel another way there because they take care of most of the immigration/customs process and it’s as quick and painless as it can get for a border crossing. Seven hours on a bus is grueling, especially when the overhead booming tv’s are trying to show movies that aren’t interesting to me…. although I will say that seeing Jurassic Park while traveling through the same type of landscape was a little bit weird.

This was the second time in Granada and the second time I used Tierra Tours for jaunts around Granada. (Another Travel Advisor review) The Isleta Tour was incredible, not only for the views, but for the history of Granada and Nicaragua. Evidently 136 islands were created as a result of a volcanic eruption; must have been one heckofa boom! These individual islands are either inhabited by individuals or are for sale. The price of each varies but the mean is around $300k… not much for your private island, and that includes a house already built if you’re lucky. I guess the only drawback is the need to drain the septic tank regularly as they’re particularly small. Electricity and dish reception for cable and internet are already installed on most of them as well. It’s seen as a way to make money by the government and the places I saw in this teensy tour were a mix of magnificent mansions and/or very nice homes, or the tico-type…. course, most of them have to put up with these tours passing by regularly all day long… just sayin. Here’s some photos from the tour:

View from atop the Pirate Fort to one of the small islands on the Isleta Tour

View from atop the Pirate Fort to one of the small islands on the Isleta Tour

Oropenda nests

Oropenda nests

Kingfisher

And then we went on a horse-drawn carriage tour through the urban areas of Granada. Let me tell ya, if you ever want to know more about William Walker and his imperious/egoic challenge to the countries of Latin America, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Walker_%28filibuster%29

He was an absolute creep who burned down Granada en total. We saw many burned churches that have been restored, with the surrounding stairs or gates still showing the charring.

We also saw the original train station that ran from the port of Lake Nicaragua in Granada to other primary locations in the country carrying fruits, tobacco, vegetables, etc. When the only female President of Nicaragua created the national roads system in the country, which coincided with the train system breaking down for the last time, the station was mothballed until it’s current President decided to restore the building and create an Art Institute that could be utilized by high school aged students.

Original train station, currently converted into an Art Institute/School for high schoolers

Original train station, currently converted into an Art Institute/School for high schoolers

Quite fancy wooden train carriage for the politicos and rich

Quite fancy wooden train carriage for the politicos and rich

Steel train carriages for the poor

Steel train carriages for the poor

While touring, the driver/guide also showed us these little burial containers for the ashes of family members who died during the Sandinista uprising. They were aligned along a main arterial of the city away from the touristy avenue. We were also shown a huge, and I mean gigantic, area where the original hospital was located. It had been destroyed in an earthquake. Current plans for the location include restoring the reception areas and utilizing the remainder of the area for a University for Art, the City Hall, plus outdoor areas for vendors/ferias and indigenous art markets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I thought this was a wonderful coincidence when taking a picture of a family playing in Lake Nicaragua

I thought this was a wonderful coincidence when taking a picture of a family playing in Lake Nicaragua

You can barely see the heron trolling on Lake Nicaragua's shoreline

You can barely see the heron trolling on Lake Nicaragua’s shoreline

 

Aside from all this frivolity, my son’s father and my ex-husband died unexpectedly mid-April. Thus my nanny granny note in the header. The day I moved into my new place my son left for the US for ten or so days. Two days in my new casita and I was off to Granada for one full day, returning to do the nanny stuff… an incredible spate of time in which the connection with the family overall was strengthened and I learned to let go of the children when parents returned. That was surprisingly difficult to do. Mostly all mine during the day, when the parent/s returned, it was time to let go and step aside. I’ve read so many books with nannys who get possessive… now I understand that fine balance between granny and nanny that I’d objectified for decades. Long live healthy successful nannies, is what I say! They deserve special grace for their ability to meet and understand this very specific challenge. So my son is now returned, and I’ve now the wonderful opportunity to simply chill in my new place. I’m in earth heaven here.

 

 

Recent Granada Nicaragua Visa Run…

Well friends, time for the big update on my recent Visa Run to Grenada, Nicaragua. It was SO much easier than the Panama border because I took Tica Bus who pretty much manages most of the process.

Nice, comfortable bus for an 8 to 9 hour ride.... brutal...

Nice, comfortable bus for an 8 to 9 hour ride…. brutal…

I took the tourist bus leaving San Jose at 12:30 in the afternoon. We arrived at the Nicaragua border about 5 pm. We got off the bus and into a line that included only those of us on the bus. I was sent immediately to the front of the line because I was obviously an older woman… the elderly are respected here in Latin America, and while it’s not fun being reminded that you are old, it is very nice to be given that type of respect. At any rate, I was stamped out of Costa Rica and back in my seat on the bus within three minutes. Next we were taken to the Nicaraguan side. Before we disembarked from the bus, we all gave our Visas plus the entrance fee to the driver who took them into the Nicaraguan Migracion office for stamping. While we waited for him we took all of our luggage and put it on a long table to be gone through by Migracion officials. There were many men at the door to the bus as we left it asking if we wanted help with our luggage. These guys would move your luggage to the table and back to the bus for a fee. There were also money changers there to exchange different denominations for a price. This part was the longest time spent waiting for the driver to get back with our paperwork. We probably waited close to an hour. When he returned he called out the name on the paperwork and each person retrieved theirs and re-entered the bus. This process was wonderful because we didn’t have to walk the long way between these two areas and we were in good hands. Since I don’t have very operable Spanish at this time, it was easy to simply follow the leader and carry on. Next stop: Granada, which took another hour and a half.

I stayed at La Islita Boutique Hotel, laislita.com,  located 2.5 blocks from the main tourist avenue loaded with restaurants, hotels and various types of stores, adjacent to the Cathedral Main Square.

La Islita Reception

La Islita Reception

This is a beautiful colonial hotel, as are many in Granada, built around a huge Mango tree. There are only 8 beautiful and spacious rooms. The rate includes a fantastic and bountiful breakfast. There are many hostels as well as hotels and if you do your research you can find some real deals. My decision to stay at La Islita was totally positive as it totally made me feel safe and secure. All the people working there were helpful about where to go and which tour company to use and where to eat. They don’t use the term “Boutique” loosely either. The entire place was an exquisite treat. Exploring was easy since Granada is not that large a city. The first morning I went for a walk at 6am and had a few surprises …  one of which was the kids sleeping in the middle of the street. I’m not talking adolescents, either. These were kids of 8 to 10 years of age. I don’t know the story there, but I did know that there would be quite a bit of begging and assumed these children were part of that scene. There were guards stationed all around the parks and tourist areas so I didn’t worry too much about them and continued wandering.  The main surprise for me was the colonial nature of the city –  it’s breathtaking; really amazing to glance into open front doors and see lush interior gardens. And the sidewalks are tiled beautifully as well.  At night there were many people who moved their chairs outside onto the sidewalks to catch a breeze. The temperature was pretty similar to Heredia and sometimes Alajuela, Costa Rica – probably hovered around the mid-80’s with humidity that had you swimming in your clothes at 9am. But. There are breezes off Lake Nicaragua that lighten that load pretty regularly, plus La Islita had a/c in the rooms and that helped. I can tell you that that humidity was not at all helpful to me when shopping for underwear I had forgotten to pack for the trip…. it was torture, but there were stores like Ropa Americana (new or second hand clothing from the US) that can be found along the street adjacent to the Central Market.

I found most of the information I needed for this trip at wikitravel.org/en/Granada_(Nicaragua). 

Places I shopped that I can heartily recommend include:

Soy Nica for leather goods – facebook.com/soynica.dk

and, Ole’ Ole’ for unusual pieces of art, clothing, ceramics, and furniture. Other wonderful finds included La Calzada Centro de Arte, where an expat teaches one on one art classes of all levels in an open studio adjacent to a restaurant. You can find her at: nicaragua-art.com. She provides canvases at cost plus lets you use the paints and brushes. Nice place. She’s a very generous person who really believes everyone should discover their inner artist and invite them to come out to play!

I went to three eateries while there: El Zaguen which serves the most mouthwatering, tender steak you’ll ever have; El Camello which has tremendous art and really good food and is only a block from La Islita; and Don Carlos Pizza which I was very happy with, located on the main tourist plaza.

El Camello Mediterranean restaurant one and a half blocks from La Islita Hotel... my go to place for late lunch/early dinner. Good prices and the food is marvelous.

El Camello Mediterranean restaurant one and a half blocks from La Islita Hotel… my go to place for late lunch/early dinner. Good prices and the food is marvelous.

I went on one tour to Masaya Volcano through Tierra Tours tierratour.com. It was about a 4 hour tour that included going through the Interpretive Center, arriving at the edge of the crater, then traveling to the  city of Masaya where we walked around and shopped at the Old Central Market, then off to a community center in an adjacent village where ceramic pots are made. It’s a fantastic place and was the highlight of the tour for me. The government supports the center and kids from the very impoverished community are encouraged to learn how to build these ceramics – from helping to gather the clay(s) of various colors – no artificial substances whatsoever – to learning to throw and bake the pots in the same way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.

One afternoon was spent lazing by the pool here:

$7 for a day pass to hang out around and in the pool at Hotel Granada.

$7 for a day pass to hang out around and in the pool at Hotel Granada.

A final plug for Seeing Hands Blind Massage, located on that main tourist thoroughfare across from the blue school in Euro Cafe. The cost is very inexpensive for the professionalism and incredible work they do. I had one guy give me a massage for three days in a row – no, not really – just one hour-long massage on three consecutive days. Wow, WHEW, now that’s a kind of therapy I hadn’t expected and the breakthroughs for me emotionally were really powerful. Highly recommended. Fantastic service for those folks who learn to be practitioners of the art and really understand the body. I’ll go back to Granada just for massage!

After three nights and four days it was time to go back to San Jose. This time I left on the early bus, and this is what we bussed into:

No kidding folks... it's a busy border and this pic doesn't show you the line of people who are surrounding a large block waiting to get to this point.

No kidding folks… it’s a busy border and this pic doesn’t show you the line of people who are surrounding a large block waiting to get to this point.

First, the bus driver gathered all of our Visas as before, along with the price of departure, and we waited for his return to call out our names and re-board the bus to the Costa Rican Migracion building. The picture above is very close to what was actually waiting for us there. So many people I was disheartened. Since I’m considered an elder, I was again placed in the line for pregnant women, children and their parents along with us old folks. The Agent at the Costa Rican window wanted to see a departure from Costa Rica ticket – he didn’t say what kind of ticket, whether it was bus or plane. I had a plane ticket (make sure there are dates on your copy) and that appeased him. I noticed on the paperwork that it was asked if you’d been out of Costa Rica for three days. I hadn’t noticed that on previous border crossings. After he gave me my 90-day stamp I was processed out into an airline-like area where a big machine xrayed everything I was carrying. There were five militia guys surrounding a table next to where the baggage came out of the machine but cuz of my age and guilelessness I guess, I wasn’t asked to give up my baggage for review, so that was the end of that process. I did get through the entry more quickly because I was older, but then had to wait more than a couple of hours for those others on our bus who had to go to the end of the line at least a block away.

The trip to Granada was about the same amount of time on the bus both ways, but the process at the border crossing was much smoother and well organized then what I’d experienced at the border with Panama. And I enjoyed Granada so incredibly much more than I did in David or Boquete, Panama. I’ll definitely be a regular on this trip with Tica Bus to Granada!