Wet Adventures with a Colonial Twist
LED BY ANDY SNINSKY, a 55-year-old former California whitewater guide who works for the outfitter Mombotour, I kayaked past jungle through narrow channels in the Isletas de Granada, dozens of isles that range in size from a half-submerged boulder to an acre-plus. According to popular theory, rocks from the cone of Volcán Mombacho, which blew in the 1300s, formed the chain in Lago Cocibolca, also known as Lago Nicaragua. Sninsky shared this theory along with an impressive knowledge of birds (in two hours he spotted 40 species) and Granada nightclubs. He also freely dispensed good gossip about the ricos (rich people) who own some of the islands. That's what I call guiding.
Granada is among the oldest continuously inhabited colonial cities in the Western Hemisphere, founded in 1523. Another former capital of Nicaragua (Managua now claims that designation), Granada is the nexus for adventure tourism in much the same way Cuzco is in Peru. Within an hour of this southwestern city, you can kayak or fish for giant rainbow bass on Cocibolca, Central America's largest lake; take a canopy tour in the cloudforest of Volcán Mombacho; or hike the Puma Trail around Mombacho or the rim of the frighteningly active Volcán Masaya.
The best part of these pursuits is knowing that each night you'll return to a vibrant, architecturally rich city. You'll find a perfect perch overlooking Granada's plaza, such as the veranda of the Hotel Alhambra, and watch the easy rhythm of a city whose heart hasn't changed much in 400 years.
SEASON: Year-round, though April and May are brutally hot.
OUTFITTER: Granada-based Mombotour (011-505-552-4548, [email protected]) leads day trips of kayaking, Puma Trail hiking, the canopy course, or horseback riding ($15$35). Bring a waterproof jacket in the rainy season, June to November.
WHERE TO STAY: Gigantic rooms surround a beautiful courtyard at Posada Don Alfredo ($27 per person, $6$8 for breakfast; 011-505-552-4455, [email protected]). The breakfast is the biggest and best I've ever hadafter six courses, owner Don Alfredo asks if you're ready for pancakes. Next to the plaza is the gracious Hotel Colonial Granada (doubles, $65; 011-505-552-7581, www.nicaragua-vacations.com), a two-story Euro-colonial favorite whose secluded pool is the city's best.
WHERE TO EAT: El Zaquan, behind the cathedral, is the place to go, with excellent grilled meat and fish starting at $6 a plate. Ask for guaote, the rainbow bass.