I didn’t get it. Between a severe stomach virus, some uninspiring hostels and uncharacteristically dingy street food I was scratching my head as to why travelers flock to Granada, Nicaragua as one of the world´s most recently revealed travel gems. In fact, the more I looked online, the more I found a repeated theme: ¨Pretty doors,¨ ¨colorful architecture¨ and ¨colonial charm¨ were motifs that I read plenty about, but found to be lacking in substance; enough for a day trip passing through. I wanted more, but Granada’s admittedly beautiful doorways seemed only wide enough open to admire the gardens, and little else.
I´dont know if I was too sick or too stubborn, but it took 13 days to realize what makes this city so special, and I think a lot of what was holding me back were the markings of a city tainted by tourism – of children begging for money and shoving origami-folded palm leaves into your hands, then demanding a couple of dollars in Exchange and enough foreigners flooding the streets to make Spanish feel like a second language.
Despite that all, I finally realized that what makes Granada, Nicaragua such a special place can’t be found on the Calzada, or in boutique hotels and spas…it lies behind the colonial doors. It’s in the intricacies of a classist society riddled with political strife, riches and raids, and in generations of families defined by the greenness of their gardens, the size of their doors, and their ability to demonstrate Spanish blood over indigenous in their mestizo bloodlines. In the same streets where pirates once invaded and poets were inspired, tourists now snap photos of the doorways and entrances to the buildings where history unfolded. I was not the first.
The magic of Granada can still be found in layers of history as thick as the cities adobe walls and vast as its terracotta tiled roofs. For Granada´s elite, doors and gardens rule – the size of the entryway doors often indicated (and in some cases, still does) wealth, with the richest families having the largest doors, swung wide open to display lush gardens and fountains whose variety of plants had as much to do with the family’s status as they did with aesthetic appeal. Walk anywhere in town, and you´ll start to imagine the city fueled by commerce instead of tourism; doors tall enough for the carriage and riding horses to be herded into at night-time, their hooves clipping atop Spanish-imported tiles as families shut the doors for the night. Hummingbirds buzz between hibiscus flowers, orchids and palms, and because of laws that forbid neighbors from building balconies tall enough to peer into the next-door courtyard, they might be the only ones to have witnessed the private lives of Granada´s upper class. When you do see a rooftop balcony, you might imagine the bribery that took place to surpass the law and consider whether it was the sweeping views of Mombacho volcano or different motives that motivated the owners to build it.
As Pablo and I wandered Granada on our 13th and last day, these are the thoughts that rushed through my mind and suddenly – the city came alive. We walked around the streets that were all but memorized and I realized that though not every city can be a favorite, every single one has a story to tell…. and Granada´s doorways were just the beginning of what it had to offer. Have you been to Granada? Tell me in the comments how your experience differed!