The black silhouette sculpture of Augustino Calderon Sandino (1895-1934) with his iconic fedora dominates the hillside of Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, and still cast a long shadow over the country.
But as the world turns, Nicaragua is moving into the light.
This beautiful Central American country has regained its footing and is now happily open for tourism. One UN report called it the safest country in the region.
It also may be one of the most authentic and least spoiled. Elegant, understated neo-colonial hotels, historic cities and dense, unspoiled rain forests attract the curious traveler, though probably not the indifferent tourist.
Granada, the sister colonial city of Leon, is the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere (1524) and probably Nicaragua’s crown jewel. The heartbeat is the Plaza Colon, an acre of daily life vibrant with soft drink vendors, coffee sellers and artisans selling their crafts. More shy than aggressive, they’re often very beautiful with their rich mix of cultural bloodlines. Families sit and talk and sell home-made Vigoron a kind of national dish made of sweet cassava cabbage salad served on a plantain leaf…all for a buck.
The prices in Nicaragua are shamefully low. Local beer, a terrific lager, costs an American dollar. Real, home-grown coffee from the scattered plantations costs a few cents, and a fresh Cuban cigar, one of life’s delights, a few bucks more.
La Gran Francia Hotel, a 21-room elegant neo-Colonial masterpiece, is the kind of place that doesn’t have to work for uniqueness. The open-air, pocket-size indoor courtyard is a quiet blend of colonial and tropical design, cradling a small cobalt blue dipping pool – a splash of blue beneath a deeper blue sky.
Wicker rockers and plants complement the arabesque motif, while a polished, mahogany wooden staircase sweeps up to the second floor to the rooms.
Empty rockers lining the mosaic floor sway in the breeze.
Outside, horses attached to gaily-decorated carriages patiently wait for the next customer. We think the rockers and the carriages won’t stay empty long.
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