Thousands of years ago Mombacho volcano spit up tossing rocks into Lake Nicaragua. There are 365 islands, or isletas, ranging in size. This maze of protected water is home to about 1200 people full time. A mix of Nicaraguans and ex-patriots form this community that is totally within the islands. Everything from an island for school, to an island for church, to an island just for the cemetery.
Amanda's husband Marc. Thanks Marc!)
Hiring a boat to tour around the isletas is one of the must-do things for tourists in Granada. It's all ages friendly, it only takes about 2 hours, and there's even some great little restaurants on their own pieces of island where you can get a bite to eat. We went to a place called El Pirata, where the kids declared they had the best gallo pinto (rice and beans) from the whole trip. And we ate a whole lot of gallo pinto.
Oh, and there are monkeys in the isletas. One little island with just a few palm trees and a handful of capuchin monkeys. The monkeys are kept happy and healthy and fed by the local government as sort of a tourist attraction and all of the local guides call them "cappuccino monkeys".
Naia and Zach loved this little day trip because being on a boat around water people felt the most like home.
The butterfly reserve is right in Granada, but it's a little tricky to find. First you need to get to the town cemetery, either by walking or taking a taxi. A taxi can not take you to the Butterfly reserve directly, in fact your taxi driver will probably have no idea where it is. We got in the cab of an old guy who lived in Granada his whole life and he didn't have a clue. He wasn't happy with just taking us to the cemetery though, he made it a quest to figure out where exactly the butterfly reverse was. He stopped at no less than three different friend's homes in Granada to inquire, and asked other random locals on the street. All shrugs.
Finally he acquiesced in dropping us at the cemetery for phase two of the short but zany journey to see the butterflies. At the cemetery there are a couple of tuktuk drivers, you pay $1 and they zip you down a very bumpy dirt back road about 2.5 miles to the reserve. The road is a nice walk too if you don't have hot, thirsty little kids with you.
The reserve itself is simple but beautiful, a peaceful little haven from the bustle of Granada. There are walking trails, gardens, and then a netted in butterfly breeding area. It's a lovely place to just stroll and sketch and have a quiet day.
This was one of those places that could have been easy to get to, but we made it complicated in our ignorance. You can jump a cab for about $7 door to door from Granada to any of the hostels that ring this volcanic crater lake. And then there's the bus. You can walk to the center of Granada and take a local bus that will drop you NOT at the lake, but on the side of the road at the base of the dormant volcano in which the lake lies. From there we started walking, because according to the many highly unreliable internet sources we consulted it was an "easy walk" to the lake from there. So we started, uphill, in the heat. Up and up and oh! There's another bus, quick, flag it down. It's a good thing the bus found us because for little kid legs it was a long way to the top of the volcano where the bus dropped us off at a little town. Ok, here we are...? No, not quite. Now we had to walk, down and down and down the other side of the volcano into the crater.
My little girl was a trooper, doing it all on her own wee legs. It was a welcome sight to find the Monkey Hut hostel where we were able to buy a day pass to hang out on the pebbly little beach and play in the water for the day. The water was calm and warm and perfect for swimming. The kids were so excited to be swimming "in a sleeping volcano!"
Masaya is known as the market town. There are two different markets. First there is the gringo market which is in the old fort. It has the sort of tourist trinkets your friends and family expect you to bring home for them.
We did a lot of walking all over the town (again Naia was a trooper walking on her own the whole time.) Masaya isn't as nice to stroll around as Granada. There is so much trash on the streets and sidewalks, and it's much more crowded.
Wandering the quieter back streets of Masaya we found the hammock making district. At the end of that neighborhood is the crater lake that the town sits on, in the shadow of the active Masaya Volcano.
All of these places are easy to get to from Granada, and renting a house there was a great way to have our little adventures, but then have a place to come back at the end of the day. The kids had space to nap and play, we could do laundry and make snacks and just hang out. It was nice to have a home away from home.