Masaya’s central plaza is officially called Parque 17 de Octubre, named for a battle against Somoza’s Guardia in 1977. Plenty of remaining bullet holes are testimony, plus two imposing command towers immediately to the west. It is a common meeting place for Masayans of all walks of life, and is great for people-watching (it also has free Wi-Fi). The church in the northeast corner is La Parroquia La Asunción.Nicaragua’s most treasured souvenirs, woven hammocks, are handmade by scores of Masaya families, taking 2-3 days each to make.The triangular Plaza de Monimbó park on the southern side of Masaya comes to life every afternoon at 4pm as the throbbing social and commercial heart of the mostly indigenous Monimbó neighborhood. Climb the Iglesia San Jerónimo church four blocks north of the central plaza to get a great view of the city and its surroundings. Ask permission from one of the guards before heading up.
The Museo y Galería Héroes y Mártires (inside the Alcaldía, 1.5 blocks north of the central plaza, Mon.-Fri. 8am-5pm, donation requested) pays tribute to those Masayans who fought Somoza’s National Guard during the revolution with a collection of guns and photos of the fallen. The highlight is the unexploded napalm bomb Somoza dropped on the city in 1977.
El Mercado Viejo Craft Market
All roads lead to El Mercado Viejo, built in 1891, destroyed by fires in 1966 and 1978, and refurbished in 1997 as a showcase for local handicrafts. Also known as El Mercado Nacional de Artesanías, or simply the “tourist market,” El Mercado Viejo is safe, comfortable, and geared toward foreigners. You’ll find all manner of delightful surprises: locally made leather shoes, brass, iron, carved wood, and textile handicrafts, plus paintings, clothing and hammocks. This is the best of what Nicaragua’s talented craftspeople have to offer and it’s the best reason to come to Masaya. Even if you don’t buy anything, the market is an enjoyable and colorful experience. Of course, you pay for the convenience in slightly higher prices.
Cool off after an intense morning in the market on the windswept malecón, a beautiful cliffside promenade with long views over the Volcán Masaya crater lake to the north and west. Set at the foot of the volcano, the Laguna de Masaya is 8.5 square kilometers and 73 meters deep in the center. It’s also one of the country’s most polluted lakes. While several trails, some of which were made by the Chorotegas themselves, lead the intrepid hiker down to the water’s edge, this is no swimming hole. Dip your heels in nearby Laguna de Apoyo instead. The view is beautiful but the area is known for higher levels of common crime, so be extra vigilant with cameras and valuables. It’s easily reached from the city center.
Nicaragua’s most treasured souvenirs, woven hammocks, are handmade by scores of Masaya families, taking 2-3 days each to make. The most obvious place to purchase one is in one of Masaya’s public markets. More fun than simply buying a hammock, visit one of the many fábricas de hamacas (across from the old hospital on the road to the malecón and baseball stadium), most of which are in people’s homes, clustered on the same block near the southwest edge of town. There you’ll find at least a half-dozen family porch-front businesses; all of these craftspeople will gladly show you how hammocks are woven.
Sergio Zepeda is a third-generation luthier (maker of stringed instruments) at Guitarras Zepeda (200 meters west of the Unión Fenosa, tel. 505/8883-0260). His shop is only a block off Carretera Masaya, behind Hotel Rosalyn. Cheap children’s and beater guitars start at $60; professional hardwood instruments with cocobolo rosewood back and sides, and imported red cedar, mahogany, or spruce tops can go for up to $800. Allow at least two weeks to order, or show up in his shop and see what’s available.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.