I don’t want travel to be a chore. Sometimes I feel that people arrive in a location, find out what there is to do, and try to pack it all in within a short amount of time. To me, to be rushed, sounds like a chore. I like to do the things that interest me, not simply because they are on Trip Advisor as a thing to do in the area. That is why I contacted my great buddy Taylor, to find a “off the beaten path” thing to do in Granada, Nicaragua, as he studied Spanish here for 3 months. He delivered, with Coyotepe Prison.
The local bus that heads back towards Managua will take you the 18 or so kilometers past the town of Masaya, to the bottom of the big hill, towards Coyotepe Prison.
Travellers Tip: You can simply ask the driver to drop you there, but do not expect him to remember. Be near the front, and remain there as they will pack the bus to the point where they have to leave the doors wide open!
The 18 or so kilometers to get there should take you about 25 minutes, but give yourself and expect about an hour as they pick up each person along the way. Not only do they pick up each person, the people they are picking up, since there are no designated stops, will not group together to make it easy, they will stand sometimes as little as 50 meters apart, making the bus stop twice! Anyways, I got there in the end, and looked up at the spooky archway up the long hill towards the fortress and prison. Not that I would have taken one anyways, but you can get a taxi to the top as it is a bit of a climb, and with this humidity, a sweaty one! Getting to the top I saw the Nicaragua flag blowing in the wind and walked through the entrance and paid a dollar or so to a guy with his hand out, assuming he was who I payed to enter. From the top, it is a circular concrete area and even if you are not here for the history, it is still fully worth the bus, walk and few Cordoba’s to enjoy the view. A full 360 degrees gives you the view of the hill that hides Laguna de Apoyo in the distance, as well as Granada and the enormous lake, and in the other direction, the sprawl of Managua and the other lake that the capital sits next to.
Coyotepe Prison was previously a political prison thats existence was unknown even to many people in Nicaragua. At a certain time, this small area was said to have housed 600 prisoners. The circular prison and fortress has two underground rings. The first, which you descend to down a ramp from the main open central area, still allows a good amount of natural light, as the windows of the cells are located in line of the ground of the level above. Roughly 20 cells, now scribbled with graffiti but also writing of the prisoners circles the whole outside of the prison. Each cell would have been packed to the walls with prisoners in incredibly uncomfortable conditions and a small outcrop of concrete shows the open area where the inmates would have to go to the toilet in front of all the other prisoners. Barbaric conditions but nothing compared to the level below.
You exit the 1st ring of cells, and a quick 90 degree turn will lead you down the longer, much darker ramp to the second ring of cells, fully underground. As my eyes tried to adjust to the darkness, I became temporarily blind. I stood before the darkness trying to give my eyes time to gather what light they could and attempt to see what was in front of me. Eventually, I could see a little bit and turning the corner, I used the tiny bit of light from one of the “windows” which was basically a slit in the concrete, to find my way around. This place must have been hell. It is so sad to think that many people would have spent years in here, and for a lot of those prisoners, it would also have been the remaining years of their lives. A few minutes down here and I was feeling strange and was craving some sunlight so I ascended to the brightness.
There are some explanations of the historic events that happened here, but mainly in Spanish so if you can get an English speaking guide, you will be doing yourself a whole bunch of favours. They wander the property and you can give them a tip in exchange for a tour.
At the end of my time at Coyotepe, I spent the last few minutes at the corner guard post looking over this beautiful country that I have become to love, even after just a few days here. As I looked over the beautiful landscape, I peered up at their national flag, blowing in the breeze and felt a weird sense of appreciation being able to enjoy a country that so many people fought for, and a history that I still know so little about.