14 km north of Granada and 17 km south from Managua is the capital city of the Masaya department of Nicaragua, Masaya, which is often called the City of Flowers. Just south of the town of Masaya is the Masaya Volcano, an active Volcano from which the department gets its name. The estimated population is 146,000.
The origin of the name Masaya has long been in dispute. Some say that Masaya means “Place where there are deer”. Others say that it means “Place between several waters or lagoons” and a third group assures that in the language of chorotega it means “Mountain that burns ” referring to the volcano Masaya. The first settlers of Masaya were Mexican emigrants from Chorotega. They where given the name Dirianes for the region they settled at the top of the mountains. According to historical states that when Oviedo y Valdés, a Spanish historian and writer, was visiting the settlements of Nindirí and Masaya in 1529, testified that the lagoon was surrounded by more than 20 villages of dirianos, all under authority of the chief Tenderí.
The department of Masaya is consists of several picturesque municipalities, and each municipality has characteristics or specific activities that makes it unique. The capital city of the department is Masaya. Other interesting sites include Catarina, San Juan de Oriente, Niquinohomo, and Masatepe.
Masaya is centrally located to a large agricultural region. Much of the produce from the department and the surrounding areas is shipped through Masaya on its way north, towards Managua and Leon. Masaya is also an important industrial center, producing quality leather footwear and cotton clothing. Other industries in the city include the processing of fibers, the manufacture of cigars, leather products, soap and starch. Many of the communities surrounding Masaya produce hardwood and wicker furniture. There is a small neighborhood in Masaya, close to the lake dedicated to the manufacturing of hammocks.
Masaya is known as “The Cradle of Nicaraguan Folklore”. It is the very heart of Nicaraguan handicrafts. The principal market in Masaya is situated next to the central bus station. The market is divided into sections, with each section serving a different need. Apart from unique Nicaraguan products such as hand woven hammocks, embroidered blouses, wood carvings and hemp weaving the market is exceedingly diverse. One entire section of the market is dedicated to selling electronic devices and clothing. Another area is reserved for varieties of raw meat. Virtually everything you could possibly desire is available in the market from hardware and beauty supplies to fresh produce from the surrounding area.
The Mercardo de Artesanias or Craft Market is located inside what used to be the “mercado viejo” or the old market, structure built in the early 1900s that is located near the center of the city and just a few of blocks away from the principal market. This market has been revitalized and been promoted as a tourist destination, where crafts from Masaya and other areas of Nicaragua can be found. Every Thursday night there is a Noche de Verbena or Night of Revelry, where folkloric dances are presented in the center of the market.
Masaya is famous for the annual fall fiesta of San Jerónimo. This festival is rooted in the Roman Catholic faith of the people who celebrate their patron saint, San Jerónimo. Although many people, may consider this festival a cultural event and not participate in the religious content, the vast majority are showing their devotion to their saint when they participate in the folkloric dances. Other street processions, such as the carnivalesque “Torovenado” celebrations often have groups and individuals who perform satires of local and national political figures.
Masaya volcano is the most active in the region. It is actually two volcanoes; Masaya and Nindiri. There is a total of five craters. The volcano was first described by the Spanish in 1524. Masaya has erupted at least 19 times since then. Masaya contained an active lava lake from 1965 to 1979. During an eruption event at Volcan de Masaya in 2003 a plume reportedly shot 4.6 km into the air. Masaya is an unusual basaltic volcano because it has had explosive eruptions. The eruption in 4550 B.C. was one of the largest on Earth in the past 10,000 years.
Masaya is located northwest of a large, dormant Volcano with a deep crater lake at its summit, “Lago de Apoyo”. Part of the Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve, this lake is a popular attraction in the area, and is host to several hostels and small resorts. Apoyo’s crater measures four miles wide and over 656 feet deep. It is used for fishing as well as water sports. It has also been a location for pre-colonial archaeological findings.
Coyotepe is a historical fortress which has now been converted into a museum. Built in 1893 by president Zelaya, this site witnessed a fierce battle between national troops and U.S. Marines in 1912. Somoza rehabilitated it as a prison in which particularly cruel treatment was de rigueur. Dungeons were built to house the prisoners.
One of the main destinations is Catarina, where you will find many nurseries where a great variety of precious ornamental plants are sold in road side stands.The best feature of the town is the Mirador de Catarina, which offers a superb view of the Apoyo Lagoon, the city of Granada, as well as Lake Nicaragua and the impressive Mombacho Volcano.
San Juan de Oriente is a small town with a little over 4,000 inhabitants, situated one kilometer south of Catarina. Despite being small, this village is the most important producer of pottery in the country. Small shops where the families sell their pottery are set up next to the road.
The city of Niquinohomo is located a couple kilometers west of San Juan de Oriente. It is the birthplace of the national hero Augusto C. Sandino and it has a church from the 17th century.
Masetepe is another Pueblo Blanco known for the production and sale of wooden furniture, as well as for mondongo soup. This soup is a traditional Nicaraguan dish. Along the road to Masatepe, you will find many small furniture shops. selling rocking chairs, the most popular pieces of furniture.