By Jim Farber
They are called Los Pueblos Blancos, "The White Villages." Nestled on the verdant slopes of an extinct volcano, these picturesque white stucco villages with cultural roots that date back to pre-Columbian history are an easy drive, shuttle or taxi ride from the town of Granada. But whereas Granada is a city on the go that bustles, Los Pueblos Blancos represent a side of Nicaragua that moves at a more leisurely pace.
What also makes these villages unique is the way each community has long specialized in a specific artisan craft or, in the case of two villages, the ancient native art of witchcraft, the casting of spells and the making of potions.
The most scenic place to begin a visit is the village of Catarina Mirador. Perched on the rim of the Volcan Masaya, it offers a spectacular (though often blustery) view of the blue crater lake below, the distant city of Granada and the cloud-shrouded summit of the Mombacho Volcano.
A cluster of small shops, eateries and wagon vendors selling colorful baked goods line the streets and walkway leading to the grand overlook. After that, the ideal way to explore Catarina Mirador is on foot. The village is renowned for a courtyard where large baskets are being made from woven strips of bamboo and for its avenue of the flowers, where nursery after nursery offers an array of tropical plants. This is a favorite place of Nicaraguans wishing to buy everything from exotic decorative flowering plants to full-size palm trees. There are so many vendors it's difficult to tell where one nursery ends and another begins.
If time allows for an overnight stay in Catarina Mirador, there are several hotels, including the luxurious Hotel Pacaya Lodge and Spa, the more modest Hotel Cabasas or the Hotel Posada Ecologica La Abuela. All offer rooms with views of the crater lake below, the Laguna de Apoyo.
San Juan de Oriente is home to numerous pottery studios, including the Taller Escuala de Ceramica, Valentin Lopez. Visitors are welcomed, often greeted by Lopez, who will guide them through the process: from the pounding of the clay (by foot) to the forming of clay on a potter's wheel to its ornamental carving and glazing in wood-burning kilns. Of course they will exit through the gift shop.
The village of Masatepe is known for its woodcarvers and the tooling of leather. The name comes from the Nahuatl language meaning "Hill of the Deer." The village is known for the production and sale of wooden furniture, which is displayed in front of each store. Artisans combine the lush local wood with woven bamboo rattan and tooled leather to create pieces that range from sofas and chairs to bar stools and kitchen cabinets.
If you are looking for a love potion, a charm to increase your wealth or there's someone on whom you want to put a hex, best visit the Witch Cities of Diriomo and its twin, Diria (separated by the highway). There are still folk healers in this region whose skills date back to ancient native practices. These brujos are publicly available, though you may have to seek one out. They specialize in preparing homemade sweets and use herbs, lotions and other natural recipes for their spells and cures. Don't expect a money-back guarantee.
WHEN YOU GO
General information and tours: www.roamnica.com/pages/los-pueblos-blancos
En Espanol: www.2mochilas.com/artesania-nicaragua-masaya-los-pueblos-blancos
Hotels in Catarina Mirador: www.hotels.com/de10534078/hotels-near-mirador-caterina-nicaragua
Jim Farber is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.