Granada: Best Things to Do in Nicaragua's Top Travel Destination
Granada is one of the oldest colonial cities in Nicaragua which unquestionably deserves a place on your travel itinerary. Read our guide on best things to do in Granada, a must-visit tourist destination when in this volcanic Central American country.
Granada, a charming colonial city is Nicaragua's true gem. It is a place where time has stopped, where horses pull carriages, where locals like to chat with travelers and where you still can go shopping at a local market, and you won't feel any pressure or unpleasant attention.
What we experienced in March 2019 was a city more quiet than usual which was the unfortunate result of several outbreaks of protests which happened last year, but we hope, that tourists will return to Granada and overall to Nicaragua soon to have a chance to experience one of the many best things the country has to offer and which should not be missed by no means.
What we liked about Granada the most was that it offers a great mix of things to do in the city and also lots of activities nearby when we wanted to be more in nature.
Despite its beauty, Granada has to prove every day that it is equally entertaining as the city of Leon, number one destination among backpackers traveling Nicaragua and the nearby Masaya Volcano must persuade tourists that it is equally cool as volcano boarding on Cerro Negro.
But when it does, and you put Granada on your ultimate Nicaragua travel itinerary, we can guarantee that you won't leave this city disappointed.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN GRANADA
Granada, like many other cities, is not too far from majestic volcanoes and beautiful lakes. This gives us, travelers, a great opportunity to see many things in a short period of time.
We've put together a list of best things to do in Granada and hope that our guide will help you maximize your time in the colorful city of Nicaragua.
STROLL THE COLONIAL COBBLESTONE STREETS
Take a self-guided tour and wander colorful cobblestone streets of Granada.
Granda is a city you will enjoy walking around, and thanks to its compact center, you can explore it all in a relatively short time. Streets of Granada are well-kept, clean and tidy, and you will find photogenic opportunities behind every corner.
You don't need to stick to the main street leading from the plaza to the lake - it is better to lose yourself in a labyrinth of colonial, candy-colored houses and imagine how it must have been like living in Granada at the beginning of the 16th century when the city was founded.
ADMIRE THE CITY FROM ABOVE
If we should give you only one tip on the best thing to do in Granada, we would tell you not to miss the view from Iglesia La Merced, and to make your experience even better, you should visit it just before the sunset when the soft light enlightens beautiful architecture of the city, lovely courtyards and you can watch how is everyday pace and bustle of Granada slowing down.
You can also from here watch 1344 meters high Mombacho, the closest volcano to Granada and other volcanoes in the distance.
Entrance fee to Bell Tower costs $1 or 33 cordobas, and the tower closes right after sunset.
VISIT ONE OF GRANADA'S MANY CHURCHES
Granada has many notable churches, but the postcard-like church is only one.
The Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral or simply called Granada Cathedral stands on Parque Central and its bright yellow color and red roofs leave no doubt that this is the main attraction in the city, and you don't need to be a Christian to appreciate the beauty. You can also climb up to the bell tower to get an excellent view of the city, but we believe it is more rewarding to see this church from Iglesia La Merced.
Other churches you can visit in Granada are Iglesia Guadeloupe or Iglesia Xalteva.
ENJOY YOUR TIME ON CALLE LA CALZADA
Calle la Calzada is the main street where you can find plenty of shops, travel agencies, restaurants, hotels, bike rentals, street vendors and it is also a point where Granada's nightlife and street performances take place.
The street lined with colorful houses extends out from Parque Central and takes you to Granada's waterfront.
We liked Calle la Calzada better in the forenoon when everything was closed, and we were not approached by touts selling tours so often.
TAKE A NIGHT TOUR TO MASAYA VOLCANO
One of our favorite activities in Granada and Nicaragua overall was visiting Masaya Volcano at night. I think that after traveling in Central America, we've seen our share of volcanoes - our legs can share stories about hiking Concepcion Volcano on Ometepe Island - but Masaya volcano was different than other volcanoes we had seen before.
For the first time, we could see how the lava bubble and glow in a crater beneath us.
You can visit Masaya Volcano during the day as well, but during daylight, the sight won't be that spectacular. You will rather smell sulfur and see lots of smoke, but no lava.
Because of recent volcanic activity and eruptions, hiking trails in Masaya Volcano National Park are closed at the moment, but according to our guide, new and safer trails should be opened soon, so check the current situation before your visit.
You can visit Masaya Volcano with a tour or on your own - at the time of our visit, shortly after a crisis in Nicaragua, prices were so low, that it was not worth it to travel to Masaya Volcano on own. We paid for the tour $18 per person, and the $10 entrance fee was already included in the price.
It was only four of us in the car we had a driver and English speaking guide and unlimited time on the volcano.
SPEND A DAY BY LAGUNA APOYO
Only 30 minutes drive from Granada lies Laguna Apoyo, a crater lake where you can swim or do other water activities such as kayaking.
There is an option to visit Laguna Apoyo, supposedly the cleanest and deepest lake in Nicaragua in one day - you can get there easily on own or with a tour, or you can stay in one of many lodging and enjoy a couple of nights surrounded by nature on the lake's shore and close to hiking trails.
GO SHOPPING TO THE LOCAL MARKET
There are not many activities we enjoy more when abroad than shopping fruits and vegetables in local markets.
Granada has a large market where you can buy everything you might think of, and we consider ourselves lucky as we found a stall with an honest woman selling amazing pineapples and watermelons on our first day in the city, and it became our tradition to stop by there every day to replenish our daily dose of vitamins.
Mercado Municipal is located on Calle Atravesada, but you will know instantly that you are getting nearer because of the bustle and omnipresent smell for that matter.
TRY NICARAGUAN FOOD
We are not sure what had happened, but we quite enjoyed Nicaraguan food.
It was much better than the food we had tasted before in Central and South America. When you ask what is the typical food in Nicaragua, most of the people will reply Gallo Pinto. It is a traditional meal you can get in every restaurant or on the street at any time of the day as it is served as breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is composed of rice, beans, and onion and served together with scrambled eggs and tortilla.
As we were getting nearer to Mexico, we could feel Mexican influence in Nicaragua cuisine and had great tortillas, tacos, and burritos as well..
DECIDE IF YOU WANT TO TAKE HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGE
Granada and horse-drawn carriages belong inseparably together.
On the side of the main plaza, people with horses stand all day long and offer their services to tourists. We find this activity a bit cheesy and especially here in Granada, where distances are small, we did not feel it was necessary to use any other mean of transport than legs.
This activity is often popular among local tourist, for them, it is probably a must-do activity when in Granada, and if you think this is something you cannot live without, go for it, only make sure that animals are treated well.
CRUISE THE GRANADA ISLETAS
Isletas de Granada are small islands close to the city.
When walking to the dock, you will be approached by many touts offering kayaking tour on Nicaragua Lake - you should not pay more than $5 per hour of kayaking. We opted not to go because we were told it is not that spectacular, but exploring the series of 365 mini-islands is supposed to be pleasant if this is an activity you have never done before.
If you don't want to paddle on own, you can also take a boat which goes around the small fortress and Monkey Island.
GRANADA'S PARQUE CENTRAL
Granda's heart, Parque Central is a place where to see beautiful architecture, taste some local food such as vigoron and simply just watch daily life.
If you don't feel like traveling alone, you can join a city tour of Granada, a visit to the active Masaya volcano, and a boat ride on Lake Nicaragua on a one day guided tour.
WHERE TO STAY IN GRANADA
Granada has many hotels with lovely and quiet little courtyards, where you can chill after exploring the city. We've handpicked three best choices for every budget.
Budget | El Arca de Noe - We stayed in this perfect hostel with private rooms for all budget travelers, which sits in the center of Granada. Located in a beautiful house, the hostel has a tranquil atmosphere, the owner is super friendly and knows a lot about Granada - also, typical breakfast is included.
Mid-range | Hotel Dario - A stylish hotel in a pretty colonial house is right in the center of Granada. Rooms have to air-condition and also balconies overlooking either gardens or streets and churches of the city.
Luxury | Hotel Plaza Colon - Terrific location, fast wifi, and a lovely outdoor pool make from this property the best pick for all travelers looking for high comfort.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
HOW TO GET TO GRANADA
Travelers in Nicaragua usually use tourist shuttle vans to get from one destination to another, so if you do not mind to spend a little bit more, this is the way how to get around quickly, safely and without stopping on every corner.
But public transport in Nicaragua works well too, so you do not need to worry that you would not get to a place of your desire, it only sometimes requires switching buses. We visited Granada after hiking up the Concepcion Volcano on Ometepe Island, so we needed to get from Rivas to Granada.
Rivas is Nicaragua's transport hub, and we believe that the bus terminal in Rivas will be the place where you'll find yourself when traveling independently at least once during your time in the country.
From Rivas, the bus to Granada goes seven times a day, approximately every two hours between 6 AM and 6 PM. The ticket costs 50 cordobas. Here in Nicaragua, we encountered a problem that money collectors wanted us to pay for another ticket for our bags even when they were safely stored on the roof and did not take any space for other passengers.
Well, here from Rivas to Granada, we refused to pay for it, as we were not sure it is a scam or not.
From Granada, you can travel to Leon, another must-visit place in the country. In this case, you need to take a frequent van which leaves from a terminal close to the main square to the capital, Managua, and in Managua, you need to take another van to Leon - the van leaves when full.
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