Granada, the oldest Spanish colonial town in the Americas (that still remains), is bursting with history, culture and nature. From narrow streets full of bright buildings to the impressive churches and peaceful courtyard sanctuaries, it’s one of the more interesting colonial towns in Central America. Throw in some day trips to volcanoes, lagoons and islands and you have a town that has something for everyone. Here’s what we got up to in (and just outside of) Granada.
Walking the streets
I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of walking around historic towns, but if you hate walking (or are just feeling lazy) you can take a horse-drawn carriage around town. There is a lot to explore along Granada’s streets. You’ll see stunning architecture, possibly Central America’s dirtiest market (it’s worth a look though) and plenty of inviting looking galleries, cafes and museums. After walking the streets for a while you’ll be begging for a seat and some shade…
Escaping the Sun
After an hour or 2 on the streets of Granada the opulent courtyards of the cafes and restaurants start to look pretty inviting. Order a drink and relax, you’ve probably deserved it. If you want to enjoy the luxury of an inner city oasis without paying for it then head for the chocolate museum. It’s pretty much a cafe/hotel/chocolate shop with some information and art on the walls, but it’s really nice as well as being free. Another great place to check out is the San Francisco monastery – it’s a stunning old building with some strange art displays and even some ancient stone statues stolen from the islands of Lake Nicaragua.
After exploring the historical sites of Granada, you’ll probably want to explore the area’s natural wonders. Here’s a quick rundown of the day trips we did from Granada.
This collection of 365 tiny islands in Lake Nicaragua make for a great few hours from the city. The islands were created when Mombacho Volcano exploded a few thousand years ago. These days some of the islands are home to Nicaragua’s rich and famous, and apparently you can join them – a nice looking island that we cruised past would only cost around $60,000! One of the islands is also home to a small gang of monkeys who rely on tourists for their daily meals. Some old scientist put them there so it’s basically a zoo, but they seem to have a pretty good life. Gia even got to feed one – it was a beautiful meeting between man, monkey and mango. The boat tour to Las Isletas takes about 3 hours and is definitely worth doing.
We went on a night tour to Masaya Volcano, which first included an hour’s stop at the tourist trap Masaya market. Try and choose a tour that skips this or just do Masaya Volcano independently, although it’s a little hard and not that much cheaper than booking a tour in Granada. The Volcano trip was pretty cool – we drove right up to the crater where we were engulfed by gas – luckily we had masks! After seeing the crater (well, we couldn’t really see it because of all the gas) we went for a short walk up past another crater and eventually to a viewpoint. We also went for a walk through an old lava tube full of bats. The tour was good but we didn’t see any lava (the guide said it often pans out this way) and we also didn’t see the colony of parrots that live in the crater. We actually did this tour over 2 days – it started raining the first time and the park closed, so if you have limited time in Granada make sure you check the weather before booking a tour.
Laguna de Apoyo
This little volcanic lagoon, just a few kilometres from Granada, is a great place for bird watching. We saw quite a few different varieties, including a few guardabarranco, Nicaragua’s national bird. The lagoon itself is nice but the weather was pretty gloomy – I’d say it’d be really amazing on a sunny day. You can walk to Laguna de Apoyo from Granada in a few hours or take public/tourist transport.
Where to stay
There are hotels and hostels to suit every budget in Granada – we were luckily enough to be invited to stay at Los Patios Hotel – Gia’s luxury travel desires are starting to claw their way out from beneath my budget tendencies. It’s a beautiful boutique hotel that also combines aspects of the hostel experience, including an abundance of common areas and also a kitchen that guests are free to use. If you’re looking for an atmospheric, romantic hotel in Granada then look no further (check out Gia’s review of Los Patios Hotel). If you’re on a budget you’ll also find plenty of options – $20 seems to be a decent price for a basic double room, although I’m sure you could find cheaper. You can also stay at Laguna de Apoyo if you’d rather escape the city.
Taxis in Granada, as well as everywhere else in Nicaragua(except for Ometepe), are great value. You can take buses, walk or cycle to most places of interest near Granada or take tours – shop around though! We usually do things independently but took a couple of tours in Granada; we were feeling a bit lazy and were a bit sick of constant chicken bus travel. The tours are also good value, especially if you book more than one.
Have you been to Granada? What is your favourite colonial town in Latin America (can you recommend any in South America, as that’s where we are headed next?). Let me know!
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