Granada in Nicaragua surprised us (in a good way). It offered up some great things to explore in town, alongside worthwhile day (and night) trips to nearby attractions. It quickly turned into one of our favourites of Nicaragua, especially as the size of the town was not too overwhelming, and allowed us to walk its busy streets to find its hidden secrets.
Here are a few of the places that we found and the excursions that we experienced that just cannot be missed:
Iglesia La Merced
Climbing churches whilst we were in Europe became a staple of each city that we seemed to enter, but so far in Central America we had not come across that many opportunities to climb up any marble stairs to view the city from up high.
Granada changed that for us, and for the low price of only 2USD we were able to walk up the spiraling staircase to see what Granada held for us. We were rewarded with fantastic views of colourfully painted buildings, alongside the tops of other churches, buildings, and far-off statues.
Visiting this church is definitely something that you need to do while you are in Granada. It is cheap, does not take long, and allows to get a gauge of the city before exploring more of it.
El Loco Burrito
It was actually hard to find decent (and still on the backpackers budget) food within Granada, that is until we made our way to El Burrito Loco. For around 3-4USD you are able to order burritos, quesadillas, or tortas with a wide range of meat, vegetable, and salad options. In addition, the lovely local owners serve up amazing smoothies and fruit juices to accompany your meal.
The food here is absolutely delicious. We returned two nights in a row, if only to try different styles of what we had the night before!
Cafe de las Sonrisas
This cafe offers up a unique experience in Granada. Being only 1 block away from Iglesia la Merced you should definitely stop in here after climbing to the top for a coffee and maybe a meal.
What makes it unique is that all of the staff are deaf, supplying them with a method of earning an income whilst providing good food and drink. Also, next door they also weave hammocks in the traditional method which you can watch (it is very interesting to see how it is done). Finally, as if it cannot get any better, there are also rabbits roaming throughout the cafe! That’s right, rabbits! Doesn’t get much better than that.
La Libertad Street
La Libertad offers a quiet and mostly empty street during the day that leads towards the lake, and a bustling street full of people once the sun begins to set. Many restaurants and bars spill out on to the street offering street seating and ample opportunities to people watch.
Many times we came here just to get icecream or a drink and let the time pass whilst relaxing watching the many street performers that usually wind up in the area.
Every medium sized town in this part of the world seems to have one, and Granada is no different. Parque Central transforms the middle of the town into a green oasis complete with fountain and ample street vendors selling anything from icecream, sunglasses, to juice and dinner for the night.
In addition, the park is usually surrounded by horse and carts, ready to take any willing tourists on a ride around the city. And much like Calle La Libertad, it’s nice to sit here in the shade just watching life go past!
The Treehouse is a staple for backpackers coming to Granada, and if you have not heard of it before now would be a good time to catch up and book a night here. The Treehouse itself is actually 20 minutes outside of Granada, and offers a nightly party and accommodation in an actual treehouse on the side of a volcano.
It is as cool as it sounds, and probably one of the best parties you’ll experience whilst in Nicaragua (second only to Sunday Funday, but that’s another story). Open only between Wednesday and Saturday nights, they recommend booking your accommodation early to ensure that you do not miss out. On their website there is the option of staying either in a hammock, tent, dorm, or private room. We opted for a tent for the night, located in an undercover area.
To get there from Granada, we simply went down to Parque Central and waited for the free shuttle that goes out a few times a day. In addition, if you do not feel like spending a night out in the jungle with the Treehouse crew, you can always just come out to drink for the night and head back to Granada on the last shuttle which goes at around 2am.
Masaya Volcano night tour
Have you ever seen active lava flowing in an active volcano before? No? Neither had we! But from Granada, you can take an evening tour that takes you out to Masaya Volcano to look out over the flowing river of lava.
Booked in town with one of the many travel tour operators in town for $18US, we headed out at around 5pm in order to get to the volcano just after dark. You will find that the majority of your tour to Masaya involves waiting in line with other cars, and then other people. When you arrive to the national park, they have created sensible rules which indicate that only a certain amount of people are allowed up to view the volcano at one time. You need not worry though, as you are also only allowed to view the active volcano for a 15-20 minute period owing to the dangerous nature of the gases being released so the line moves quickly enough.
We were mesmorised by the flow of the lava once we reached the top, and whilst some fellow backpackers were slightly disappointed in the trip owing to the short amount of viewing time, when else will you be able to repeat it? We of course recommend it!
Walk to the Lake (and do the Isletas)
Granada sits on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, and a visit to town would not be complete without walking down to the shores for a visit. You can find some street food here and also see some actual culture outside of the centre of Granada, giving you an insight into how the local people live next to the lake.
In addition to this, a great tour to undertake (that we ran out of time for), is a tour of the Isletas (or mini-islands) that are found near Granada on the lake. There are options to just simply go through the isletas with a guide on a boat, or to even have a “rum cruise” where you spend an afternoon drinking rum and taking in the sights!
Plazuela de Los Leones
Situated next to Parque Central this plaza has been created, destroyed by fire, and rebuilt many times to become what it is today. Large and surrounded by shops, the plaza tends to act as a public area for the arts, often showcasing performances from different groups looking to wow the public (or just make a few dollars).
Whilst we were there, a circus performing group was juggling with fire and performing tricks for the attentive crowd. What made it all the more interesting was that next to this there were locals showing the kids how to juggle and perform some tricks for themselves – a great way to involve the locals in the arts.
This place is worth a visit to see what is going on, as it changes day-to-day!
Laguna de Apoyo
Laguna de Apoyo is another day trip that can be taken from Granada, but also provides an opportunity to stay overnight with options available including hostels, and ‘resorts’ that offer exclusive access to swimming and water sports on the lake.
We decided to make our way on public transport just for the day to the laguna to have a look at it to start with (who wouldn’t want to see a massive volcano crater lake!), go for a swim, and just relax.
After 2 buses and a short hike down, we were rewarded with calm waters and a great swim as well.
Granada was an amazing experience for us, and 4 nights was just enough to ensure that we saw everything we wanted and more. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay longer, especially with all of the great day-trips that surround the town on offer.
We hope that you also get to experience the great town of Granada in Nicaragua, and if you have already been please let us know your experiences and what you loved whilst you were there!