It has it all: a waterside location, colonial architecture, warm weather all-year round and a backdrop of volcanoes. Granada is the quintessential Central American mainstream tourist destination.
It is the perfect base for exploring the indigenous villages around, or the active volcano or Laguna de Apoyo around the corner. The only disadvantage? It is a bit too polished almost to have a truly Nicaraguan feel.
It is though also one of the centers for the resistance against the current government. During the riots in 2018 several people died, government buildings on the central square were burnt down and the entire city went into lockdown for several weeks. Tourism therefore collapsed, and is still struggling to get back on its feet. Many hotels and restaurants even had to close their doors.
Food and drinks
Walk around a bit though in the adjacent streets to find better alternatives. One of the highlights is The Garden, with an inner courtyard so romantic it makes you soft the moment you enter it. A bit further up is Kathy’s Waffles, another local classic.
Activities / things to do
- Las Isletas: almost too beautiful to believe, right in front of Granada in Lake Nicaragua is a dense cluster of around 365 small islands. Many of them are owned by (inter)national politicians and businessmen as their holiday retreat. Tours in small boats take you around, including showing the monkeys on one of the islands. It’s a nice 30-45 minute walk there as well, just get back to the village before dark
- Chocolate Museum: Surprisingly enough there are not a lot of good museums in Granada. This one is an exception, though it is annoyingly touristic. They will explain you the process of making chocolate, sing songs with you, and give you some alcohol shots free of charge. All designed to make you buy in the end of course
- Mercado Municipal: compared to other markets in Central America, this one isn’t huge. But it is as bustling, chaotic and dirty as the other ones, and only three minutes walking from the main square
– Pueblos Blancos: only a short distance from Granada are several indigenous villages. When you get here, you also escape the tourist hordes
- Volcan Mombacho: towering over the city, this one is still alive. Tours here show you glowing lava, an experience you must have had at least once in your life
- Laguna de Apoyo: a volcanic lake, so quiet you would think the Nicaraguans forgot about it. All the hotels in Granada offer daytrips at rock-bottom prices, transport included. Alternatively you can stay in some of the accommodations there, which is a bit more tedious to get there
- Lake Nicaragua: the waterside is not as dreamlike as the Pacific beaches, but still pretty nice. There even used to be a direct boat to Ometepe island, but it closed because of shallow waters, so nowadays you have to make the detour through Rivas
- Baseball: it’s a huge sport in Nicaragua, and this city even has a small nice stadium with a roof so you can follow a match in the shadow
Getting to Granada and getting around
- From / to Leon you need to change buses in Managua. The part between Granada and Managua is done by a minivan, between Managua and Leon there are chicken buses (including expresos)
- Rivas is 2-3 hours away by chicken bus. From there, you can take a shared taxi to San Jorge and then the ferry to Ometepe island, with its iconic two volcanoes side by side
- Masaya is between Granada and Managua. It is chaotic, dirty and NOT a tourist destination, but very Nicaraguan and a useful transportation hub to connect you to Matagalpa and Esteli, to name a few
- Granada is not too big, so you can walk almost anywhere. At night, don’t venture too far away to the outskirts
- Weather: humid as fuck. During the dry season (until mid-april) it can get pretty warm. In rainy season (until september) it gets horribly humid AND warm… but it is also therefore quite pleasant on the human body
- Safety: pretty good. As Granada is a major tourist destination though, be cautious when there are no crowds at all