Very few cities can compare to the beautiful Granada of Nicaragua! It has this something that makes tourists visit it again and again. Come with me, and let’s find out the reasons why this city is so beloved. So, this is the Top 10 for the city of Granada!
1) Lake Nicaragua
The Nicaragua lake, being 160 kilometers long and 70 kilometers wide, is the second biggest lake in Latin America (with lake Tititaka of Peru being only slightly bigger). Just think that it covers the same area of land as Puerto Rico! What makes it famous, though, is not so much the vast expanse it covers, but the paradoxical fact that it is the only lake in the world that is home to sharks, swordfish and other species of fish that normally live in the ocean. This happens, in all probability, because this lake, in the past, used to be a part of the Pacific, but due to volcanic activity, it got secluded and lost its salinity. The fish, then, got stranded and had to adapt to the new conditions.
What I would highly recommend, is that you go on a morning boat ride in the lake! You will see some of the 350+ small islands (isletas) that were created after the eruption of Mombacho, with the house of the fishermen, the mansions of the wealthy and the schools. You will be taken aback by the rich flora and fauna, while in the meantime you can enjoy your coffee (or your drink!) at the cafés and restaurants that you can find on the small islands. You can also canoe in the lake, but be careful not to put your little finger in, because you never know!
2) Masaya Volcano National Park
I am a fan of volcanoes! I admit that they fascinate me! This is why, when I am given the chance to visit an active volcano which they call «the Mouth of Hell», I wouldn’t miss it for the world! The Masaya Volcano National Park, is the first but also the biggest National Park in the country. It is situated between the cities of Granada and Managua, and no matter in which of the two cities you reside, you can easily go on a day trip to the park. Make arrangements to go early so as to avoid the heat, while a walk to the museum is an absolute must for those of you who want to get informed not only about the eruptions, but also about the history of the volcano.
There are two volcanoes in the park, the Masaya and the Nindirí, which have five craters. One of them, named Santiago, is still active and constantly puffs sulphur. It is a spectacular sight and an amazing experience for those who have never been near an active volcano before. For those of you who are brave enough and want to make this experience even more unique, I suggest you go on the night tour. You may not see a lot of the volcano but the view of the city from up high will spellbind you.
Entrance: 4 dollars
Opening times: 9.00 a.m – 4.45 p.m
Website: Masaya Volcano
3) Carriage ride
No matter how hard you try to avoid it, you will not succeed. And to be honest, you shouldn’t. You may consider it “too touristic“, but from my point of view it is a must when you are in Granada. Haggle over (15 dollars for a carriage of five persons for a one-hour journey/ 3 dollars per person) and ask the driver to take you on a ride through the city. You can go down to lake Nicaragua, go to the touristic part of the city, or you can ask him to take you to the less touristic neighborhoods to see how people here truly live. Choose a guide who speaks English (unless you speak Spanish of course) and this will make your tour even better! It is a good chance to talk to a local and ask him whatever comes to mind about his life, his culture and his city, since you will be sitting next to him for an hour! Head to Parque Colón and you will see a line of carriages waiting for you to choose them!
4) The Cathedral
The cathedral is one of the most prominent buildings in Granada, and it sits right in the heart of the city, next to Colón park. There is no chance you will miss it, since it is in a high spot and is visible from a long distance. Even if you don’t enter, you should walk by it just to admire its exquisite architecture in yellow and white colors. It was originally built in 1583, but it has suffered successive severe damage. It has been rebuilt numerous times, with the most recent being its reconstruction in 1915. The Granada Cathedral is usually open daily from 8 a.m to 8 p.m and admittance is free.
5) Masaya Market
After your visit to Masaya volcano, go to the homonymous city which is close by and head for the center, to the renowned Masaya Market. You can find it inside the “mercado viejo” (old market), a building that dates back to 1900. It covers a vast area and it offers high quality crafts, which is why it is the most famous market in Nicaragua. Many vendors speak English, and almost all of them are willing to negotiate their prices. So, if you like to bargain, you will find your paradise on Earth! Here, you can get your souvenirs, like fridge magnets, ceramics, drawings or even hammocks. If you are not a big fan of shopping, you can just stroll through the market and sit at one of the little shops that are inside, for food or for a refreshing beer. Personally, I couldn’t say no to a fresh juice made of fresh mango, banana and coconut. It is perhaps the most delicious juice I have ever tasted!
6) Calle la Calzada
Head to the heart of Granada for your night out and get a taste of this vibrant city. There, you will find a plethora of restaurants and bars sheltered under renovated colonial houses along La Calazada pedestrian zone, which starts from the central square in front of the Cathedral, passes in front of the church of Guadalupe and ends in the seafront, which is lake Nicaragua. Take your seat at one of the tables that are on the pavement, in front of every restaurant, and taste the authentic local cuisine, like the famous gallo pinto, with chicken, rice and beans, along with Toña (beer made in Nicaragua)! Those of you who have a sweet tooth should try a tres leches cake or plátanos fritos, a kind of fried syrupy banana, which complements different plates as a side dish.
You will witness a great variety of things going on in this particular street. Tourists dancing in the road, small vendors with their merchandise, the gigantic woman and the big-headed dwarf dancing, and bands playing latin music at the different restaurants of La Calzada. Here you will never get bored!
7) La Merced Church
It is located just a couple of blocks off the central square, and it offers the best view in town! It was built in 1534, and it is one of the oldest churches in Central America. Unfortunately, the tower was destroyed in 1854, but eight years later it was rebuilt, and today it frames the church while it also houses the bells of La Merced. This tower, then, is open to the public and with a small cost (1 dollar), you will climb up and admire the awe-inspiring view. You can easily locate the Cathedral, and even spot the Mombacho volcano which is very close to the city.
8) The Church of Guadalupe
The faded front of the Guadalupe cathedral can’t help but add to the charm of this spectacular 17 century building. It is located in the eastern part of the city, in Calle la Calzada, between the Nicaragua lake and the centre of Granada. It was built in 1626 by Fray Benito Baltodano to serve as a monastery. During the colonialism, the church was of great importance, due to its strategic location, at the entrance of the city. For this exact reason, it was destroyed numerous times by pirates and corsairs, while in 1856, it was used by William Walker as a bulwark. Its reconstruction was completed in 1965. If you get the chance to get inside (it is not always open to the public) you will be astonished by the great contrast between the interior and the exterior image of the church. You will wonder at the marvellous stained glass, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe but you will also admire the wonderful Corinthian order columns.
9) The city’s colonial architecture
The city of Granada has exceptional examples of Spanish colonial architecture. This town, also known as «The Great Sultana», can easily make you fall in love with its houses and buildings with their red tiled roofs, gorgeous courtyards, gardens and the beautiful fountains. Stroll around the town, and look for yourselves at the exquisite manors that embellish the streets. If you see the owners sitting outside on their rocking chairs, don’t hesitate to approach them. Most likely, they will invite you to their house and why not, they will offer you a small tour in the interior of their residence. Many Granadinos take pride in their manors and they are not reluctant to show them off.
10) Mombacho Volcano
￼Nicaragua is a country of volcanoes. So, I couldn’t help but include in my Top 10 list, the Mombacho volcano, which is 10 kilometers off the city of Granada. It is composed of 4 craters and it is usually covered in fog. It is worthwhile visiting it, not only for the volcano itself, but also to enjoy the unique natural beauty and also the jaw-dropping view of the city and lake Cocibolca.
Don’t forget to bring along your hiking boots and a jacket, because when you get there, you will feel the temperature drop significantly and humidity goes sky-high. But don’t let this discourage you! I guarantee that the beauty of the place will make up for it. There are two paths which you can walk. The first one is circular and is of low difficulty, whereas, in order to walk the other one, you will need a guide and some extra hours. You will meet some of the 700+ species of plants that are to be found in Mombacho, such as the beautiful orchids. At this point you can also find the tourist center that will provide you with information about the activities there, like the Zipline (my favourite one!), but also a cafeteria with snacks and beverages. If you a fan of nature as well, you shouldn’t miss on this trip!