There are many cool things to do in Granada, Nicaragua. Not to be confused with the Andalusian city, this Granada is among the most interesting places to visit in Central America; the kind of place where you plan stopping for 3 days and end up wishing you had more time.
The city is truly beautiful. Picture cobbled alleys, colorful buildings, a slow pace of life – it just is photographers’ paradise. And as if this is not enough, you can count on many nearby attractions that are perfect for adventure seekers.
In this post, I highlight what you should not miss in Granada, Nicaragua, as well what you should really avoid, and share some tips that will help you plan your trip.
15 Really Cool Things To Do In Granada, Nicaragua
Visit the Convento y Museo San Francisco
The Convento y Museo San Francisco is one of the nicest places to visit in Granada, Nicaragua. In fact, this is the oldest church in Central America. Initially built in 1585, it was burnt to ground by pirates and later on by William Walker (who actually became the president of Nicaragua). The church was finally rebuilt in 1868 and restored in 1989. You will recognize it immediately by its blue facade. It’s one of the prettiest sights in town.
Accessible through a small door on the right you will find the small museum which has a very good exhibit of indigenous art as well as a scale model of Granada. You will enjoy the mural in the patio – this portrays the history of Granada and of Nicaragua.
Finally, make sure to take in the views of the city from the patio at the back.
Go to Iglesia de la Merced
Iglesia de la Merced is another of Granada’s churches that was destroyed by pirates and later on by Walker. It really is a lovely church, not far from the main square. It has a tower from where you can enjoy marvelous views of the city (the photo of the Cathedral in this post was taken from there).
Take in the views of Granada from above
There are several places from where you can enjoy the views of Granada. The back patio of the Museo San Francisco is one of them.Yet, my personal favorite is that from the bell tower of Iglesia de la Merced. This is the best place to take photos of the Cathedral, the postcard picture of Granada, Nicaragua.
TIP: The best time to access the tower in terms of crowds and views is 11:00 am. After that, it gets too hot and there are more people who want to go up, where the space is limited.
Admire the Cathedral of Granada
The Cathedral of Granada is located in the Parque Central. It is a beautiful church painted in a bright yellow that can be recognized from a distance. There occasionally are concerts there, though it is also interesting to attend mass – mostly as a way to observe some of the local cultural traditions. The square where it is located is surrounded by other beautiful buildings and it is directly connected to La Calzada, the main street of the center.
Enjoy the street performers on La Calzada
La Calzada is the main street in the center of Granada. It’s a pedestrian street so it is pleasant to go for a stroll. It is lined with nice restaurants, pubs and bars – albeit a bit touristy – and lots of nice shops.
Though it is a nice area for a walk at any time of day, I find it particularly pleasant at night, when street vendors selling their trinkets and street performers make it all the more lively. In other words, you have to go!
Go for a walk along the lake
If you continue walking along Calle La Calzada for about 1 km you get all the way to the lake. Mind you, I don’t recommend doing it in the peak hours of the day – you may as well melt before you get to reach the breeze lake shores. But if you go around 4:30 om, when the sun starts going down, it’s really nice. On the way to the lake, make sure to stop to admire the Church of Guadalupe, another nice sight.
Visit the market
One of the best things to do in Granada, Nicaragua is visiting the local market. It is a place full of life, colors and “interesting” smells (ie not necessarily pleasant). It is a crowded place, so make sure to avoid looking too much like a tourist. It’s also a great place to buy groceries.
Go on a boat trip to Las Isletas
Among the most popular things to do in Granada, Nicaragua there is going on a boat trip around Las Isletas. It is rumored that there are around 365 islands, all scattered on lake Nicaragua and formed as a result of the eruption of Mombacho volcano – of which you will get stunning views from the lake.
The best time for a boat tour is around 3:45 pm. That way, you will avoid the heat of the day, enjoy the sunset on the way back to Granada, and as it is not as hot all wildlife will be out and about, and you will be able to admire the monkeys that live in a few of the islands and the many bird species.
This is a tour you must do with a good guide, one who is a keen birdwatcher and who can point you to look in the right direction. Below are some good tours of Las Isletas that can be bought online:
Go to the train station
One of the most off beat things to do in Granada, Nicaragua is visiting the train station. This is located at about 9 blocks from the center of town, in front of Parque de los Poetas – a square dedicated to Nicaragua’s most prominent writers and poets. You will find some well preserved wagons and locomotives. It’s a cool place to spend some time if you want to get away from the main tourist areas.
You can’t go to Granada and not eat vigoron! This is one of the most traditional dishes of Nicaragua. The name itself is a direct reference to the vigor (that is, the energy) you will get from eating it. In other words, expect a dish that is greasy, heavy, and oh so satisfying. The main ingredients are pork, pork scratchings (locally known as chicarrones), yucca and cabbage. It is served in a small cup in banana leaves.
The best place to have it in town is the kiosk in the main square.
Relax in Laguna de Apoyo
Laguna de Apoyo is one of the most popular places to visit in Nicaragua. I recommend spending a few days there, but if you are short on time you will be happy to know that it’s within easy reach from Granada and a perfect spot for a day trip.
The area is strictly protected. The water of the lake is pristine, and no motor boats are allowed – so it is a perfect place to swim. The surroundings are idyllic. Once there, you have the option to pay a small fee to one of the local resorts – usually around $10 USD – to be able to use their facilities, which include kayak rentals.
The best way to get to Laguna de Apoyo is by shuttle bus. Hotels and hostels in town are usually happy to arrange the transportation for you. If you are up for it, you can also go there by bike – I did this, and honestly don’t recommend it as it is quite far to bike there, especially given the terrible heat.
Alternatively, you can opt for a day trip that goes to Masaya too, like this one.
Visit the nearby Masaya
Masaya is an excellent place to visit on a day trip from Granada. The area is packed with interesting places to visit, which will help you get a better understanding of the history of the country.
Among the sites you should not miss there is the Fortaleza de Coyotepe, built in 1893 on the Cerro de los Coyotes. This is where political prisoners were held during the Somoza dictatorship. You can enter the fortress – which is now an abandoned prison inhabited by bats – to get an idea of the living conditions and the sufferings of the prisoners.
Another place to visit is the Mercado de Artesanías, perfect to grab a souvenir. Some tours also make a stop at family run pottery farms such as that of Duilio, in the area of Santo Domingo.
Finally, make sure to go to Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, where you will be able to admire the crater and the lava flows.
Since there are quite a few places to visit, you are probably better off joining a guided day trip. It is logistically much better. This guided trip to Masaya is a very good option. You can book it here.
Hike a volcano
Nicaragua is packed with volcanoes, and there are several surrounding Granada. It goes without saying that one of the best things to do there is hiking a volcano.
Mombacho is one of the most active in the country and there is a beautiful nature reserve there, which houses 3 species of monkeys, over 160 species of birds and orchids.
Masaya is the most active volcano in the country. The easiest tours that go there allow for a walk around the Santiago crater – brace yourself though, the smell of sulfur is overpowering.
There are various hiking trails in the area, and you may want to opt for a guided hike such as this one, which is at night and meant to give you spectacular views of the lava flows and the crater.
TIP: Make sure to scout for a good tour – it is rumored that most of them are rushed and you hardly get to see the lava flows or the views from the viewpoint, as the smell of sulphur is overpowering.
Go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro
Cerro Negro is closer to Leon than it is to Granada, but it can be visited from there. It is one of the coolest volcanoes in Nicaragua, first of all because you can hike it but – most importantly – because you can go volcano boarding there. You obviously can’t do it alone – you need a guided tour to take you all the way to the entrance of the park, and to get the necessary equipment to slide down the side of the volcano.
Tours usually start in the late afternoon so that you can enjoy the most incredible sunset from the volcano.
Make sure to check out my post What To Expect When Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
Go to Ometepe Island
I honestly think that you should spend at least a couple of days in Ometepe, it is a wonderful wonderful place, with the most lush nature you can imagine. This island in the shape of an 8 is home to 2 active volcanoes, both of them can be hiked (guides are required as the vegetation is very thick and it is easy to get lost). There is a lagoon and various beaches too, and a few villages where life goes really slowly and peacefully.
But if a day is all you have, you may as well try to make the most of it. If this is the case, you are definitely better off joining a guided tour that takes care of all logistics, such as this full day trip to Ometepe Island.
What Not To Do In Granada, Nicaragua
After mentioning all the things to do in Granada, Nicaragua, let me point out one that you really should not do.
When walking around the Parque Central – Granada’s main square – you will notice several carriages pulled by horses, all dressed up and colorful. Chances are that the owners will try to lure you into hopping on for a ride, which usually lasts between 30 to 60 minutes and costs from $5 to $15 USD.
My humble recommendation is not to do that. First of all, you see much more of the city if you simply walk. Secondly, these animals are exploited. The spend hours under the sun, in the scorching heat, running around the city among cars, buses, trucks and what not. Definitely not a pleasant way to live their life and you should not be contributing to that.
Make sure to read my post The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.
Practical Tips To Plan Your Trip To Granada, Nicaragua
Guided tours of Granada
These guided tours of Granada will show you the highlights of the city:
- Granada 3-hour private walking tour – a good walking tour of the city that hits the main attractions.
- Granada boat ride, handicraft market and lava tour – another good tour. Price is per group.
Where to stay in Granada, Nicaragua
Granada is the most touristic destination in Nicaragua and you will find no shortage of good accommodation options, regardless of your budget.
These are some good places to stay that I have tried and tested and that I recommend:
- Hotel Darío is located on the Calzada. Thought to be the best hotel in town, it has beautiful rooms in colonial style. The main shortcoming is that it gets a lot of noise from the street.
- Hotel Colonial is right by the main square and definitely gets less noise. Rooms are just as beautiful.
- Hostel de Boca en Boca is a great option for travelers on a budget and backpackers, with good dorms equipped with lockers and lovely common spaces.
Where to eat in Granada, Nicaragua
You will have no shortage of good places to eat in Granada, no matter what your budget is. In general, restaurants in La Calzada tend to be the most expensive ones – but also the best ones.
Tercer Ojo is in a great location; food is good but definitely more international than traditional.
Café de las Sonrisas is run by a nonprofit organization; the staff is hearing impaired and profits go to them.
Garden Café serves great salads, sandwiches and smoothies. There is a gorgeous patio and a book exchange for book worms like me.
How to get to Granada, Nicaragua
Public transportation works well in Nicaragua – albeit being a bit slow. You can count on expresos – shuttle buses that connect the main cities without intermediate stops and which normally leave from the bus station of any given city when full. Alternative, you can count on the many chicken buses roaming the streets. These depart from the bus station when full, and you can also hail them on the street if you know the route they follow.
Granada is at about one hour drive from Managua. The best way to get there from Managua airport is either by shuttle bus (you will find many companies offering this service as soon as you walk out of the arrivals terminal) or by private taxi. A taxi from Managua airport to Granada should cost in the range of $30 USD – make sure to haggle the price a bit before getting in the car.
To get to Granada from Leon you need to take a chicken bus to Managua and change there. The overall trip takes around 2 hours.
Make sure to check out my post Everything You Must Know About Chicken Buses.
How to move around Granada
The best way to move around Granada is actually on foot. The center of town, where you will mostly be staying, is rather small and pleasant to walk. If you are staying further from the center, you may want to rent a bike.
When to visit Granada, Nicaragua
Unless you go to the mountains, Nicaragua is always hot and there are just two seasons: the dry season, during which it is hot and dry; and the wet season, during which it is just as hot, but also terribly humid and it rains a lot. The dry season goes from the end of November to April, and that’s when you should be visiting – the best months are probably January and February.
The months of June, July and August are relatively pleasant compared to the worst rain season which is in September and October. You should really avoid traveling to Nicaragua during those two months, as it often gets flooded and traveling is almost impossible.
Having said so, the weather in Granada, Nicaragua is significantly more pleasant than that of Leon, thanks to the regular breeze coming from Lake Nicaragua (which the locals call Lake Cocibolca).
If you need a good local company for your tours in Granada and surroundings, you may want to look for ORO Travel. They run very good tours. I have done several with them and my favorite guide was by far Rudy – who speaks perfect English. Their offices are in Calle Corral.
Other useful information
Make sure to check out whether you need a visa to travel around Nicaragua.
One thing for sure is that you will need good travel insurance. Get yours here.
Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.
If you are planning a trip to Nicaragua, you will want to read these posts:
- The Most Awesome Things To Do In Nicaragua
- Five amazing sunsets that will make anybody want to visit Nicaragua
- All The Nicaraguan Food You Should Try
- A Complete Guide To Leon Nicaragua
- A Complete Guide To Ometepe, Nicaragua