Perched between the dormant Mombacho volcano and the fresh waters of Lake Nicaragua, the city of Granada is rich in colonial heritage, colourful architecture, great restaurants and bars and due to it being a relatively new travel destination, it will also have you feeling as if you stepped back in time.
To begin our adventure we entered the city in the late evening, after a loong day of traveling. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, and catch an hour taxi ride to Granada (it’s highly recommended that you pre-book a shuttle service with your hotel prior to landing, as Managua can be rough around the edges). Flying from Toronto to Managua, we briefly had to layover in Mexico City as well.
Walking into The Tribal Hotel‘s main gates was the most welcome reprieve. It was also the perfect spot to explore Granada from, due to its central yet private location and the lovely staff were all so eager to help us discover the best of what the city and beyond had to offer.
Here are my top things to do, see, and eat in Granada:
Climb the Church Towers
Granada has a few notable churches dotted throughout the city center, two of which offer spectacular views from the top of their towers. The Cathedral of Granada overlooks the main square, while Iglesia La Merceda has a panoramic view that encompasses the main Cathedral, and the lake beyond.
Visit the market
This is not your typical North American Sunday Farmer’s Market. The local market is a bit of a chaotic experience relative to ones you may be used to, making it all that more exotic and exciting. Wedged between a fresh tortilla maker and a vendor of household items is a man selling live chickens, holding them up in bunches by the neck. A man walks by with a squealing piglet under his arm. The sellers are eager for your business, but they do not push. I highly recommend picking up some handmade corn tortillas, queso fresco, and some fresh produce for a little snack. Wash it all down with chicha maize – a sweet condensed corn beverage sold in plastic bags filled with ice.
Relax at the Garden Cafe
After all of those bell tower stairs and the chaos of the market, relax in the courtyard oasis of The Garden Cafe for a fresh & healthy lunch – or just savour a smoothie as you settle into a great book. Be sure to also check out their curated gift shop of local artisanal goods from handmade slippers to scarves, and authentic delicacies.
Granada is one of the most colourful cities I’ve ever been to. Row houses are segmented by each individual owner’s own colour theme, and you’ll find street facades checkered in saturated hues, regardless of how each neighbour has painted their own. Since the city centre is not all that big, you can easily wander and weave throughout the streets, admired the architecture and the way the colours liven up the urban fabric. Some of my favourites include:
Take a cooking class
One of the highlights of our entire trip was learning to make a traditional Nicaraguan meal at the Tortilla Cooking School. We made corn tortillas from scratch, and a chicken stew called indio viejo with an accompanying sauce. At the end, we all sat down to eat dinner family-style with the chef and the Cooking School’s volunteers – it really made the entire experience all that more special.
Visit the Isletas de Granada
Since Granada is situated right on the bank of Lake Nicaragua, the water is easily accessible. Right off the coast are a series of islands that you can explore by boat – either by renting a kayak and paddling through them yourself or hiring a private boat tour to take you.
Sit in the Streets
This may sound like the most unexciting tip ever, however, Granada is an outdoor place, where everyone perches themselves outside on their front steps, where locals meet in the squares over coffee or sit solo on the sidewalks eating quesillos – a cheesy-filled corn tortilla rolled into a cigar shape. A few notable places to people watch are:
- The main square – sit alongside the central fountain, on a bench facing the cathedral with a snack in hand from one of the food carts, or within one of the square’s cafes and order a tiste, a cold sweet cocoa drink to wash down that quesillo
- Calle la Calzada – the main street lined with restaurants and bars that come alive at dusk.
- Parque Guadalupe – join the local teenagers sitting on the church steps of the Iglesia de Guadalupe and watch the tourists ride by on horse-drawn carriages