One of the oldest cities in the Americas, Granada is also one of the most charming. Characterised by its crumbling pastel-coloured buildings, horse-drawn carriages, stunning Spanish colonial architecture and unique location next to Lake Nicaragua, Granada boasts a surprising elegance with plenty to explore. What’s more, Granada is surrounded by some of Nicaragua’s best natural attractions, including dramatic volcanoes, making it the perfect stop to combine both culture and adventure.
Where to stay
Hotel Plaza Colon is as romantic as could be. Located in the heart of Central Park, all of Granada’s main attractions are a short walk away. The sweeping views of the Cathedral of Granada and interior courtyards keep visitors coming back again and again.
If you want a hidden oasis in the heart of Granada, then look no further than Hotel Bubu. Here you’ll find stunning decor from local artisans amidst a truly luxurious setting. What’s more, the divinely restored colonial house has only five rooms, promising the perfect hidden getaway to relax and recharge. Additional highlights include the sweeping lap pool and mouth-watering cocktails in the ultra-romantic bar.
The luxe Los Patios bed and breakfast fuses traditional Spanish colonial architecture with modern Nordic design (a tribute to the Scandinavian-born owners.) As the name suggests, there are five unique patios across the property for guests to enjoy, depending on your mood and activity of choice. Try a spa treatment for the ultimate in relaxation.
Granada isn’t that large, so it’s easy to explore the entirety of the city without realising you have passed from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. However, Granada is in fact loosely divided into regions based around its three primary churches: Convent of San Francisco, Xalteva Church and la Merced.
While all of the neighbourhoods are worth a visit, Xalteva is one of our favourites for escaping the tourists and mingling with locals. While you’re there, don’t miss a stop at Espressonista for homemade pastries and ice creams sourced from local organic products, as well as top-notch coffee and an expansive wine list.
Things to see and do
One of the most popular ways to learn about the rich culture of Granada is via a horse carriage city tour. But don’t just settle for any tour; rather, go with the city’s one-and-only female horse carriage driver (easily arranged through your Hotel). The female entrepreneur boasts a wealth of information about Granada’s long history.
Once you have your bearings, head to one of Granada’s best-kept secrets: the Mombacho Cigar Factory. Unknown to many, Nicaraguans have been making cigars since prehistoric times, perfecting the craft with the help of Cuban exiles in the ‘60s and ‘70s. A tour of the surprisingly chic Mombacho Cigar Factory takes visitors through the entire process of crafting top-quality cigars, concluding with the opportunity to relax in the tasting lounge with a cigar and bit of rum.
It’s easy to get lost in the enchanting lure of Granada, but don’t miss the opportunity to explore the surrounding region. The active Masaya Volcano is easily accessible by vehicle, and offers an otherworldly experience at the crater’s edge. In stark contrast to the tons of sulphur gas constantly emitted from Masaya, the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve is lush and green—an idyllic location for hiking, zip-lining or taking coffee tours.
Photo: Dan Moore
Eat, drink and be merry
Granada is jam-packed with delicious eats, and a strong expat community has given rise to a large variety of restaurants. To savour the local flavours, grab a plastic chair at one of the street vendors in Central Park and order vigaron. The dish is comprised of yucca, pork rinds and cabbage salad. Wash it down with a traditional Cacao, a mix of chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla and milk.
For one of the city’s slightly more upscale options, head to Bistro Estrada. The French restaurant features local ingredients, with dishes like Red Snapper marinated in Nicaraguan Flor de Cana rum and Sirloin a la Parisina. Ask for a seat outside in the magical courtyard and garden.
If the urge for sushi hits, then a visit to Bar Kanpai is a must. A talented Japanese chef owns the restaurant, so you can count on fresh and authentic rolls.
The pedestrian walkway off of Central Park, known as the Calzada, is a favourite place to enjoy street performers while sipping on a drink at one of the outdoor tables. Do keep in mind that there are many children who beg for money from the tourists here, so the location is not for everyone. That said, a great find on the Calzada includes O’Shea’s Irish Pub, a lively bar with a large selection of drinks and traditional Irish cuisine. Also here is Nicaraguan-owned Kelly’s Bar, a low-key place to mingle while sipping on Nicaragua’s national drink, the macua.
Masaya Volcano | Photo: Dan Moore
Where to shop
The Garden Cafe Shop is a small but beautiful store, ideal for purchasing a souvenir while also supporting local NGOs and artisans. All of their projects and campaigns empower people by helping them discover what skills they already have and developing them with the right technical assistance and mentorship. To bring a sense of tropical Nicaragua home with you, there’s no better purchase than a hand-made hammock. Hamacas Tio Antonio is a non-profit with some of the highest quality hammocks in town.
Don’t forget to satisfy the chocaholic in you as you’re hopping from store to store. The ChocoMuseum Shop has a large selection of organic Nicaraguan chocolate. You’ll also find organic coffee and a selection of traditional ceramics.
Central Granada’s Mercado Municipal is as local an experience as it gets. Though the sites and sounds can be somewhat overwhelming, it’s worth meandering the chaotic streets to get a glimpse at every day Nicaraguan life. Masaya Handicraft Market is located nearby the Masaya Volcano, and is one of the best spots to search for souvenirs and handcrafted artefacts. The market does cater to tourists, so be sure to barter before you buy.
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Hotel Plaza Colon
Mombacho Volcano | Photo: Dan Moore
Espressonista | Photo: P.C. Buren
Espressonista | Photo: P.C. Buren
Fruit yoghurt parfait at Espressonista | Photo: P.C. Buren
Mombacho cigar factory | Photo: Dan Moore
Mombacho Vulcano | Photo: Dan Moore
Las Isletes | Photo: Dan Moore
Central Plaza | Photo: Dan Moore