Granada Travel Guide

Granada Travel Guide

A throwback to old times, Granada is one of the most beautiful and oldest colonial towns in the Americas, in the heart of Nicaragua. With a reputation for bohemian shabbiness, characterised by crumbling colonial buildings and horse-drawn carriages, Granada emanates a certain kind of time-worn European elegance, against the backdrop of stunning natural attractions, including scenic volcanic trails, verdant islets, and Lake Nicaragua to the east. With a sizeable expat community, the culture and attitudes of Granada’s locals have changed dramatically in recent years, despite the majority of the population still identifying as Roman Catholic. The city itself is very gay-friendly, the central hub of La Calzada in particular, where you’ll find cobblestone streets lined with fine eateries, cafés and bakeries leading to the city’s Cathedral and central park. Confused about what to do in Granada? Let Mr Hudson’s Granada gay city guide lead the way.

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The best hotels in Granada

With a ton of colonial architecture and other baroque and Moorish aesthetic influences, Granada is a great place to stay, imbued as it is with picturesque colours and a laid-back culture. Of the top accommodation choices for our latest Granada gay travel guide, El Respiro Ecolodge is a doozy; an eco-lodge located on a 50-acre property run by a French-Hungarian couple. Despite being just a short 15 minute drive from the city, this rustic yet modern lodge feels a million miles from civilisation, with its farm-to-table concept and impressive hillside views overlooking Mombacho Volcano and Lake Nicaragua. While the area is largely undeveloped, there are two artisanal villages nearby; Catarina and San Juan del Oriente, but the best course of action while staying here is to hang out around the stone fireplace of your open-plan lodge and sip wine in good company.

Another lodge retreat worth consideration is the Jicaro Island Lodge, nestled between lush coconut palms and mango trees on one of the tiny islets surrounding Granada. Accessible by boat from Granada docks, guests will quickly be immersed in Granada’s indigenous culture, living in eco-friendly, stilted lakeside casitas above small seawater infinity pools that blend perfectly with the surrounding nature. For something a tad more luxurious, the Laguna Beach Club may suit you. Complete with its own private beach and water sports facilities, the Laguna Beach Club in Laguna de Apoyo protected area (just 11 kilometres from Granada), has all the modern amenities, in addition to barbeque terraces, lake-side views and on-site restaurant.

Over in the UNESCO-protected colonial town where all the action happens, the Tribal Hotel awaits, providing guests with a blend of international designer styles and boho-chic vibes, curated by New York restauranteur Jean-Marc Houmard. A guarded property, Tribal Hotel is more of a personal holiday retreat than a hotel, where you can enjoy cocktails beside the small pool and massages on your own private balcony. The luxe Los Patios Hotel, meanwhile, fuses traditional Spanish colonial architecture with modern Nordic design (a tribute to the Scandinavian-born owners.) As the name hints, there are a number of unique patios across the property for guests to lounge upon. You can also relax further at the hotel’s spa which offers a range of treatments.

Tribal Hotel

Tribal Hotel

Tribal Hotel

Tribal Hotel

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Recommended hotels in Granada
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Photo: Jason Briscoe

Photo: Jason Briscoe

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Things to do in Granada

Granada isn’t that large, so it’s easy to spend a day walking around without realising you’ve already passed through several of its neighbourhoods. 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. Another Nicaraguan speciality would be the cigar and if there’s one place to learn about this, it’s by touring The Mombacho Cigar Factory. Here you can see the entire process of production, having the chance to roll and smoke your own cigar like a true local.

Mombacho Volcano | Photo: Dan Moore

Mombacho Volcano | Photo: Dan Moore

The best Granada points of interest are mostly located outside of the city proper and may require a little planning. Our favourite day trip from Granada is to The Masaya Volcano National Park, which, as the name suggests, offers visitors to experience the flora and fauna of the active Masaya volcano and its unique surroundings. While one of Nicaragua’s most popular attractions during the day, at night the volcano park also attracts crowds for its so-called “lava lake” scene best seen under clear star-filled skies. There’s more to be discovered in Granada’s volcanoes from within, and one option, while you’re here, is to try diving inside one. This experience can be had at the Laguna de Apoyo, where NGO The Peace Project has partnered with Volcano Divers Nicaragua to raise money for impoverished communities and local education and environmental programs. So while discovering the weird and wonderful rock formations and underground thermal vents on your dive, you can also help drive sustainable development in the area.

Bordered as it is on the east by Central America’s largest lake, Lake Nicaragua, no trip to Granada is complete without first taking to the water and winding your way around the lake’s archipelago of 365 islands formed by a volcanic eruption. While many islands around Granada remain uninhabited, there are a number of traditional fishing villages, private residences and luxurious resorts to be found as part of a private guided tour or chartered service. Travellers in the mood to flex their water-sports muscles should head to the coast of San Juan Del Sur, an area within a day trip of the city centre renowned for its fine beaches and gnarly waves. If surfing isn’t your cup of tea, however, opt for the beachfront for a 2-4-1 margarita and a tan.

Photo: Tim Foster

Photo: Tim Foster

Things to see in Granada

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.

Central Plaza | Photo: Dan Moore

Top: Central Plaza | Photo: Dan Moore

Masaya Volcano | Photo: Dan Moore

Masaya Volcano | Photo: Dan Moore

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To savour the local flavours, grab a plastic chair at one of the street vendors in Central Park and order vigaron

Where to eat in Granada

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 Nicaraguan-owned Kelly’s Bar, a low-key place to mingle while sipping on Nicaragua’s national drink, the macua.

Fruit yoghurt parfait at Espressonista | Photo: P.C. Buren

Fruit yoghurt parfait at Espressonista | Photo: P.C. Buren

Shopping in Granada

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.

Photo: Ferdinand Feng

Photo: Ferdinand Feng

Photo: Dan Moore

Photo: Dan Moore

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Offering a choice of street-side or courtyard garden seating, Nectar is a celebration of heritage with a fun, vibrant ambience

Granada nightlife

While there is no dedicated gay nightlife area in Granada, the gay-friendly nature of the city allows gay travellers to easily wine and dine in style. Of our top nightlife choices, the CIUDAD LOUNGE piqued our interest, with its luxury range of artisan goods, including wine, rum and cigars. While you might mistake the place for a furniture store – as it does sell a number of designs – the CIUDAD LOUNGE is also a laid-back smoking lounge featuring an atrium style garden area and a wine bar/restaurant with weekly rum and wine tasting sessions. Then there’s the equally unexpected Hogs Breath Saloon, operated by Reilly’s Irish Pub, a tavern serving up cocktails in welcoming environs. A fun and friendly place to mix with expats, Hogs Breath also serves Guinness.

From Ireland to Cali, Nectar offers something a little brighter, serving Californian inspired Nicaraguan flavours, using the freshest top-quality ingredients in their fruity cocktails and spicy fusion dishes. Offering a choice of street-side or courtyard garden seating, Nectar is a celebration of heritage with a fun, vibrant ambience. Last up is Encuentros Club, a pool club and dance party known for its tasty rum, street-side bar and pool scene out back. Come to dance, mingle or people watch from the second floor!

Photo: Tyler Donaghy

Photo: Tyler Donaghy

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