1n 1524 when the Spanish founded the city of Granada they certainly chose a great location on the shores of Lake Nicaragua under the watch of Volcan Mombacho. And for the next several hundred years Granada remained a rich and important trading centre. Today Granada's colonial legacy is it's buildings and streetscapes. But it also has a lot to offer travellers with trips to volcanoes and the lake for starters.
We spent a few very enjoyable days there so here are a few options for activities.
For more information on tourism in Nicaragua click here.
City Walking Tour (Self Guided)
On our first day we went for a stroll around the town.
We climbed the bell tower of the ancient Iglesia de la Merced for fabulous views of the town.
We then strolled down Calle La Calzada to the lake. On the way we stopped to watch young teams play baseball in a local park. They were quite impressive and the locals watching with us were enthusiastic with their cheers and encouragement. Baseball is big in Nicaragua.
We also passed the Capilla del Sagrado Corazon (Chapel of the Sacred Heart) which is close to the lake.
Heading back to the centre of town the cathedral is one of the must see buildings and the symbol of Granada. It has frequent masses and is obviously an important part of the town's life. It is interesting that it contains more statues of Mary than Jesus. Every year a statue of Mary is taken from the cathedral by a boat filled with flowers to the islands in the lake. The statues are dressed in real gowns, very shiny and expensive.
The Cathedral sits opposite the main town plaza and central park so is a good spot for watching Granadan life.
Calle La Calzada, which runs from the plaza to the lake, is also the street to find most of the city's restaurants and bars. It's partly pedestrianised.
Night Tour to Volcan Masaya
One of our evenings started with a very exciting visit to the Masaya volcano. The volcano had become more active recently and was closed for months after spitting rocks and lava at visitors, injuring a couple of them . It has now been reopened but park rangers only allow a small number of visitors up to the rim at a time to make evacuation easier.
When our turn came we drove up to the top of the volcano, becoming more and more excited as the red glow in the sky grew bigger and bigger. We parked and went to the edge of the rim and looked into the crater.
There was a roar like a wild surf from the rolling lava. Tall liquid spires leapt and collapsed and the crater glowed and flared red. It was an awesome sight.
Then our time (15 minutes per group) was up and we had to return back down to the base of the volcano. The trip cost us $US25 p.p.
Boat Trip to Las Isletas
Lake Nicaragua where Granada is located is said to have 365 small islands or isletas (one for each day of the year). We didn't count them but there were certainly a lot of them that we saw on our afternoon boat trip on the lake. We went with a local tour operator (there are lots in Calle La Calzada near the restaurants) and paid $US15 p.p for around 3 hours, for our own small boat and guide.
The lake is very pretty as are the isletas but it is polluted. Like a lot of Central America Nicaragua has more than it's fair share of plastic and other rubbish all over, which in this case included the lake.
However, we still enjoyed the trip. Our guide, David, was knowledgeable. We stopped at a couple of the isletas and got off the boat.
One had a small fort built to defend against marauding English, Dutch and French pirates who sailed up the Rio San Juan from the Caribbean and into the lake, attacking Granada on several occasions.
We also visited an isleta with a pool, nice views and a bar.
Time for a mojito. Then back to shore and into town.
We took a half day trip (5 hours) to Mombacho Volcano with Tierra Tours and Carlos, our very professional guide. Cost was $US30 p.p as we had 4 people – Laura and Mat from Baltimore who we met that day and us. It would've been $5 more each if it had only been the two of us.
After a drive of about 45 minutes we arrived at a small coffee growing settlement on the shoulder of the volcano where Carlos explained a bit about the growing and production process.
We then went for a walk around the rim of another volcano, with fumaroles pushing sulphuric steam out of holes in the ground.
It was a cloudy day so the views were obscured – a bit like our visit to the Cloud Forests in Costa Rica (click here to read that post).
Carlos skilfully managed to spot a small, well camouflaged green frog as well as numerous monkeys.
His knowledge of the forest's plants was also very interesting.
On the way back to town we stopped as Carlos had spotted a big mob of howler monkeys. We saw a troupe of about 30, big males, timid babies with their cautious mothers and naughty teenagers leaping from branch to branch in risk taking manner.
This is a just a taste of Granada. Many people come to do volcano surfing. There's lots of hiking, horse riding and other outdoor options. Have a look at this website for more information.
A final word on accommodation. We'd like to give a plug to the excellent and affordable Hotel Casa del Consulado. We started each day with a delicious breakfast sitting in polished wood and velvet chairs by the pool.
The old colonial house has been sensitively and tastefully turned into a small and lovely hotel. Staff were very attentive and friendly and it's only a couple of blocks from the Parque Central. Highly recommended.
Cally and Ken