Things to do in Granada – Nicaragua. A complete guide and everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip to this beautiful city.
Granada is one of Nicaragua’s most popular cities and certainly one of the prettiest! With its laid back atmosphere, colourful streets and colonial architecture, it’s a ‘must see’ on any Nicaraguan itinerary.
Here’s our top 6 things you must do in and around Granada – Nicaragua:
1. Head up to the Iglesia de La Merced Bell Tower
If there is one thing you absolutely cannot miss during your time in Granada, it’s heading up to the Iglesia de Le Merced Bell Tower. With 360° aerial views, it’s the ultimate spot for vistas over Granada and beyond. From up here you can see the Mombacho Volcano, Lake Nicaragua, Granada Cathedral and all the other church spires dotted around the city! On a clear day, head up for an amazing sunset vantage point! Entrance: US$1
2. Stroll through the colourful, colonial cobblestone streets
Granada is one of those places you can just wander around aimlessly. With its colonial architecture, colourful buildings and cobblestone streets, its a very photogenic place. Our tip is go with the flow, zig zag your way through this safe and laid back city on your own DIY walking tour. Be sure to wander along Calle la Calzada with its bars, restaurants and street performers. And don’t miss the historic Iglesia Guadelope. But other than that, ditch the map and roam free in one of Latin America’s most charming cities.
3. Visit Granada Cathedral
Our Lady of the Assumption – Granada’s iconic bright yellow cathedral. Usually just referred to as the Granada Cathedral, this neoclassical church may have been rebuilt a few times, but it is definitely worth a visit. Impeded by trees and located on the busy east side of the central park of Granada (Parque Central De Granada), means it not always the easiest building to photograph from ground level. In our opinion, the best photos of this vibrant building are taken from the Iglesia de La Merced Bell Tower with its Lake Nicaragua backdrop (as above). Viewing this beauty is guaranteed to brighten up your day! Entrance: Free (when open)
4. Indulge in Nicaragua’s national dish
You can’t visit Granada without trying Nicaragua’s national dish – Gallo Pinto. This mixture of rice and beans is a dish Nicaraguans will happily eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As did we! We couldn’t get enough of this cheap and super tasty meal. Often accompanied with cheese, plantain, eggs or meat, every one we had was slightly different, yet all were delicious. Whether it be from a little roadside fritanga or a fancy restaurant, you have to try this Nicaraguan staple.
5. Explore Laguna de Apoyo
Whether you book an easily organised day trip, or a multi night stay, a visit to Laguna de Apoyo is a must. Located about 25 minutes drive from Granada, there are multiple resorts and hotels scattered along the edge of this massive crater lake, making visits easy and enjoyable. Most places have free access to paddle boards, kayaks and swimming platforms, so you’ll likely spend a lot of time in or on this picturesque lake. If getting wet doesn’t appeal, there’s hikes to viewpoints and wildlife to keep you busy. Or if you really want to relax, just top up that tan on a sunlounger with a cocktail or Toña Cerveza to hand.
Check out our guide to Laguna de Apoyo for more information
6. Visit Masaya Volcano
The nearby Masaya Volcano National Park is another easy visit from Granada, both day and night. Most people visit for a sunset viewing, as by day the lava is generally not visible. But, as darkness falls, the ‘lava lake’ begins to glow. There’s not too many places in the world where you can see bubbling molten lava this easily. Due to the fumes, viewings are brief – 10-15 minutes and not overly cheap. But, standing on the craters edge and staring into the volcanic caldera which the spaniards named “La Boca del Infierno” which translates to “The Mouth of Hell” is worth it in our opinion. Entrance: US$10. Night tour from Granada US$20 (includes transport, guide & entrance)
Getting to/from and around Granada – Nicaragua
The cheapest way to get to around Nicaragua is by chicken bus. Tourist shuttles are also available between major cities but in comparison, cost a lot more.
From San Juan Del Sur (SJDS) to Granada
We took a chicken bus from SJDS to Rivas bus station. This took around 1hr 15m and cost C$30p/p (US$,90c). From Rivas bus Station, we jumped on another chicken bus to Granada which took 1.5hr and cost C$50p/p (US$1.50). Of course, if you’re travelling to SJDS from Granada, you can do this journey in reverse.
From Granada to Leon or Managua
You can reach Leon or Managua via chicken bus or tourist shuttle. It’s best to ask at your hotel/hostel from prices and schedules for both. Catching a chicken bus will likely only cost a few dollars and a tourist shuttle will likely cost around US$20.
Unfortunately, our late May 2018 visit coincided with the protests against the social security reforms and subsequent uprising against Daniel Ortega, and his government and we were unable to reach Leon as originally planned. There were excessive roadblocks and riots all over the country and we had to flee Granada, literally. Our only way out of the country was to head back to Costa Rica. So, we never made to the north of the country!
To Masaya Volcano Granada
By far the quickest and easiest, yet most expensive way to visit Masaya Volcano is by organised tour. Tours generally include door to door transport, entrance to the national park and a guide. They typically last around 2 hrs and cost around US$20-US$30p/p.
The cheapest, but of course slower options is to DIY
Buses from Granada to Masaya depart about 30mins and cost approx US$1. Ask your hotel where to catch the bus from. Tell the bus steward you want to go to Mayasa Volcano and they will drop you near the entrance. Walk across the road to the entrance and buy your ticket US$5 during the day, US$10 at night (2018 prices).
From the entrance, you can get a ride to the top for approx US$5. Once at the the top, join the queue. You will be directed to the rim once it’s your turn, but will only be allowed a short amount of time there. This applies to those on organised tours also. Jump back in your car and head back down to the entrance gate. From there, jump back on a bus heading to Granada approx US$1.
To Laguna De Apoyo Nature Reserve
Laguna de Apoyo is approximately 25minutes drive from Granada and you can visit the lake as part of a day trip or visit independently. Checkout our Laguna de Apoyo blog for details on all the options to get here.
There’s lots of places to stay in Granada, Nicaragua. Of all the options, we chose El Arca de Noe. This small guesthouse cost about USD$10 per night for a twin room, including breakfast, which was a steal! The owner Carlos was super friendly and helpful, the location was great and rooms were very clean. He even gave us a free guided tour of Granada in his car, along with some invaluable safety information regarding the political tensions.
How much time do you need in Granada – Nicaragua?
As always, this is a tricky one as everyone has different interests. If your short on time in Nicaragua, 1-2 full days is enough time to explore the city of Granada. But if you want to visit Masaya Volcano and Laguna de Apoyo, you’ll need at least 1 extra day. If booking organised trips, you can head to the lake for a day and visit Masaya that same evening.
When to visit Granada – Nicaragua
Granada, like the rest of Nicaragua, has two distinct seasons – a dry and a wet. The dry season falls from December through April and is the most popular time to visit.
The wet season falls from the end of April through to early November. May and November are considered ‘shoulder’ season months and can be good months to visit. There’s less crowds, cheaper accommodation and only sporadic rain.
December and January are the busiest and most expensive months to visit.
Granada is a beautiful city which is certainly worth visiting. We really enjoyed our visit, despite the escalating political tensions which ultimately cut our visit short.
Planning a trip to Nicaragua? Don’t miss these posts: