Granada: a must-see city! 🇳🇮

Central America, Nicaragua

Enveloping visitors with the unmistakable sense of stepping into tropical Spain, arriving in the beautifully humid city of Granada in Nicaragua was truly a breathtaking experience. After being fairly secluded on Ometepe (and before that spending time in the cloud forest in Costa Rica), it was welcome change to see beautiful colonial architecture and to finally have some scorching sun. It’s clear to see why so many travellers use the city as a base, with such beautiful cobblestone roads full to the brim of magnificent photogenic elegance, to stunning attractions a short journey into the countryside, this city has it all. Here’s our top pick of things to see!

Top things to do in Granada

1. Climb the staircase at the Iglesia La Merced at sunset

Sunset at Iglesia La MercedMake sure you visit half an hour before sunset (sunset was at 5:30pm so we arrived at 4:45pm in January as the tower officially closes at 5pm). The view from the top is incredible and you can stay until they kick you out! It only costs 30NIO (about 70p/US$1) to climb the stairs up to the top of the clock tower, so you have no excuse not to go!

2. See the Masaya Volcano at night

It’s an hour drive from Granada, but visiting the active Volcano has to be high on your to-do list. Make sure you do the night tour – during the day you won’t get the full experience of the bright lava or feel the heat of it! I have never before seen an active volcano, and it did not disappoint! We paid US$35 each for our night tour with Erik’s tours. Once you arrive at the park entrance, you will sit in traffic for a long time. We arrived at about 5pm, but didn’t get into the viewing point until 7:15pm! They let a certain amount of vehicles in for 15 minute slots, and so if it’s busy you could be waiting a while! It will help if your driver gets fed up easily – ours did and so was overtaking people on the way up! Once your 15 minutes at the top are up, there is a small, informative museum to walk through (and bathrooms to visit) before you are whisked back into the van and driven back to Granada

As part of our volcano trip, we decided to visit the Masaya hand craft market. If you are set on visiting, a quick twenty minutes here would suffice – every item for sale is available in every other shop, and it almost seems as though everything has just been bought in bulk and imported in. I’d possibly say don’t bother; not quite the hand craft market we had hoped!

The pickup from the market to the volcano was also very late – we were worried that they had forgotten us, but we had learnt that Nicaraguan time is something of fluidity – times are rarely stuck to, but nobody seems bothered by this at all. Something will happen, just not when locals tell you it will!

When we arrived at Erik’s office to pay, the saleswoman tried to charge us far more than we were quoted. Luckily we had our email conversations handy and we paid US$35 per person for the Masaya Market and Volcano trip (instead of the US$55 she wanted from us originally!). We had heard similar stories about the same woman from other people on the trip, and the prices seemed to vary between people we spoke to on the trip!

3. Visit the Laguna de Apoya for a day of relaxing by the lake.

There are a few ‘resorts’ in the area that you pay for a day entry to use their area. We paid US$14 each for entry into the Laguna Beach Club (which was lovely and relaxing, and has free kayaks/body boards to use) and a return shuttle from the main office in Granada with Eric’s tours (for some reason, this isn’t listed on their website). We even managed to work out a trip to the Laguna, travel to the market, and then the evening volcano tour as one package. You can also get a taxi, or find similar shuttles from other tour operators.

4. Book a boat trip touring the Isletas

We paid US$27 per person for a morning boat trip, again with Erik’s Tours, around the 365 small islands found off of Granada in Lake Nicaragua. We had a beautiful couple of hours with just one other passenger exploring the different islands, and seeing the famous monkey islands.

5. Get a free cocoa tour at the Museo de Chocolate

The free tour at the Chocolate Museum (they also have museums in Guatemala, Peru, Columbia, Mexico) is worth a visit. The staff will explain to you how cocoa is grown and harvested, and transformed into the chocolate we know and love, with a bit of history along with it. There is no expectation that you have to buy something after, but why wouldn’t you?! The chocolate tastes great, and you can buy other treats like chocolate tea, chocolate liquors, fudge, brownies, and even chocolate beer!

6. Lounge by the exclusive pool hidden behind the Chocolate Museum 


Tucked away at the rear of the Museum (you have to walk through the courtyard) you will find the most beautiful spot for sunbathing and swimming. There is a bar and changing rooms, so you don’t need anything else! We spent a couple of hours in the scorching afternoon sun.

Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua 🇳🇮

Central America

The island of Ometepe comprises two volcanoes; Concepción in the north, which is still active, and Maderas in the south which is dormant. The small island has one main road which rings around Concepción, another road which rings around Maderas, and a third road which links the first two.

The main purpose of our visit to Isla Ometepe was to relax for New Years. We had treated ourselves to an Ecolodge which we had paid for months in advance, and it was perfectly secluded up a bumpy dirty track which took about 15 minutes to drive, and almost destroyed the underneath of any car that dared to venture on it. (This began to become a hassle rather than a treat, as if we wanted to leave the hotel to explore the island we had to pay US$8 to get to the main road. It took about 40 minutes to walk the dirt track, which we did on our first night after eating in Balgüe, but decided it was too much effort after a nice meal!). If we were to return, we would definitely stay in accommodation by the main road, even though our lodge was beautiful. Seclusion has its down sides!

All hamlets on the island are built up around the main road. We stayed in a lodge closest to Balgüe (and Santa Cruz), which in recent years has evolved into one of Nicaragua’s prime destinations for tourism. The best way to get around the island is by bike. It is a long walk between most hamlets, with just farmland and residential areas between the more built up areas.

As it was New Year’s Eve, we only found one restaurant open in Balgüe, which was Cafe Comprende. The meal was lovely, but the restaurant was probably suffering a little from the influx of hungry travellers, it being the only place open. We had heard good things about an Argentinian steakhouse called El Bamboo down the road, but this was closed during our stay. After our hike back to the hotel, we had a drink in the quiet hotel bar and played some games. Without a big party, we simply enjoyed the reclusiveness of the lodge, before watching fireworks across the lake from our patio at midnight.

The next day we got a taxi to Ojo de Agua (“the eye of the water”) – a small swimming hole which was about a 20 minute cab journey away. We would have got the bus from the main road, but being the holidays, it wasn’t running! We paid US$15 to get there and then US$5 each to get in. The hole was beautiful but busy with locals enjoying the sunshine. It would be nice to return on a quieter day to experience the relaxing pool and enjoy a Toña or two by the waterside.

We decided to walk back to our hotel, and this took around two hours, but included a beachside walk, and then a stop in a bar in Santa Cruz for a beer during a sudden downpour.

Other possible activities that we decided not to do during our stay included horseback riding, kayaking on Lake Nicaragua or (for the very adventurous!) a climb up the dormant volcano. Ometepe certainly has its fill of possibilities and many different areas to explore. We chose a relaxing few days, especially in light of our adventures in Granada which was the next stop on the itinerary!