Lisa Owen

Step into the Nicaraguan town of Granada and you’ll find a gritty, colonial town filled with colourful buildings, tree lined main streets and a handful of old and new cathedrals and churches only separated by a few blocks. Nicaragua is becoming increasingly known by some as the “new Costa Rica”. It’s cheap, and has lots of natural assets mainly in the form of volcanoes, jungle and crater lakes.

Granada is similar to the colonial city of Antigua in Guatemala, but you’ll find it a lot grittier and busier. There’s less tourists here than Antigua and you’ll get an insight into local life – and perhaps a little culture shock. You’ll see marketplaces buzzing with people, restaurants opening out to beautiful courtyards, and old American school buses and pick up trucks loaded with people making their way through crowded streets.

Granada is dominated by the distinctive 1000 metre Volcano Mombacho – which is still active and daily issues steam and sulphur gases, however the volcano is often ringed by thick cloud at its peak so it’s unusual to see the volcano in its entirety. But you can see the volcano from most places in Granada, as well as from Lake Nicaragua. I came to Granada on a tour with G Adventures and stayed at Los Chilamates Hotel. It’s a new, secure and modern hotel complete with a pool and bar. But you’ll likely be too busy exploring all the volcanoes to make use of the pool. From Los Chilamates Hotel, it’s about a 15 minute walk to the centre of town, but there’s a large supermarket only a minute’s walk away if you need to pick up snacks or drinks.

In Granada’s centre, there’s a number of hostels if you’re looking for a more budget option. Once you’re settled into your accommodation and got your bearings, take a wander down the colourful streets of Granada. There’s buildings of all colours, including vibrant blues, greens and purples.

Colourful streets

The centre of Granada is dominated by the cathedral on the east side of Central Park. It was first constructed in the 15th century but has been rebuilt several times since then. You can see the Cathedral from most parts of the city and it’s a good reference point.

In Central Park there’s a row of market stalls with unique souvenirs as well as assorted clothing and handmade bags. Central Park is also where you can catch a horse and cart to see some of Granada. You can’t miss the rows of horse and carts – or the people tasked with enticing you to take a ride around the city will find you!

Bell tower

For great views of Granada and back to the Cathedral, head to the La Merced Church. Don’t be deterred by the weathered look of the church from the outside – the church is beautiful and the 360-degree view across Granada from the bell tower is worth a look. The cost to enter the bell tower is $US1 (about £0.75). To reach the bell tower, it’s a very narrow and winding set of stairs up, but the views are worth it. The tower is open every day except Sunday. The La Merced Church has been rebuilt a couple of times. It was first built in 1539 but suffered severe damage in the 1600s and 1800s.

Also worth a look in Granada is the Tio Antonio Hammock Factory. The factory is staffed largely by deaf mute Nicaraguans who may otherwise be out on the street due to their disability. You can buy direct from the producer and if you visit the on site café, you will gain an insight into the hammock making process.

Hammock factory

The hammocks are beautiful and well made, crafted in a variety of bright colours. Prices for the hammocks start from $US40 (£30). The factory also ships to some overseas locations if you don’t have room for a hammock in your luggage.

The on site Cafe de las Sonrisas or the Café of Smiles is also staffed by deaf mute employees. There’s common sign language phrases on the tables and walls. This café is the first of its kind in Central America, and the fourth in the world.

Lookout view

During my visit to Granada, I also went on a tour that included lunch at the Catarina Lookout overlooking the Laguna de Apoya. The tour was run by Tierra Tour, which has a range of tours on offer including sightseeing trips to Lake Nicaragua islets and nearby volcanoes.

Laguna de Apoya is a volcanic crater that filled with water over time and vegetation grew on its sides. It’s a thermal lake with temperatures sitting around 28 degrees. You can swim in the lake or go birdwatching in the surrounding vegetation. Diving tours are also offered in the crater lake for experienced divers.

Lunch was served at the Asu Restaurant, only a couple of steps away from the Laguna de Apoya lookout.


My tour group was served our choice of chicken, fish or beef served on a sizzling plate, and accompanied with deep fried banana chips, baked banana and chips. The meal was different to anything I’d had before and definitely hit the spot after wandering the local area in the hot sun. If you’re visiting Nicaragua, I hope you like bananas – they’re served in every meal – either fresh, baked or fried.

After the Caterina viewpoint visit, it’s a short drive to the Valentino Lopez School of Ceramics in Masaya. We learnt about the process of ceramic makings from the collection of the clay and colourful rocks for painting – and some of my group had a go at making their own ceramic creation.


The facility uses natural or used products in the ceramic making process. The clay is collected from the nearby area; the paints are made from rocks collected across Nicaragua; and the paintbrushes are made from empty pen tubes and women’s hair.

While nearby the town of Masaya, you may also want to visit the market, Mercado Artesania, to pick up some souvenirs or just take a look at the many items on offer. Another popular spot on the tourist circuit is a boat ride around the islets of Lake Nicaragua. There’s more than 300 islets and there are many operators offering boat tours to sail by some of the islets, or you may want to go for a kayak.

You’ll probably be hungry after all your sightseeing. Back in Granada, one of your dining options is the restaurant Nectar – located on Granada’s pedestrianised main street Calle La Calzada.

Nectar has a lovely courtyard area out the back and offers up a mix of meals such as burritos, sandwiches and they also have a great mix of cocktails to choose from - try the Macuá or the mango mojita – especially refreshing on a hot day. The Macuá is made with white rum and fruit juices and is considered to be the national drink of Nicaragua.

Nectar is one of many restaurants that feature a courtyard, so you have the option to sit inside or outside. As you wander the streets of Granada, you’ll glimpse many beautiful courtyards through the front doors of restaurants. These were once houses and courtyards were a common feature in colonial Granada houses. They were largely designed to welcome and meet visitors and do business in a section away from the rest of the household.

For breakfast, Kathy’s Waffle House is popular, especially on the weekend. As the name suggests, waffles are aplenty on the menu but they also offer hot breakfasts of many kinds such as eggs and pancakes.

Granada has a couple of popular Irish pubs in town, but if you’re looking for a cheap drink head to one of the local bars on and around Calle La Calzada. Beers are very cheap at around £1.40. It's a fun place to head out, but make sure you take a taxi when you head home if you’re staying outside the centre. The small city surrounded by residential houses and the streets have no lights – stay on the safe side and take a taxi rather than walking home along pitch black streets.

Things you should know:

  • US Dollars can be used in Granada but you will get change back in the local currency Cordobas. Both Cordobas and US Dollars can be withdrawn from selected ATMS in Granada. Some foreign cards may not work in Granada ATMs however, so come to Nicaragua with some US Dollars in hand. Be cautious with the ATMs you use and look for ATMs inside banks. To be on the safe side, protect your cards from fraud with a RFID Protection wallet and putting your whole hand over the ATM keypad before you leave to protect your PIN number.
  • To get to Granada, you can fly into the Nicaraguan capital Managua. Then it’s about an hour or so direct to Granada by road.
  • It’s recommended to take a taxi back to your accommodation at night if you’re staying out of the central district.
  • Shop around for tours to meet your budget and taste. Tierra Tours is the tour company used by my group.
  • Non Spanish speakers will find it difficult to communicate in Granada. Consider going on a tour if your Spanish is limited.

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @_thelittleadventurer Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.