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All About Granada – Nicaragua

Granada - NicaraguaAll About Granada – Nicaragua

Granada is one of Nicaragua’s two famous & gorgeous colonial towns, the other being Leon. Of the two,Granada is the fancier and grander.

It’s streets are clean for the most part, in contrast to Leon’s trash-littered roads. Nearly all of Granada’s thousands of colonial buildings have been renovated, in contrast to Leon, which has a even mix of restored and dilapidated buildings. And Granada has several very grand, opulent, fancily-decorated colonial buildings and churches, while Leon doesn’t have such grandeur. To top off its more genteel atmosphere, Granada has dozens of fancy horse and carriages waiting to show visitors around the city and down to the lakeside.

My first destination in Nicaragua was Leon, arriving overland from neighboring Honduras. Being enamored of architecture, particularly colonial architecture, I immediately loved Leon and stayed 10 days enjoying the architecture, museums, cafes and a nearby beach. I wrote all about my Leon experience here.

Granada - main plaza - horse & carriages - cathedralI had heard Granada was the more polished city, so after lovely Leon I was even more excited to visit Granada. Pulling into town in a shuttle van from Leon and driving through the city streets to reach my accommodation, I caught glimpses of the immaculately renovated buildings, including a few of the grand, three-story beauties and was already in love.

When I settled in, I wasted no time heading out to the main plaza/cathedral area. It was just one block from my hotel. As I turned the corner into the main plaza I was Wow-ed. A large flag-stone plaza was lined on two sides by quaint colonial shops with open-air hallways supported by wood pillars.

That plaza opened directly onto the larger main plaza where exceptionally fancy, grand buildings stand next to the impressive golden cathedral. In front of the cathedral was Granada’s park-like main plaza full of shady trees and lined on its other sides by more stunning buildings. And there was the long row of dual-horse & carriages. It was almost like stepping back into a past century.

Grand colonial buildings in GranadaI soon also discovered Granada’s incredible geographical location – set on the western shores of huge Lake Nicaragua AND situated at the base of tree-covered, craggy Mombacho Volcano, which is clearly visible from the plazas when its not hidden behind clouds.

I strolled the broad street-lamp-lined split road down to the lakeside, grabbing a fresh coconut to drink en route. Several horse & carriages clip-clopped by, carrying visitors to the lake and back into town. After admiring the lake views, I headed back into the heart of town to explore further.

I spent a week wandering the streets, visiting several very impressive churches, stopping in the Choco Museum and Hotel for a free tour about chocolate production, touring a small cigar-making factory, and climbing up into two church bell towers for panoramic views over the city, volcano and lake. Below are my recommendations on best things to see & do in Granada.

interior of Iglesia Xalteva - Granada - NicaraguaAnother great thing about Granada is that it’s within 30-60 minutes of several of Nicaragua’s most interesting and important destinations: artisan villages in the mountains, pretty crater lakes, several climbable volcanoes, the Nicaraguan capital city of Managua and smaller Masaya town, set on the shores of tiny Lake Masaya.

With all of Granada’s beautiful architecture and nearby natural sites, the city makes the best base in the region for explorations. Visitors could easily fill up one to two week’s of activities.

Within Granada town, the best things to do, in my opinion are the following:

Iglesia Xalteva and Iglesia Maria Auxiladora in GranadaWander around town admiring all the beautiful buildings and churches

Climb the bell towers of the Cathedral and/or Iglesia La Merced

Both towers provide stunning views over the city and beyond to Lake Nicaragua in the east, Mombacho Volcano to the south and low mountains to the west.

The best times to visit either tower are in early mornings, from opening time at 8 am and in afternoons from about 4 until closing time at 5 pm. You’ll have the best light to enjoy the stunning vistas, especially for taking photos. In contrast, midday will usually be scorching hot and glaring.

Visit the city’s most beautiful churches

These include Iglesia Xalteva, Iglesia Maria Auxiladora, Iglesia La Merced and the Cathedral.

All of these churches have truly stunning interiors. And each is completely different from the others. If you like architecture and/or churches I highly recommend visiting all of them.

rolling cigars at Dona Elba Cigar Factory - Granada

rolling cigars at Dona Elba Cigar Factory – Granada

Learn How Cigars Are Rolled

At tiny Dona Elba Cigar Factory, one block from Iglesia Xalteva, the friendly English-speaking guides will walk you through the factory, where employees are busy rolling, clipping, pressing and finishing off world-class cigars. They also encourage you to try rolling your own cigar!

Visit the fantastic Choco Museum and Hotel

Granada’s Choco Museum is very similar to the Choco Museum in Antigua, Guatemala. But better. Their free guided tours go into much more detail on the processes of growing cacao trees and producing chocolate. The guides are entertaining and they give you tasty samples of all sorts of chocolate products: liquers, chocolate tea, cookies, chocolate bars and also body creams.

They sell all the products in their shop, but they also have a restaurant set in a huge open-air courtyard with lots of artwork everywhere. It’s really more like an art gallery and merges into the Chocolate Hotel, which has more rooms filled with art, designer chairs and a swimming pool in a leafy garden. The hotel has a $6 day pass for visitors who want to hang out in the pool and rooms. It gets awfully hot in Granada, so it’s a tempting option.

classical orchestra performance at Casa de Tres Mundos

classical orchestra performance at Casa de Tres Mundos

Check out the cultural center, Casa de Los Tres Mundos

Situated in a beautifully restored colonial building and offering many performances during weekday evenings. Primarily this cultural center provides classes in music, dance, art and theater. The schools are well-attended by Granada youth, which is awesome.

It’s worth visiting the Casa during the day time to admire the beautiful architecture, a famous floor mosaic and plenty of art. Find out the performance schedule for the time you’re in Granada and plan to attend. They’re generally free.

horse & carriage in GranadaRide in a horse-drawn carriage

Dozens of horse-drawn carriages stand waiting passengers at Granada’s main plaza. They provide various rides and tours of the city. You can simply ride down to the lake and back or take a tour of all the main sites, including several churches and other attractions. The drivers talk about the city and main sites, wait for passengers to go inside the churches and other places on the tour.

Walk down to the lakeside of Lake Nicaragua

As I mentioned, a wide and rather grand road runs down from the main plaza to the lakeside. Initially the road is slined by several blocks of upscale restaurants, cafes, boutiques and bars. Beyond that it’s a shady stroll under big leafy trees. It takes about 15-20 minutes from the plaza. Alternately, you can ride a horse-drawn carriage to the lake.

lake view at Islas de Granada

lake view at Islas de Granada

Day Trips From Granada

Laguna Apoyo

Masaya, set on the shores of Laguna Masaya

Climb Masaya Volcano (hot lava visible at nights!)

Climb Mombacho Volcano

Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city

Boat trip on Lake Nicaragua around the Isletas de Granada

Visit various artisan villages in the nearby mountains

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I haven’t yet done any of these day trips from Granada, so I can’t get into detail in this post. But I’ll be heading back to Granada in November to do just that, so I’ll write about those adventures in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

You might also enjoy:

All About Leon – Nicaragua

My Introduction to Nicaragua

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