In 1524 Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba named Granada after the city of home country. One of the oldest, if not the oldest, colonial cities in Latin America, Granada once rivaled León for the title of Capital. For more than 300 years the city was repeatedly attacked by pirates, burned and rebuilt several times. Part of its history includes an attack in 1856 by American Renaissance man and mercenary William Walker who tried to establish slave colonies there under his personal control.
Today Granada is a pretty city with many charms. Having spent only three nights there, I cannot claim to have seen it all, but enjoyed relaxing after a week of building with Habitat in Estelí. Here are the highlights of our time in this quaint, lively, lakeside city with a youthful vibe.
Although it’s actually closer to the Pacific than the Atlantic, Lake Cocibolca, or Lake Nicaragua, accesses both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic via the San Juan River making Granada a port city. The lake is the largest freshwater lake in Central American and makes for a great day trip to escape the heat of Granada. As our R&R, Habitat had arranged an afternoon on a small island on the lake, complete with lunch, drinks, a swimming pool and kayaks!
Nicaragua sits on the Ring of Fire where most of the world’s earthquakes occur due to plate tectonic activity. Nicaragua has 19 active volcanoes, two of which are easily seen while staying in Granada. We visited the countries first national park, Masaya Volcano National Park.
We went at dusk, but you can also visit at night, which I am told is quite a sight. Approaching the precipice and looking down into the crater and actually seeing glowing molten lava and rising smoke, all I could think about were the poor maidens who must have been sacrificed to appease the angry gods. Holy smokes! It was crazy cool.
We enjoyed dinner at the popular Garden Café, which has tasty options for carnivore and vegans alike as well as a nicely stocked gift shop promoting local artisans and designers. Finally we danced the night away at Reilly’s Irish Tavern on Calle La Libertad; it was ladies night “and the feelin’ was right“…
Strolling around on the cobble-stoned streets of Granada is fun any time of the day and into the evening. You might catch a live performance in the town square on the weekend, or wander in and out of shop after gallery after shop, meeting local artisans as you go.
Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Cathedral, or simply Granada Cathedral, is smack dab in the middle of town on the main square. It’s oft photographed and easy to spot. Consider popping into La Iglesia San Francisco and its Museo del Convento de San Francisco. Inside the church is a crypt showcasing the skeleton of what is reported to be an indigenous person, but most likely a Spanish soldier.
We stayed at two hotels during our brief time in Granada; both were superb. Once a stately home, La Gran Francia has beautifully preserved its colonial architecture. It’s also got a unique story on its name, which illustrates a piece of Granada’s history. Our last night was spent at Granada Hotel Colonial a new hotel built in the colonial style with a most welcome site, a swimming pool. Both hotels have lavish breakfast options, well-appointed rooms and are located just off the main square.
La Calzada is Granada’s main pedestrian only street, a lively spot to enjoy drinks and food outside at one of the many bars and restaurants. Around sunset they all offer great happy hour deals. Street hawkers and strolling musicians abound for your pleasure.
Cooking classes are my weakness when I travel. I always seek them out. This one did not disappoint. I really enjoy getting to know a place through it’s food and La Tortilla provided a wonderful opportunity to first shop and learn about Nicaraguan food at Mercado Municipal, Granada’s local market.
Markets? Well, another of my weaknesses. What I loved most about this market is it is for Granadinos, not tourists. Locals shop daily and can buy just about anything here – meat, seafood, produce, prepared food, coffee, rice, beans, clothes, buttons, pet food, pots, pans, piñatas, you name it!
Goods in hand we walked to the school and cooked up some tasty food all the while drinking sangria and wine. Happily we ended by eating all the fruits of our labors. Recipes are sent via email so you can recreate your memories at home.
[HOT TIP: I booked all my airport transfers and other land travel in Nicaragua with Iskra Travel. I highly recommend them. Their prices were the best, pre-booking via email was super easy and the drivers were on time and courteous.]
[HOT TIP: On the drive to Granada from Estelí we stopped at the craft market in Masaya City. If you’ve never been to a craft market, then it’s worth a stop. If you’ve seen many, this one won’t be your favorite. There are interesting things to be found, but overall many of the vendors sell similar gimcracks and cater mainly to tourists.]