Days 1-2: Granada, Nicaragua
Granada is a charming city known for its Spanish colonial architecture. It is located 50 minutes south of Managua on the shore of Lake Nicaragua. The city’s center plaza has a cosmopolitan flair and lots of museums, churches, galleries, hotels, restaurants, and bars. Granada also makes a great home-base for exploring nearby attractions like Mombacho Volcano, Las Isletas archipelago, nature reserves, and Apoyo Lagoon. Most accommodations are situated in picturesque, colonial buildings with rooms built around stunning courtyard gardens and swimming pools. My top hotel recommendations are Casa Cubana and Miss Margrit’s.
There are direct flights from the U.S. to Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, from Atlanta, Houston, and Miami. There are also direct flights from San Salvador and Panama City. There is very little to see in Managua, so go straight to Granada. An alternative is to fly to Liberia in Costa Rica and take the Tica Bus from Liberia Airport across the border to Nicaragua. The ride can take a few hours plus a 2-4 hour wait at the border.
Day 1: Saturday Exploring Colonial Granada
You’ll probably arrive in Granada around lunch time. Head into the city’s center and enjoy a lunch of delicious salads, smoothies, and homemade baked treats at The Garden Café. Wander across the café to the Parque Central and check out the impressive, yellow Cathedral of Granada. Aside from being a beautiful building, it is wonderfully cool inside and provides a nice break from the heat. From the cathedral, stroll down Calle la Calzada, Granada’s main street, and take in the colorful buildings, market stalls, and interesting shops. Near the end of the Calzada is Soy Nica, a leather goods haven where you can find exquisite bags, purses, and belts that are all made on site. If you have time, you can even arrange a tour of the workshop. On the way back to your hotel, indulge in mouth-watering gelato at Montebianco and relax in its beautiful garden.
Cool off in your hotel pool then grab a drink and some dinner at Espressionista where all of its delicious food is locally sourced. Andreas, one of the owners, is genuinely passionate about food and drink and takes time to explain the menu to his customers. There is also a clothing store at the back of the restaurant that sells beautiful, locally-made linen clothes and artisan jewelry.
Day 2: Sunday Discovering Nicaragua’s Natural Beauty
Nearly all the hotels in Nicaragua serve fresh, tropical fruit for breakfast—normally a mixture of passion fruit, papaya, bananas, and unique white pineapple. In addition to fresh fruit, you may also get a plate of eggs, “gallo pinto” (rice and beans), “pico de gallo” (tomato salsa), and some avocado. This hearty Nica breakfast will set you up nicely for an active day!
Straight after breakfast, take a taxi to Mombacho Volcano to buy a ticket for a ride to the active crater ($15 per person, closed Mondays). You can walk up if you are feeling fit, but it isn’t a scenic and is incredibly steep. At the top, guides are available for hire to take you on one of the three trails around the craters and into the cloud forest. The trails differ in length and intensity and your guide can recommend the right choice for you. The cloud forest is an incredible experience. You will see an abundance of flora, fauna, and animals—some of which, like the Mombacho salamander, are unique to this reserve. Remember to pack a jacket or sweater as it can get a little chilly in the forest.
After descending, take a taxi to Laguna de Apoyo, a massive volcanic crater lake where you can spend the rest of the day swimming and relaxing. Ask your driver to take you to Hotel San Simian on the banks of the lagoon. Day guests at San Simian pay and entrance fee of $5 per person and can use all the hotel’s facilities, including inner tubes, kayaks, and small catamarans. There is also a restaurant lunch is served all afternoon.
After an afternoon by the lake, return to Granada for dinner. Carnivores should sample El Zaguan, a restaurant popular for its flame-grilled steaks and meats. Alternatively, The Euro Café and The Garden Café have varied dinner menus with lots of options for both meat-lovers and vegetarians.
Ever been to Granada? Help a fellow traveler by sharing your recommendations in the reply field below!
Kathleen is a contributing editor to En Route Traveler. From a young age, Her parents took her and her sister on many adventures all over the world. Kathleen has lived in South Africa, London, and Paris. After five years of being a stressed corporate lawyer, she gave it all up to move to Nicaragua where she trained as a yoga teacher, learned to surf, and worked at the eco-lodge, Buena Vista Surf Club. Kathleen loves fitness, vegetarian cooking, contributing to the wellness blog, Hip and Healthy, and managing her own sites Yum Yoga and Super Fit and Super Food.