Solo Travel in Granada, Nicaragua
The first stop on my solo adventure in Nicaragua was to the city of Granada. Granada has a lot to offer itself, but is also a great base to use to see other sites in the area such as the Mombacho Volcano, Masaya Volcano and market, Laguna de Apoyo, and the Isletas of Lake Nicaragua.
Out of my 9 day itinerary, 2-½ days were set aside for Granada. The entire first day was to go exploring the city by foot and the second day visiting Laguna de Apoyo. The remaining half day was for me to decide after I arrived.
The Journey There & Where to Stay
My flight had landed the previous evening in Managua, where I used Hilton points to stay so that I could travel to Granada the next day. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve realized that it’s only an hour away and there are shuttles that run at night. There are also buses and taxis, you just have to choose what makes sense for your budget, schedule and comfort level.
In Granada, I stayed at the lovely Hotel Casa San Francisco. It’s located just blocks from the Parque Centrale and other major sites. My room had a private bathroom, Spanish tiles and air conditioning, which was a welcome break from the heat, for $65/ night including breakfast. This was a midrange cost option in the nearby area. The staff members were all incredibly friendly and helpful, both prior to my arrival and during my stay. There’s a small pool, a bar and a pretty tasty restaurant. I particularly enjoyed the tamales, fish tacos and the Nica breakfast of rice, beans, egg, and fresh cheese. My favorite spot was the rooftop terrace at sunset where you can get a beautiful view of Mombacho Volcano.
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Exploring Granada by Foot
Hotel Casa San Francisco was kind enough to hold my bag while I explored the city, since I had arrived prior to the check-in time. From there I wandered to Parque Centrale, which is a central hub of activity in city. Across the street, facing the park, is the Granada Cathedral, which has a bell tower you can climb for $1. Inside the cathedral, there were four men playing acoustic guitar which resonated beautiful music all the way to the top of the belltower.
It’s a short walk to Iglesia de la Merced, where you can also walk to the top of the bell tower for panoramic views of the city and surrounding area for $1-2. By now I was starting to get hungry and was told to visit Calle de Calzada, a pedestrianized street with restaurants lining both sides. I actually found the area to be pretty touristy and overpriced, so just kept walking until I came to Guadalupe Church. If I had kept walking, it would’ve taken me to Lake Nicaragua, but I decided to turn back and weave through the neighborhoods back to Casa San Francisco. On the way back I stopped at the Garden Cafe for a Nica lunch plate (NOTE: They have more on their menu than is shown on their website). After checking in and going for a dip in the pool to cool off, I headed back out to explore a bit more.
I happened upon an outdoor market where it appeared the locals did a lot of their shopping. Everything you could imagine was available there from meat, to vegetables, to home goods. At one point I was smiling at a cute little girl when I felt something explode all over my feet (a tomato?). I decided not to look down and see what it was, but just to keep walking. It’s all part of the market experience!
As I exited the market, an older gentleman was sitting on the side of the road at a table selling cheese. He asked me to stop and taste his product, which was absolutely delicious and salty. We talked in my broken Spanish for a few minutes. He was very curious why I was wandering by myself and was intrigued when I explained that I was “solo viajando”, roughly “travelling solo”.
I ended my night with a glass of wine watching the sunset from the rooftop of Casa San Francisco with my new friends, Shirley and Bill, who I had met earlier in the day.
A Disappointing Day Trip to Laguna de Apoyo
Day 2 in Granada started with a day trip to San Simian Eco-lodge at Laguna de Apoyo, about 30-45 minutes from Granada. The lagoon is inside of the caldera of an extinct volcano which makes it a pretty unique ecosystem. San Simian had kayaks, swimming, food, and other activities for the day-trippers. Being that I live in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, I was honestly disappointed. It’s beautiful, but after kayaking and swimming for a bit I wanted to see what else the area had to offer. I ended up walking off the property around the lagoon for a few miles to go exploring. I got to see some quaint churches, monkeys and homes along the way. If you prefer to be more active like me, I’d recommend a hiking trip at the Laguna or Masaya Volcano instead.
Cigars & Chocolate
After returning from Laguna de Apoyo in late afternoon, I decided to visit the Mombacho Cigar shop because I had heard that they had the best rooftop view in town. Unfortunately, the rooftop and tours were not open because of the extended New Year’s celebration. One of the kind workers let me in anyway and gave me a mini-tour for free. I would definitely go back for the full tour if I return to Granada, particularly to roll my own cigar! The cigars are made at tables by a pair of people, one rolls the cigar and the other wraps it. It’s a very hands-on process!
Just down the street from Mombacho Cigar Shop is the ChocoMuseum. I did not do a tour, but they had samples to taste and would teach you about the process of making chocolate for free if you asked. The chocolate tea was a welcome surprise!
My final morning in Granada was spent just wandering through neighborhoods enjoying the colorful buildings. The town is pretty magical early in the morning before it gets crowded. You can grab a coffee and just watch the world go by.
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What I’d Do Differently
As I mentioned, I really didn’t do much research before visiting Granada. If I had the chance to do it over, I would plan to visit the Masaya Market, tour Mombacho Cigars, and kayak the Isletas in Lake Nicaragua. Laguna de Apoyo just wasn’t for me so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
Despite my poor planning, I really fell in love with this vibrant city and would recommend it as a stop when visiting Nicaragua.
Next Stop: Ometepe Island, click here to visit this post.
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