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
Flights land in Managua which is about an hour away from Granada. I used Hilton points to stay In Managua travel to Granada the next day. Given that it’s closeby and there are shuttles that run at night, I recommend going straight to Granada. Buses and taxis are also an option, so just choose what makes sense for your budget, schedule and comfort level.
In Granada, I recommend staying at the lovely Hotel Casa San Francisco. It’s 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 incredibly friendly and helpful, both prior to my arrival and during my stay. There’s a small pool, a bar and a delicious restaurant. The tamales, fish tacos and the Nica breakfast of rice, beans, egg, and fresh cheese are great choices. Be sure to check out the rooftop terrace at sunset for a beautiful view of Mombacho Volcano.
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Exploring Granada by Foot
Hotel Casa San Francisco will kindly hold your bag while you explore the city, even if you arrive before check-in time. From there, wander to Parque Centrale, which is a central hub of activity in city. Across the street, facing the park, is the Granada Cathedral. Climb the bell tower for incredible views of the city for just $1! If you’re lucky, there may be musicians practicing inside the cathedral with their music resonating all the way up to the top of bell tower.
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 cityand surrounding area for $1-2. If you’re feeling a bit hungry, walk to Calle de Calzada which is a pedestrianized street with restaurants lining both sides. Expect this area to be pretty touristy and overpriced. Walk past the restaurant along Calle de Calzada until you come to Guadalupe Church. Take a wander inside or just enjoy the bustling crowd from one of the benches in front of the church.
If you keep walking, this street will take you to Lake Nicaragua. Alternatively, you can turn back and weave through the neighborhoods back towards Casa San Francisco. On the way back, stop at the less touristy Garden Cafe for a Nica lunch plate. They offer much more on their menu than what is shared on their website!
Check into your room, go for a dip in the pool to cool off and then head out to explore the city some more!
A Local Market & a Sunset View
If you love visiting local markets when you travel, Granada has a great one. I happened upon an outdoor market not far from Parque Centrale. Everything you could imagine was available there from meat, to vegetables, to home goods.
While walking through the market, I was smiling at a cute little girl when I felt something explode all over my feet. I’m hoping it was 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 you exit the market, there will be tables selling locally made cheese. An older gentleman asked me to stop and taste his product. It was absolutely delicious and salty! He was so curious about why I was wandering by myself. I tried to explain in my broken Spanish that I was “solo viajando”, roughly “travelling solo”. He laughed and I’m pretty sure I heard the word “loco” in his response.
Take your time weaving back through the city as the sun sets. Then, grab a glass of wine and head up to the rooftop of Casa San Francisco to watch the sunset. It’s the perfect way to end a day of exploring by foot.
A Disappointing Day Trip to Laguna de Apoyo
On Day 2 in Granada, you could take a day trip to one of the many lodges at Laguna de Apoyo. This is about 30-45 minutes from Granada by bus. The lagoon is inside of the caldera of an extinct volcano which makes it a pretty unique ecosystem. I visited San Simian Eco-lodge which had kayaks, swimming, food, and other activities for day-trippers. It also had lodging if you want to spend a night there.
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. From San Simian, you can walk off the property around the lagoon for a few miles and explore by foot. There are some quaint churches, monkeys and homes along the way. If you prefer to be more active, I’d recommend a hiking trip at the Laguna or Masaya Volcano instead of a daytrip to one of the lodges. If you are looking for a relaxing day on the water, a lodge will be a perfect option!
Cigars & Chocolate
After returning from Laguna de Apoyo in late afternoon, visit the Mombacho Cigar shop! Rumor has it that they have the best rooftop view in town. Unfortunately for me, the rooftop and tours were not open because of the extended New Year’s celebration. However, one of the kind workers 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. If you like chocolate at all, definitely visit and consider taking a tour. Even if you skip the tour, like me, they had samples to taste and would teach you about the process of making chocolate for free if you asked. Pro Tip: Try the chocolate tea!!!
My final morning in Granada was spent just wandering through neighborhoods enjoying the colorful buildings. The town is magical early in the morning before it gets crowded. Grab a coffee and just watch the world go by.
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What I’d Do Differently
I 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.