Want to know what to do in Granada Nicaragua?
From touring the colonial city by morning to cruising the volcanic isletas of Granada on Lake Nicaragua in the afternoon. Mix it up a little with these great ways to spend one day in Granada.
Take a Granada City Tour
Granada Nicaragua is a city that makes you go Awww as soon as you arrive. It is colourful, vibrant and screaming to be explored.
Start your day with a private tour of the beautiful colonial city. Sure, Granada is easy to explore on your own, but there are many things to see in Granada beyond the immediate city centre.
A private tour is not only cheap, but it will also take you a little further afield from the town centre, will usually include transport by horse-drawn carriage, and a bilingual guide can shed some light on the cities fascinating history.
Cost: Expect to pay around $25 USD pp for a 3-hour private tour. Tours include transportation (horse-drawn carriage), entrance fees and bilingual guide. We did this three-hour city tour.
Stroll Through Parque Colón
Lined with brilliantly coloured horse-drawn carriages, the central plaza of Granada, Parque Colón is alive with bright cafe stalls, and vendors selling all kinds of stuff you kind of don’t want or need. This is the meeting place of Granada, the quintessential central square.
Surrounded by great restaurants and some very cool cafes bringing a whole new feel to Granada, the central square is the perfect place to head for a coffee and good session of people watching.
Explore Magnificent Churches and Museums
The Granada Cathedral
Playing centre stage to this almost film set city is the most prominent and recognisable building in Granada (and possibly Nicaragua), the Granada Cathedral.
This grand old building, built in 1583, was destroyed by the pirate William Walker in 1856 and rebuilt over a period of 15 years in 1915. In addition to three naves and four chapels, it also has a series of underground tunnels joined to other churches in the city. These were used by the priests as a type of secret escape hatch during these dangerous times of pirate attacks.
The cathedral has recently undergone a makeover. As is the rest of Granada, to both restore the beautiful city to its former colonial glory and to support a number of UNESCO applications. This landmark building is visible from almost anywhere in Granada.
San Francisco Church and Museum
The San Francisco Church and attached convent have also undergone many reincarnations. Originally built from wood and straw shortly after the founding of Granada, it burned down in 1685. After being rebuilt it also suffered at the hands of William Walker in the great fire of 1856 with a final rebuild completed in 1939.
The convent now serves as a museum housing some of Granada’s most valuable antiquities, salvaged from the hands of pirates and a history of destruction. It is also one of the most visited museums in Granada.
Iglesia La Merced
Built in 1534, Iglesia La Merced Church in the centre of town offers the best views in Granada. It costs around $1USD to climb to the top of the bell tower.
Enjoy a Horse Drawn Carriage Tour Out of Town
If you are doing a private city tour, no doubt it will include a carriage ride to see some of the interesting sites further from the centre of Granada. What better way to explore the outer areas of the old city than cruising the back streets in a horse-drawn cart, soaking up the atmosphere.
Tip: Expect to pay around $5 for a 30-minute “tour” and $10-$15 for an hour on the horse and cart.
The “tour” part of the rides can be a bit hit and miss. If you consider a full 3-hour tour costs $20 pp and includes the carriage ride and entrance fees, a private tour could be better value.
Trot past the old train station built in 1886 to service the rum industry and the old fort built in 1748 to protect the cities gunpowder supply.
This was required to ward off pirates all the way down the Rio San Juan at El Castillo as it was too humid to store the powder there. Nicaragua has quite a colourful history.
The Old Hospital
The Hospital San Juan de Dios, known simply as “The Old Hospital”. Completed in 1905 this building comes complete with stories of a big fire that destroyed both the building and occupants.
Stories abound from residents close by of screams in the night and even visions of patients in the windows. Every ghost story lovers dream.
The Granada Cemetery.
Said to be the oldest cemetery in Central America, Granada cemetery has some of the largest and most ornate tombs and graves we have seen. Imposing marble statues and tombs big enough to lay at least ten generations to rest. It is quite beautiful to meander around the grounds.
We visited the day after Nicaragua celebrates “The Day Of The Dead” where families spend the day visiting graves, cleaning them, doing repairs, and laying flowers. In contrast to the day before, it was very quiet and serene.
You will often see very ornate carriages with horses draped in black lace trotting through the city en route to the cemetery as this is still the chosen transportation for bringing the dead to the cemetery.
Granada Central Markets
Take a stroll through the Granada Central Markets. Like any market in any city, the market itself and surrounding streets are all hustle and bustle. Everything from food to frocks is sold here. This is the commercial hub of the city.
To our surprise, everything at these markets is made by the stallholders right there in Granada. We had assumed this market would be full of your standard “sweatshop knockoffs”. Even the shoes, which we found out are a Nicaraguan speciality, are made here.
Cruise the Granada Isletas
356 small islands scattered along the Asese peninsula make up the islets of Granada, south-east of the city in Lake Nicaragua. The islands were formed when Mombacho Volcano erupted thousands of years ago scattering rocks along the scenic peninsula.
Rocks large enough to pop a holiday home or restaurant on. This unique and idyllic group of islands also has a wealth of wildlife and fascinating history. You can find out more about the Granada Isletas cruises here.
- Expect to pay between $25 – $55 USD pp depending on numbers and inclusions for a 2-3 hour cruise.
- A $55 tour should include transportation to and from your hotel, San Pablo Fort, entrance fees, and a bilingual guide.
The Isletas boat tours normally leave twice daily at around 9.00 am and 3.00 pm. Find out more about Isetas boat cruises here.
Kayak Tours of the Isletas are also possible. Expect around $29 pp for a 3-hour self-guided kayaking tour which included transfers from Granada. There are usually four-five time slots per day for kayaking.
Granada is a vibrant and exciting city with a fascinating past. Even if you only had one day to explore Granada Nicaragua, you can still get the best of this fabulous city.
Planning Your Trip To Granada
Best Time to Visit Nicaragua:
November – April is the most popular months as it is the dry season in Nicaragua. Between these months, the majority of places will experience sunny days and mild temperatures. Although it is dry, from December through to March can be very hot and dusty in some regions.
Where we stayed in Granada:
Accommodation in Granada:
Granada has plenty of accommodation options to suit all budgets. Check the current accommodation rates for everything from hotels to five-star hotels.
Getting to Granada Nicaragua:
We travelled to Granada from Ometepe Island so came by ferry and then by car to the city centre. If you are flying into the capital Managua, you have the following transport options-
- Buses every half hour from Mercado Huembes or the La UCA station.
- Taxi – Expect approx. USD35 from the airport, although you will have to bargain.
- Airport shuttle for approx. USD15 from the airport.
Getting from Leon to Granada:
- Driving: If you have a rental car, the distance between Granada and Leon is approx. 134km (83 miles) on the highway.
- By Bus: You can take a microbus to Managua UCA Station and another microbus to Leon. This will take around 2 hours and cost approx $3.50 USD for the two trips.
- By Shuttle: Most Hostels and hotels offer a door to door shuttle service between Granada and Leon. This is on a shared basis and will cost anywhere from $20 USD pp up to $100 USD depending on how many sharing the shuttle and the arrangement.
Flights to Nicaragua:
The main international airport in Nicaragua is in Managua.
Car Rental in Nicaragua:
We only rented scooters occasionally in Nicaragua, but Nicaragua is a very easy country to drive around. You can check the latest car rental rates through Rentalcars.com from Managua. We have always found them to have the best rates with no fees all around the world as they compare all local companies.
And most importantly-
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance for Nicaragua
We would never be without travel insurance and have needed it on a number of occasions. We use World Nomads Travel Insurance.