As I clicked through old photos in search of ones that matched a past photo challenge theme, community, I realized that a good portion of my images from Granada, Nicaragua so strongly represented this theme. It deserved a post of its own. If you happen to be in the Central American neighborhood, perhaps you should visit this colorful town in the southwest region of Nicaragua, along Lake Nicaragua. This lovely, colonial city was quite the treat for a few students who’d just spent 3 months in San Jose, Costa Rica (a half a day’s trip, by bus, from Granada).
Costa Rica’s prices were reasonable, but Nicaragua’s were a definite bargain. We were at the end of our 3 month trip and almost running on empty, so Granada helped us keep our spending to a minimum. One dollar ≈ 25 córdobas, so be mindful of that when making conversions. You know how those locals love to trick tourists! One of the girls paid too much for a taxi ride that should have been no more than $2.
We prepared most of our meals at the hostel, and shopped for simple groceries at the Pali supermarket a few blocks away. If you pay with US dollars, they give you córdobas in change. I’m pretty sure the supermarket people were annoyed at us paying with 20s all the time. Sorry!
We stayed at Hostal Panda, just a short walk away from the center, for $6 per night. It’s a small, well-kept hostel with kind staff and beds made of bamboo (cute, right?).
Side Note: We stayed at Hostal Mochilas the first night, but they didn’t have available rooms the next day, so the woman at the front desk sent us to Hostal Panda. This was great for two reasons: our bathroom in Hostal Mochilas was not inviting, and Hostal Panda was cheaper. Hostal Mochilas did, however, have a hip, outdoorsy common area. It was also closer to El Parque Central, but then again, so are many other places.
Things to do in and around Granada in no particular order:
Visit the Hospital San Juan de Dios.
I forgot how we landed on this site, but we did, and it was cool. It’s an old, abandoned hospital, guarded by some uniformed men with guns. Don’t worry, they’re nice! One of the guards agreed to take a photo with my little stuffed lion, and we all took a group shot. You can’t enter, but you can walk around the premises.
Ride the Chicken Bus.
Chicken buses are cheap, local buses around Nicaragua. For a few córdobas, you can get to many places in one of these decorated school buses. Someone comes around to collect your fare, and if he (I only saw a woman working on the bus once, in Cuenca) doesn’t have the change for you right away, he holds on to your bill until he has collected enough. It can get a little chaotic, especially with all the vendors trying to sell you anything from candy to food. They’ve got the whole hop-on-hop-off thing down to a science, especially the fare collector.
Swim in a crater!
Take any of the trusted chicken buses marked “La Laguna Masaya” for a day trip to La Laguna Apoyo. The bus drops you off at the top of the reserve, and it’s quite the walk down to the lagoon. You can try hitching a ride (we tried, we failed) or taking a taxi to the bottom (we gave in). There are places to eat once you arrive – perfect for a relaxing afternoon by the water.
Visit the Cathedral of Granada.
It’s a beautiful church located in the plaza, and like many other structures, so brightly colored.
Tour the Isletas de Granada.
It’s just about the first activity that pops up in a google search of things to do in Granada. The islets are a collection of 365 little islands in Lake Nicaragua, both privately owned and inhabited by locals. The boat tour takes you around some of the most notable, including Monkey Island. We were close enough to the trees that a famous monkey local made a guest appearance on our boat.
Walk through the market.
It’s right in El Parque Central and filled with all those artisan goods that you find in most countries but still get excited about because they’re just so cool.
Spend some time by Lake Nicaragua.
Why not, right? It’s about a 30 minute walk from the city center and well worth the stroll. You can easily spend time at the lake after the tour of the islets.
Matty has a great blog about Allan, here. Side note: Allan was actually the one to introduce me to that post about him, back in Granada. In short, he is your unofficial Granada tour guide. Again, read the post. We bumped into Allan by the plaza, and I was surprised by this local’s fluent English. Moments later, guess who walks into my hostel? He was showing someone the way, which he often does for travelers searching for places around town. The next night, we passed Allan, yet again, entertaining some tourists in a very touristy part of town (a stretch of bars and restaurants). If you’re unmoved by his energy and quirk, listen to his story.
Purchase a hammock.
It’s almost customary. If you don’t buy a hammock of your own free will, you will eventually – by sheer force of the locals selling them around the park. Just give in. It’s $5 (after good bargaining and walking away, of course). Don’t worry about not having room in your luggage, or more importantly, a place to hang it once you return home. Just get one.
We didn’t do the following, but they’re very much recommended.
Climb the tower of the Iglesia de la Merced.
For great views of the cathedral and the city, this definitely is a must-do in Granada. The church itself is also quite the sight.
Hike the Mombacho Volcano.
Take a night tour of the Masaya Volcano.
We made it all the way to the volcano, only to be turned around by the unfortunate news that the park was closed due to Semana Santa. And to think that I’d purchased a cheap pair of sneakers, expecting to see some lava.
But you know what’s probably the best thing to do in Granada? People Watch!
We spent hours just sitting in and around El Parque Central watching locals and tourists alike pass by. Granada is alive with people in the streets, both in the day and at night, so it’s great just to sit back and take it all in.