If one can fight through the unbearable heat of Granada, then there’s a lot to enjoy about this laid-back colonial town in Nicaragua. About an hour away from Managua, it is one of the go-to destinations for travelers flying in. Similar to how most travelers skip Guatemala City and go straight to Antigua, most travelers should skip Managua and go straight to Granada or Leon.
Granada is best known for its colorful buildings, churches, and plazas from way back in the colonial days. Being a tourist hotspot means that you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting around in Granada. Unlike other destinations that have become communes for backpackers, Granada has a decent mix of all types of travelers from all over the world. In short, while speaking Spanish always helps, you can get by with English in most parts of town.
Granada does have a strong backpacker presence, which means you won’t have any trouble finding hostels, friends, and parties. When picking a hostel, the only recommendation I have is to make sure it has air conditioning. I had to hop from hostel to hostel because I literally could not sleep because it was so hot. Hostel De Boca en Boca (while pretty good otherwise) was unbearable even with the windows cracked open. There are dozens and dozens of hostels in Granada and one of them is bound to have air conditioning. Pay extra if you have to. It will be so worth it. Backpacking Nicaragua will be pretty cheap and this is one of those things you can afford to splurge on.
Like most places in Central America, transportation is pretty cheap. You don’t necessarily have to stay somewhere close to all the action because you can probably take a cheap taxi ride to get where you want to go. If you care about location, then finding a place near the square where the Cathedral of Granada is would be ideal. You can find plenty of restaurants, shops, and other cool things in that area. There’s a couple of walking streets next to the Cathedral of Granada that is where all the action is at.
Admittedly, those streets and plaza are extremely touristy. It’s a good area to congregate and have food and drinks, but aside from walking up and down the streets, there’s not much to do. The entire old town of Granada has a colonial feel to it, so if you want to experience the colorful houses and cobbled streets, then you shouldn’t feel restricted to just the touristic areas. If you feel comfortable exploring on your own, I think it’s much better to wander around the less trafficked areas to see what all the colored buildings looked like before they put a coffee shop or Italian restaurant in it.
Granada also has some pretty decent markets that sell anything you can imagine. If you aren’t tired of Central American markets yet, you can check out what Granada has to offer. In the actual town of Granada, I didn’t do much aside from exploring old buildings and churches and eat really nice meals for cheap. However, there are some cool things to do just outside of Granada.
I went kayaking twice, once in the Isletas de Granada and once in Laguna de Apoyo (where I tragically dropped my phone in the water). The Isletas de Granada are a popular place for travelers to check out via boat. There’s an island with spider monkeys, which is pretty dope. You don’t get to go on any of the islands because most of them are protected, but floating through the hundreds and hundreds of small islands is a great way to spend the day. Laguna de Apoyo was nice too but it wasn’t anything too special. If you’re into outdoorsy stuff, I definitely recommend doing that outdoorsy stuff by the water. It’s the only way that you can possibly stand the heat.
Another cool thing to do in the area is to check out Volcan Masaya. I didn’t have enough time to go but it is a popular draw for travelers because it is active and often spews smoke from its vents. It is one of Nicaragua’s oldest and largest national parks so there is more to do than just check out the volcanic activity, although I can’t imagine someone not being interested in F’IN VOLCANOES. Speaking of volcanoes, you’ve also got Volcan Mombacho which is only twenty minutes from Granada. It’s a great place to hike and it is thankfully, a lot cooler than being in the city of Granada.
Being a nightlife and travel blog, I can’t close this out without mentioning the Treehouse. The Treehouse is a hostel a little bit outside of the city (but with free shuttles to and from) that also doubles as one of Granada’s most poppin’ parties. They aren’t open every night of the week so double check on their website about when you can stay there and what the party theme is for that night. When I was there, it was a costume party and I walked around strutting my stuff in a cheetah-print dress. That’s about all I remember from that night.
Thinking back at it, it’s actually kind of weird that partying at the Treehouse became a thing. Aside from being a Treehouse, it doesn’t exactly have anything that would make it a better place to party. Oh yeah, probably the lack of police presence. The main party takes place on a two-story treehouse which is also reception and a restaurant. It’s not particularly big, either, so the hordes of backpackers coming through often have to compete for what little space there is.
If you’re partying there, you typically won’t get there until after dark. I think the best part of the treehouse is waking up and realizing you are in a treehouse in the canopies of a forest. The worst part was the constant fear of being attacked by the dozens of monkeys circling my treehouse. While the treehouse party gets a bit more hyped up than it deserves, the treehouse itself is an awesome place to sleep. It is colder than in town, and even though I partied the night before and woke up at 5 AM because of howler monkeys, it was still the best sleep I had gotten in Granada.
Overall, Granada is an idyllic town to laze the days away. If you want to relax and do nothing for a while, Granada is the place to be, especially before or after hitting San Juan Del Sur. The lack of “must-do” activities actually improves the Granada experience, in my opinion. You aren’t pressured to be always doing something or going after the tourist traps. That gives you time to take things slow, appreciate the culture and history, and do stuff that you normally wouldn’t while traveling. I met a lot of people taking cooking classes or Spanish classes while in Granada, and if I had more time, I might have taken some up myself.
Oh yeah, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but there’s a place on the walking street where you can get steak and two lobster tails for something like $9 USD. 10/10 would recommend.
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