My family is visiting Central America this summer to experience unique wildlife and ecosystems, enjoy some time at the beach, and learn about the region’s well-preserved history and culture.
While we’ll be traveling through Costa Rica and Panama first, Nicaragua is where we plan on really digging into history and culture. Our first stop there is Granada.
This city in Western Nicaragua was founded as a Spanish settlement in 1524 and features some of the most well preserved architecture in Nicaragua. Many of the Spanish colonial style buildings and churches here are beautifully preserved and painted a myriad of colors.
Located on the coast of Lake Nicaragua, this impressive lake is one of the largest in the world.
There is plenty to see and do in Granada for the whole family. This city is an ideal base for exploring the lake’s islets, hiking to a volcano and visiting nearby communities and markets.
Here are my family’s top 6 things to do in Granada Nicaragua.
Horse-drawn Carriage Ride through Granada
This is an ideal way to begin your stay in Granada. Head to the central park and you’ll see several carriages lined up. The ride will cost you about $15 – $20 for an hour-long tour. You might be able to knock this down a bit if you can haggle in Spanish.
During the ride, expect your driver to talk about the history of Granada while pointing out key sites and other things to see during your stay. This will really help you get your bearings as you begin your time in Granada.
Explore the town to the old railroad station, or opt to head towards the lake. You’ll need to decide which option you want before setting out. The lake option is breezy and a cooler option if the weather is hot.
Climb the Bell Tower at La Merced Church for Impressive Views
After your horse-drawn carriage ride, head over a few blocks to La Merced Church. For only $1 per adult and no charge for small children, you can climb up into the impressive bell tower for amazing views of the city, the Mombacho Volcano and beyond. This view is well worth the effort.
Book a Tour of the Isletas in Lake Nicaragua
For only $10 per adult, and free for small kids, enjoy a few hours on a riverboat right off the mainland of Granada. Formed 20,000 years ago by the towering Mombacho Volcano, these islets in Lake Nicaragua offer a unique glimpse into the way of life in Nicaragua.
While some of the islets are inhabited only by animals, and others are luxe private retreats, the most interesting islets are the small fishing villages. Catch women washing laundry in the lake, fishermen coming home for the afternoon, and children playing in the water.
Drive out of the City and Hike Around the Mombacho Volcano
Located only a short drive outside of Granada, a visit to the Mombacho Volcano is a great day trip.
Pass local coffee plantations as you head towards the volcanic crater. Once you arrive at the interpretive center, explore the mystical cloud forest that occupies the sides of the volcano. There is a 1.5 km hike, well marked with signs, that is perfect for little legs.
Bring a jacket, as the weather at the top of the crater is often windy and significantly cooler than in the city.
Learn How to Make Authentic Nicaraguan Chocolate
What kid doesn’t love chocolate? Don’t miss the chocolate making lessons at the Choco Museo, a museum dedicated to the history and cultivation of cacao, as well as an artisanal factory producing chocolate.
Their hour long, hands on lesson in chocolate begins with the fermentation and roasting of cacao and ends with the production of your very own, personally chocolate bar.
Here you can also purchase real Nicaraguan chocolate as a great souvenir to bring back home to friends and family.
Shop at the Masaya Artisan Market
And if you want to do more shopping, don’t miss the Masaya Artisan Market. Located about 20 minutes East of Granada, this small town is known as “The Cradle of Nicaraguan Folklore” and is the widely considered heart of Nicaraguan handicrafts.
A visit to the Masaya Artisan Market can be made into a half-day excursion from Granada. Head first to the Caterina Lookout point. This breezy mirador (lookout point) is considered to be one of the best views in Nicaragua, spanning for miles across the Laguna de Apoyo, Granada and out into Lake Nicaragua.
Kids will love the wandering minstrels, quarter-drop binoculars, restaurants aplenty and small artisan market here.
Have you spent time in Nicaragua? What other things to do in Granada Nicaragua would you suggest?
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All photos on Flickr via Creative Commons