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Granada, Nicaragua With Kids

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

The city (feels like a town) of Granada is one of the most popular destinations in Nicaragua and with good reason. With its cobbled, colonial streets and brightly coloured buildings it is one of the oldest cities in the subcontinent. Steeped in history with lots to do in and around the city, don’t miss a few days in Granada from your Nicaraguan itinerary. It embodies everything that leaps to mind when you think of Central America.

We stayed at the Hotel Lolita's Boutique. This guesthouse was well located, cheap, with good AC and wifi. The staff left us overnight, and as we were the only guests we had the place to ourselves! A special shoutout goes to the operator Don Wilber, who we only met via WhatsApp, for helping us arrange our car ferry to our next location (Ometepe Island) – which proved impossible with no website and just a Spanish phone line! We arrived from Leon in less than 2 hours drive in our rental car; Granada was the perfect stop for a few days. We stayed 2 nights and 2 full days, but with hindsight I would recommend 3!

Visit Parque Central

As with so many of the towns visited on our Central American trip, the centre of the action is the central square. This one was perhaps my favourite, with lots going on in this area. With the smell of the street food, sounds of hawkers and the slights of children playing, it’s a good place to people watch under the shade of a tree. We just stood at the edge of the flag-studded walkway and watched a group of children playing a version of rounders/baseball with the flag poles. A real joy to watch, remembering that back home in contrast any open space is always rammed with “no ball games” signs! If you’re here at mealtimes, Calle la Calzada is the main street hosting restaurants and street performers in the early evening, leading off from Parque Central.

We also managed to spot the enormous dancing “Gigantona” and her entourage, including loud drums, while we were here. She is a huge dancing doll (people on stilts) representing a tall white Spanish conquistador woman. El Enano Cabezon is a small and dwarf-like intelligent mestizo with a big head that can control the Spanish woman with the drums. They are also accompanied by men in drag. The locals like this because it represents the local population controlling the Spanish, and represents the ongoing discomfort between Latinos and gringos. Children may be entranced or petrified as the woman dances for money up and down the square.

Wander (or Canter) the Colonial Streets

From the central park it should be fairly obvious where the horses are waiting with their carriages! If you manage to find an English speaking driver you’re sure to learn a lot about the city, and the kids will love the banter and horses. The abandoned ruins of hospital San Juan de Dios and the unusually beautiful and ornate Cementerio Amanda Lucia (the oldest cemetery in Nicaragua) are a photographer’s dream. We found there was a greater variety of food and eateries in Granada. Wander through the markets to grab lunch or some tropical produce and pick up anything you might be running out of…we needed new socks and a jack lead at this point, but both expired within weeks of purchase…!

Climb the Iglesia de la Merced

As with so many colonial cities, your best bet for sweeping city vistas is to climb a church! The best in Granada for this is Iglesia de La Merced and is of the crumbling black variety that drips with character and history. Inside it’s nice enough but the real draw is the view of the town and Cathedral by the Parque (which is actually quite shaded with trees up close, restricting viewpoints). Again, it’s a really narrow set of stairs but this wasn’t controlled well as it was at the Basilica in Leon and we had to turn around on the stairs a few times to let people pass. Still worth the few dollars and there was a good breeze at the top!

The Isletas

We unfortunately didn’t get the time for the Isletas but we were sorry to have missed it. These tiny islands crowd the shore of Lake Nicaragua a short drive from Granadas edge. Monkeys, birds and reptiles can be spotted on a day trip spending just an hour or so on a boat.

Enjoy Laguna de Apoyo

The day we combined Apoyo lake and Volcan Masaya (below) was claimed as “best day ever” by our eldest (7). Well earnt it was - this freshwater lake in an ancient crater 30 mins from Granada could be your base if you spend a few nights in the area. We decided to stay in Granada town and pay for a day pass to Paradiso Hostel to keep costs down - it was perfect. We arrived at 10am and left at 5ish. The hostel has their own private beach, a very well stocked bar and tasty restaurant, life jackets, kayaks and rubber rings and best of all, a large floating pontoon that managed to entertain the kids for 3 straight hours, just jumping in and out. The fine, black sand beach was mesmerising, and the waves were beautifully warm! Grownups had a rare relax with an alcoholic beverage while the baby napped in a quiet area of the many terraces and seating areas and we all had an excellent time – one of those beautiful moments where it really does all come together.

Whether you hire a car or get a taxi from Granada, don’t be tempted to take a more expensive tour from town as they will just charge triple to do the same as we did. It was $7 per adult ($5 for eldest, under 5s don’t pay) for entry for the day - just pay on the door!

Observe the Glowing Volcan Masaya

Nicaragua has 19 volcanos and we were absolutely spell bound with our trip to Masaya volcano. We’ve done a few volcano hikes in our time and each have their own character, but the atmosphere and view here was something else! You can drive right up to the caldera, park and be peering over the edge into the abyss in simply 20 mins from the national park entrance. Wow. We had read in advance that the smell and effects from the sulphuric emissions can be intense for more than a few minutes, but amazingly we could see the wind blowing the opposite direction from us and spent an hour on the top. We timed it perfectly (if I do say so myself) arriving at 5:45 (leaving lake Apoyo around 5ish), the sun set around 6pm and as soon as it dipped over the horizon, the red glow of the lava below lit up the edges spectacularly. Not to be missed! Combine this with a day trip to lake Apoyo above for a truly unforgettable day.

Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve Hiking and Zip Lining

If your children are 10 years or older, you can enjoy a canopy tour of 11 zip lines and 17 platforms over Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve. There are good walks for spotting howler monkeys as well, making for a great half-day trip. For $55 this is substantially cheaper than if you want to do similar in Costa Rica and you can challenge yourself to various superman style poses down the wires!

Visit the Choco Museo

Choco Museo has several branches throughout the region, and we had investigated on their website which one was cheapest and most accessible to add to our itinerary. Each feature a free talk about all things chocolate, and you are able to book a 2-hour “bean-to-bar” workshop preparing bars, drinks and tasty treats for around $25 USD. We had done so much chocolate-related activity elsewhere that we decided to skip the paid activities, but popped in for the free tour and to buy a few bits for an hour or so. We bought some amazing chocolate-liquor and did learn a few new facts (grateful to see a "mother" is one of the more expensive things you could purchase with cacao beans in ancient Mayan times!) We were very, VERY tempted by their outdoor swimming pool (a nice surprise!). It was 37°C during our visit – you can buy a day pass for $5.

Granada Summary

Granada had quite a different vibe to most other colonial towns, but it really worked! It was a weird mix of touristy with the presence of horse drawn carriages and western food, but authentic, cheap, friendly, colourful and it felt safe too. The day trips to islets, volcanos and crater lakes out of the town were easy and unforgettable – everything within 40 mins of town on fairly safe roads as well.

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