The sound of a street band meanders down a side street. The guitarists pick at their instruments with a lazy precision as a woman’s voice serenades the passing city. The music is loud and off-key and a handful of locals dance a clumsy ballet behind the unexpected procession.
A child runs across a large courtyard, clutching a rubber ball in his arms. His father protests and gives chase. The setting sun breaks through a bank of clouds and illuminates the red-tiled rooftops of the grand old city of Granada.
One of Central America’s oldest and most culturally significant cities, Granada, in Nicaragua, effortlessly blends its rich colonial architecture with the best in modern city living; with plentiful dining options and adventure activities for travellers of all ages. You could easily spend a few weeks here without even scratching the surface, but if you only have a limited time to visit — here are my tops tips for 48 hours in Granada.
The first 24 hours
Do: Bring a pair of comfortable shoes for a walk through history. A stroll through Granada is like thumbing your way through a book of perfectly curated colonial-era postcards; its historic, brightly coloured buildings make it a visually rich city ideally suited for slow wandering and taking in the passing day.
It is said that Granada was the first European city on mainland America — it was settled in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba. Over the centuries, the city was raided by English, French, and Dutch pirates all of whom have left their impression on the city. Those morning walkers who want to take in Granada's unique history should make their way to Casa de los Leones, where only a stone portal was left intact in 1856 after the city was largely destroyed in a fire set by American filibuster William Walker, who attempted to crown himself the King of Nicaragua.
Shop and Eat: @ Granada’s Central Market. A cloud of smoke from a roasting pig sits like a low fog over the slowly moving masses of market goers. Fruit sellers call out their daily specials. A visit to Granada’s Central Market is what every good daily market should be; a confusing, overwhelming, intoxicating experience. So popular is Granada’s Central Market that it has outgrown its original building. These days, stalls selling clothing, food, and souvenirs line the streets around the old green market structure. After a busy morning walking around Granada, there can be no better place in town to try a variety of local fruits, drink a batido (milkshake), or sample street foods like nacatamales, or Nicaraguan tamales.
Do: Get your heart rate up by visiting Laguna de Apoyo. A short drive from the Central Market of Granada, Laguna de Apoyo attracts tourists to its dark-sand beaches with a variety of adventurous activities, such as swimming, kayaking, hiking, scuba diving, boating, and even paragliding.
Laguna de Apoyo was formed roughly 23,000 years ago, after an enormous volcanic explosion left a hole 6km (3 mi) in diameter that scars the earth. These days, visitors to the lake (which is also a nature reserve) can not only enjoy a range of water sports, but also hike the surrounding hills, which are home to a unique range of such wildlife as anteaters, howler monkeys, and more than 230 species of birds.
Eat: While most people aspire to eat well on the road, sometimes trying to find a good meal that doesn’t stretch the budget can be a challenge. However, thankfully for those cost-conscious travellers, Nicaragua is a more affordable location to eat out (and eat well) than some of its more expensive neighbours, like Costa Rica. Travellers who seek a memorable dinner that their tastebuds and wallets will thank them for should make their way to Bistro Estrada for Nicaraguan takes on modern bistro favourites. The restaurant has a limited number of seats on its outdoor terrace and is popular with locals and travellers alike, so make sure you don’t arrive too late.
The next 24 hours
Visit: El Choco Museum. Located in a historic mansion, Granada's very own ChocoMuseo tells the story of chocolate production in the region, and offers farm tours to local cacao plantations. The museum has an “all you can eat” chocolate-inspired breakfast buffet. While those looking to let go of some stress while smelling like their favourite dessert can try a chocolate massage, which is also available in a day spa located in the same building.
Visit: The San Francisco Convent. To gain a better understanding of Granada and its colourful past, travellers should make their way to the San Francisco Convent (or Iglesia San Francisco). The San Francisco Convent houses one of the best museums in the region, and the church itself dates back to 1585 — although it was later burned by pirates and (that dastardly) William Walker, prior to being rebuilt. The San Francisco Convent has an extensive library that catalogues the city's history, ancient statues dating back to 800AD, and it is even said that the church's catacombs hold the remains of more than 75,000 people.
Eat: Those travellers who like to eat with their eyes as much as with their stomachs should visit the Grand Café for lunch. It is housed in a beautifully restored colonial building that is centred around a lush courtyard garden. Customers at Garden Café may come for the salads, sandwiches, or smoothies, but they'll stay to pass time in the café's expansive reading room. The walls of the Grand Café's reading room are covered with books and there are even chalkboards for children, or those adults for whom childhood passed too quickly!
Eat and Drink: @ Calle la Calzada. A song of cicadas and street buskers set the background music for the early diners. People spill out of restaurants onto the street, sitting on brightly coloured chairs, and waving flies from their faces like they were greeting old friends. Located in the heart of the city, Calle la Calzada is the most popular dining strip in Granada and fills quickly every night. Travellers have the opportunity to choose between a number of quality restaurants like Café de los Sueños or Nectar, and take in the city as it changes from day to night. A real highlight of any visit to Granada, dining under the stars on Calle la Calzada is a must.
Visit: Islets of Granada. While Granada is undoubtedly one of the most photogenic urban centres in all of Central America, your camera will really work overtime on an afternoon boat tour out of the city to the Islets of Granada. The (roughly) 360 islands that make up the Islets of Granada are located on Lake Niangua, close to the foot of Mombacho volcano, and are the result of a huge eruption thousands of years ago. Today, the jungle-covered islands are home to politicians, movie stars, and the who's who of Nicaraguan high society.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Nicaragua encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.