At the end of October 2016 I spent a weekend, mostly just a full Saturday, in Granada, Nicaragua, said to be the oldest city in the Americas.
We flew from Atlanta to Managua on Friday night. Managua is the only international airport in Nicaragua. Though there isnt much to do in Managua, the capital city, itself. We had booked two nights at the Hotel Casa San Francisco in Granada as we got on the plane and called to arrange for an airport pick up. Granada is 1 hour by car from Managua. You could rent a car, though most of the roads have no street lights and can be uneven, depending on your level of risk-taking, you may want to just have your hotel pick you up. Returns from Granada can be arranged by local tour offices there, their rates are lower than hotel pick ups.
I actually really enjoyed my trip to Nicaragua. You will read a lot about how unsafe, dirty, and what not Nicaragua is, but its actually not that dirty, nor is it really that dangerous. And we did come across single female solo travelers who said they didnt feel as unsafe as they did in nearby Guatemala. No pick-pockets, and in general people were very friendly.
Nicaragua, like much of Central America, is tropical and as such is home to a variety of outdoors activities, in addition to local cultures and Spanish colonial history. We didnt arrange any activities until Saturday morning by shopping around the countless tour operators on the main street of Calle La Calzada. As it was tail end of low season, rates were very affordable and each place was trying real hard to get any business they could. At the end almost all places had similar rates, and even then there is always wiggle room for negotiations. We ended up for a semi-full day tour with Abdalah Tours, their office is located near the start of Calle La Calzada, close to the yellow cathedral.
- Arrive Nicaragua, hotel pick up to Granada.
- Arrive Granada, check-in. Walked around Granada, two blocks away from the hotel was the bustling main street of Calle La Calzada with lots of restaurants, bars and live music. We sat down at one of them (we stuck to the 2-3 restaurants on the right hand side when facing down the street near the start of the street, by start I mean end closest to the cathedral), ordered some food. Had some traditional Nicaraguan food: Indio Viego “Old Indian” mainly corn and beef/chicken strew served with rice, fried plantains. very tasty, kind of like a batter for tomales. As well as aged Nicaraguan rum and local beer.
- Next morning, Nicaraguan breakfast at the hotel, walked around town, shopped around tour offices. Opted to do a semi-full day tour.
- Had Nicaraguan Coffee at Cafe Las Flores, which has its own plantation and tours up in the mountains but also a inner-city storefront. Also bought some rum-infused coffee beans.
- Part 1 of our tour: Kayaking through Isletas de Granada, 365 rock islands formed by volcanic rock. Touring some of the inhabited islands as well as the famed “Monkey island.” We then took a short snack break on a resort island, had some local fried fish and just relaxed.
- Lunch at a local restaurant again on Calle La Calzada, again had some Indio Viego that was delicious.
- Part 2 of our tour was a guided city tour/walk. First stop was the Choco Museum/ Mansion de Chocolate, a chocolate shop, spa and hotel. Tried some infused rum such as chocolate rum, ginger rum, chili rum, coconut rum. All quite interesting. Followed by trying and buying some Nicaraguan chocolate. NOTE: Nicaraguan chocolate is more raw and corse than European chocolate. We then walked to Iglesia La Merced, a historic church in Granada, where for $1 you can climb up the bell tower for panoramic views of the beautiful colonial city.
- Part 3 of our tour was the evening tour to the crater of the very active volcano of Mt. Masaya, Volcan Masaya. Its about a 45 minute ride outside of Granada, you really should do it through a tour operator as its quite difficult to enter the national park and with it being so active there are lots of restrictions, like we were only allowed to stay at the crater for around 15 minutes. You drive up to the top of the volcano and look down into the crater to witness the lava/magma churning below, driving towards the volcano at sunset felt like we were heading to Mt. Doom. I highly recommend this, as it is such a cool experience.
- After that we returned to Granada where we had dinner at, you guessed it, Calle La Calzada, this time I had Nicaraguan fillet of steak with cream of Jalapeno sauce, it was delicious.
- Returned to the hotel, and woke up really early for our morning departure from Managua back to Atlanta.