Pastel-coloured colonial buildings topped with weathered terracotta, gorgeous churches, museums, bustling streets and friendly locals.
This is Granada, Nicaragua’s sixth-largest city that also happens to be it’s oldest. Whether you come here for a couple of nights or spend an entire month, the city and its surrounds have something to offer.
Merely wandering the streets in the historic part of town immerses you with its charm. Colourful chicken buses sit in side streets and wait to fill with passengers, or for the four legged variety, horse-drawn carriages can trundle you about town on a half-hour guided tour for a fiver.
Truth be told, some of those horses are terribly emaciated and clearly not looked after by their owners, so use your discretion with who you want to hand your córdobas to.
It heaves, it bustles and it may be overwhelming to some, but one thing that Granada’s Mercado Municipal isn’t is boring. The main building – a crusty neo-classical lump of architecture that’s seen better days – houses a warren of ramshackle stands with vendors peddling just about anything you’d expect to see in a latino market.
It isn’t all inside, either, as the streets surrounding the building are even busier. Traffic, humans and overflowing stands make moving around a little challenging, believe me.
Don’t come here expecting souvenirs, though, as it’s a local’s market through and through. All the fresh fruit and vegetables you’d need if you were a local – plantain, yucca, tomatoes, cucumbers and even chayote (chokos), just to name a few.
Things get a little pungent when you stumble upon the meat section or wet market, but if seeing flies crawling over freshly butchered joints or treading though puddles of manky water is a bit much, keep on moving.
You can pick up bags of vinegar and chicha dyed with red splodge of colour, fresh eggs, cheese, fill up on fried goodies like enchiladas and buñuelos or whatever else takes your fancy.
Other than food, the market supplies locals with household goods, clothing, music and hardware. And for the ladies – the most extensive array of brightly-coloured bras. The market for those is well and truly saturated. You can even get your shoes repaired for next to nothing, like I did!
Granada has its fair share of colonial cathedrals and churches, something left behind by those invasive and murderous Spanish from years gone by. Some are well kept, others are ageing gracefully like the rest of us.
For a pretty fab view over town, head over to Iglesia de La Merced, a 16th century marvel where you can hand over 30 códobas and climb its bell tower.
A visit to Nicaragua and not getting up close and personal with a volcano is simply unheard of. I mean, really, what are you here for?
If you’re not climbing a volcano for hours to get a view from the top or boarding down the side of one for kicks, you need to at least look into one and see magma sloshing about. Right?
Well, fork out $18 and you can join a tour to Masaya, an active volcano 30km from town. You’re driven to the crater, you’re given about 15 minutes to peer into it from a few viewpoints and you get to fill your lungs with gloriously-stinky sulphur dioxide.
El Tercer Ojo – Calle La Calzada 1½ c E
One of Granada’s most popular precincts is Calle La Calzada, a road that extends from Parque Central to the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Restaurants and bars spill onto the street and launch into action as soon as the sun’s about to hit the horizon.
It’s very touristy, it’s very busy and it’s all a little contrived with street performers, vendors selling tourist tat and touts vying for your business.
Not the town’s biggest selling point, but I guess people do like that kind of stuff.
Spanglish Bar – Plaza de Los Leones
Casa Del Café – Plaza de Los Leones
Garden Cafe – Corner Calle Cervantes & Calle La Libertad
Head into the centre of town and you’ll find Plazuela de los Leones just off Park Central. It’s a lovely spot to wander and take in some of the stunning architecture, but it’s also home to a few bars and cafes.
Get stuck into a fantastic array of cocktails at the smartly dressed Spanglish bar, which has a lovely rear courtyard to get comfy in. Try the Macua, Nicaragua’s national cocktail, which is a tasty concoction of cane liquor, guava puree, lime, ginger, agave and cinnamon. Or just settle on their fab cucumber mojito.
Next door you can get your coffee or frappuccino fix at the very Starbucks-esque Casa del Café, and if you’re game, slurp a peanut butter caramel frappé. Um, no thanks.
The breakfast game is strong at the Garden Cafe, where you can sit inside amongst book shelves or out in the beautiful central patio surrounded by greenery and modern art. There’s even a gift store onsite. Aside from the great gringo-friendly breakfast dishes, chow on salads, wraps and tasty sandwiches like The Club (145).
Vigaron – Kiosko El Gordo.
For a more Nicaraguan experience, head to Parque Central and take a seat at Kioskito El Gordo. Here you can sample a local dish known as vigaron (100), which consists of slow-cooked pork flavoured with achiote, smashed boiled yucca and a spicy cabbage salad called curtido. There’s a complimentary jar of pickled and spiced onions on each table, just in case you like it hot.
Alternatively, seek out Cafetin El Volcán, a very humble set-up that supposedly does the best quesillos in town. Try the quesillo doble (50), which is a soft tortilla topped with double traditional cheese and served with sour cream and pickled onions. Wash it down with tiste, a slightly gritty indigenous drink made from toasted corn, cinnamon, cloves and served chilled in a gourd.
Cafetin El Volcán – Calle 14 de Septiembre
El Garaje – Calle Corral 512
Pan de Vida – Calle La Calzada 406
Located in the residential backstreets is the American-themed El Garaje, a cafe that’s all about tacos, burritos, sandwiches and salads; all constructed with organic produce from the El Garaje Farms.
Try the “Ultimate Tex-Mex grilled cheese” – oozing with charred red peppers, jalapeños, beans, salsa and garlic-infused cream cheese. Cost is 190 córdobas.
Down on Calle La Calzada just past all the bars is the fab little Pan De Vida. Two wood-fired ovens take centre stage and the fresh bread, wholegrain loaves, chocolate banana bread, pizzas and calzones that come out of it are bang on. The calzone pepperoni & three cheeses is the perfect antidote if you’re in need of a rest from gallo pinto and its ilk. Be sure to try the giant cinnamon scrolls slathered in frosting.
Another one popular with the gringos is Pita Pita, an Israeli-owned restaurant that churns out some excellent Mediterranean food. From wood-fired pizzas to dolmades to beet carpaccio; there’s a lot to try.
We swooned over the curiously named muhsan (12) – a Palestinian dish of pita bread topped with sautéed chicken, onion and tomato, sprinkled with sumac, almonds and yoghurt. The Jerusalem plate (12) is also one not to ignore – sautéed chicken and onion, mushroom, salad, hummus and pita.
Pita Pita – Corner Calle Cervantes & Calle La Libertad
Get the 9am ferry from Moyogalpa to San Jorge. It takes 1 hr and costs 50 córdobas per person.
Taxi from San Jorge to the bus station in Rivas costs $4, then a local chicken bus to Granada costs 32 córdobas per person, plus 18 for luggage. The bus only departs when it’s full. It takes about 1½ hrs to get to Granada.