We loved Granada with it’s colourful buildings and colonial charm. We were staying a few blocks away from the Parque Central, towards the lake. It was an easy (although, not exactly stroller-friendly) walk to lots of great restaurants, the local market and some churches. There’s lots to do in/around Granada, even with small children, so it was a great pick for us. We spent five nights there.
It’s true what they say about Granada – you have to peek through open doors to truly see the hidden beauty of the city. The way the city is built every building has a courtyard. We loved walking through the lush gardens inside some of the hotels or cafés.
Things to do:
Horse-drawn carriage ride: Yes, this is a very touristy thing to do, but it’s worth doing. When we were walking around Parque Central we were approached by a carriage driver asking if we were interested in a ride. My gut instinct is to be distrustful of people who approach us – but in this case (and what we experienced in Nicaragua in general) he was actually helpful and not trying to be pushy. We arranged for a 1-hour tour for $25USD. Our driver Manuel was great! He had lots of great info to share with us about history, the sights in town and the politics of the country. The carriage ride was like nap magic for the babies too!
Boat tour of Las Isletas: Another touristy thing to do – this one I wouldn’t recommend as highly as the carriage ride, but I’m glad we did it once. We set up our boat tour through Manuel, our carriage driver. Our private tour lasted about an hour and cost $40USD. In some ways it felt like we were on a Hollywood star homes tour – our guide knew how much each island/mansion cost and who owned it. I think I would have enjoyed it more if we saw a bit more local life, rather than just big mansions.
Day tour to Masaya: Seriously amazing! We booked a private tour through TL Travel so that we had a private van, car seats, and an English-speaking guide. We started the day at the Masaya Volcano. We took a look in the little interpretive centre, then continued up to the rim of the crater. It was so amazing to look down and see lava rolling and boiling in the bottom of the crater. We could feel the heat, smell the sulphur and hear the roaring. Seeing lava up close was an amazing experience! After we drove down the volcano we went to the town of Masaya and the craft market there. When I was doing my own trip research I had read that this was THE place to pick up souvenirs, so I made sure that I bought some of the things I really wanted to bring back. In the back of my mind though I was thinking that I might find more things in San Juan del Sur when we went there – this was a mistake though. You truly should buy anything you think you want at the craft market (or possibly Garden Café in Granada). After the market we went to Pacaya Lodge & Spa for lunch. The location is beautiful, up on the lip of the crater overlooking Laguna Apoyo. The food was excellent and service was very attentive. It was a great place for lunch and I’m sure staying there would be great! After our long lunch we went to San Juan del Oriente (one of the towns in the Pueblos Blancos) to visit a pottery workshop. The potter did a demonstration for us and we ended up buying some pieces from his workshop. After that the kids were getting pretty tired (car naps just don’t cut it) so even though we had an hour or two left of tour time we choose to go back to our apartment. We saw and did so much in that one day and doing it as a private tour made it possible for our family. We could stop somewhere for as long/short as we wanted and when the kids were fussy in the van we didn’t have to feel bad about disturbing other guests.
Fave places to eat (and a few to skip):
Garden Café: a beautiful setting with a lush courtyard. We enjoyed breakfast here and the food was really good. The servers were also amazing and would stop at our table to play with the kids. They have a boutique souvenir shop with some great stuff. The goods and handicrafts in the store are artisan or cooperative-made and higher quality than what I found in the street market. I wish I had bought more of my souvenirs there!
Café Bristol: located just off of the Parque Central, this is a great place to stop for a little pick-me-up coffee and treat. We didn’t eat there, but their menu for breakfast/lunch looked pretty good. They made excellent espresso-based drinks and their desserts were delicious. The café is also part of a hotel that has a beautiful courtyard and some beautiful religious artifacts.
Kathy’s Waffle House: You’ll find this one on most restaurant recommendation lists (and for good reason). They do breakfast really well! We tried both the waffles and the pancakes – I might have liked the pancake a bit better, but really they’re both great choices.
El Pizzaiol: This Italian/Mediterranean restaurant is worth a visit! They make a decent thin crust pizza and the falafel plate was really tasty! They make their pita bread and hummus in house. The only small complaint was that service was verrrrry slow – I’m not sure if something happened and we were kind-of forgotten, but our meal there took for-ev-er.
El Zaguan: Go here for delicious steak. We had the steak with chimichurri and it was so flavourful and tender. They cook their meats over open flame and it’s awesome. The meals were large and came with starter salads, and sides so our whole family shared the two steak dinners and an appetizer.
La Gelateria: a little ice cream and crepe shop on a corner along Calle la Calzada. We had ice cream here a few times and it was tasty and inexpensive (try the coconut).
Chocomuseo: this one was a miss for us, which was really disappointing because I had been looking forward to it. They have an all-you-can eat breakfast buffet for $6USD per person. Their advertised hours start at 7am, but when we arrived a little after 8 there wasn’t anything set up yet and the one staff person working wasn’t very helpful. The food wasn’t anything special either. But if you do end up there, make sure you take a walk through the attached hotel – it’s huge and goes way back through several courtyards, ending with a big swimming pool.
Café de Arte: this place also shows up on several recommended lists that I looked at, but I thought it was overhyped. The food was okay, but nothing special; prices were average; atmosphere was okay…the overall verdict was ‘just okay’. The café also sells art and a few souvenirs.
Stay tuned for more Nicaragua posts!