The oldest colonial city Nicaragua has to offer, we stayed in Granada for more than a week. And being completely honest, if it wasn’t for the fact that I enrolled in Spanish classes there, we probably wouldn’t have made it past two nights.
Sorry Granada, but you were oversold, there was too much hype and I just didn’t “get” you. I expected such a city to have something more than just eating, drinking and tourism. I certainly expected there would be more to the city than just one strip completely devoted to every tourist’s whim.
Don’t get me wrong, she’s a beautiful city, one that is heavily influenced by its Spanish conquerors. The colonial style architecture dressed in bright pastel colours, decorated with white rimmed frames reminded us so much of Europe. Add a scoop or two of gringos and it felt like we were in Spain’s Castillo Leon.
Maybe that was my problem. It didn’t feel like we were in a country that, at one stage, I didn’t even know existed!
I’ve met so many people who loved everything about Granada, majority confessing they preferred it over León. While it wasn’t for me and certainly not for Luke, who admitted his dislike on a daily basis, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a trip.
Whatever you do, don’t jump on our bandwagon, instead get your ass to Granada and let us know what you think.
From Léon to Granada:
Starting our Nicaraguan adventures in León, we ignored the heavily advertised and over priced €20 shuttle busses and instead took a collectivo from León to Managua and a public bus from Managua to Granada, all for less than €5.
We’ve shared in detail the how, what, where and when here.
Accommodation in Granada:
The choice is endless in Granada. You’ve got your multiple star hotels, the more affordable hospedajes (hostels) and plenty of Air BnB’s available. Not to mention the “room available” signs found in nearly every household window.
There is no need to pre-book accomodation. We were there the week before Semana Santa (Holy Week) and still secured a cheap deal.
Spending the first few days in a hostel, before moving in with a local family. Always a fun experience.
We also visited friends who were staying at other hostels and Air BnB’s, all cheap and cheerful.
To secure the cheapest deal, avoid the main tourist strip, check local homes for “hay habitaciones” signs and don’t book on advance.
So if you’re looking for recommendations on where to lay your head in Granada, here’s what we know:
A very chilled hostel, we spent three nights here which meant, after short negotiations, we secured a deal of €15 per night for a double room with shared bathroom.
The bonus is the large kitchen, with plenty of storage space and utensils, and the fact it has decent Wi-Fi. The only issue we had was the two shared bathrooms. Always big and regularly cleaned, there was only two. Like every family home, anytime we heard the lock go, we found ourselves prepared to run for a turn.
Hostel De Boca en Boca:
Just around the corner from Hostel Hamacas is the neatly tucked away Hostel de Boca en Boca.
A beautiful hostel with everything a backpacker needs, including the added bonus of a pool. No wonder it was fully booked when we arrived.
Private rooms start at €20-25 per night but of course, depending in how long you stay, you could get a cheaper rate. Its always worth the try!
Close to the central park, and both the mercado and Pali supermarket; this hostel offers cheap dorms with breakfast included.
You’ll find it in Calle Estrada, a street to the left as head you down towards the market on Calle El Comercio.
It’s extremely cheap tours are so appealing, we booked a tour here, despite the fact we didnt actually spend a night.
Oscar’s Family Home:
We spent a full week sharing Oscar’s home and loved our time there.
Living with Oscar, his wife, brother son and dog it was a great way for me to practice my Spanish. Their hospitality was so lovely and it was nice to have the option to spend time hanging out, as well as having our own private space.
Just head down and knock on Oscar’s door for prices. Again, because we spent a week here, we paid €15 per night and enjoyed a large private room with shared bathroom, full use of his kitchen and his help when asking about the local area.
Oscar lives at the bottom of the tourist strip; on the corner of Calle la Calzada and Calle la Concepción, right next to Hostel Granada and a vegan cafe.
You’ll see small set of stairs and a gated door that’s ususally open. Oscar speaks really good English for those still learning Spanish.
Things To Do in Granada:
Not to be too harsh, but we found Granada city itself quite boring.
Now, from the abundance of tours and touts alone, there is plenty to do but nothing about the city itself kept us entertained. Thr fun is located away from the centre.
I filled my days with Spanish lessons, we visited local language school, wandered the streets and enjoyed a spot of people watching.
Trying to stay cool in the dead heat; we sucked on ice-pops and gnawed on ice-creams in the park, and on the adventurous days we hiked, took a boat trip around Lake Nicaragua and peered into the crater of an active volcano.
So while we may have it in for Granada a little or as we so cruelly called it, Granad-NAH, there are plenty of attractions and distractions to keep you on your toes. Here’s a few:
Isletas de Granada:
Considering Granada sits to the side of Nicaraguas biggest lake covered with over 360 mini islands, we were told a trip to Granada isn’t one without a jaunt across the lake.
There are lots of tour operators who offer tours of the isleta but the best and cheapest we found was in Hostel Oasis.
The tour is $15 pp, includes pickup from your hostel and three hours in a lancha on the lake.
You’ll make two short stops; one at fort island, and the other at monkey island. You don’t get off here but the captain will have fruit to fees the swingers and you’ll get a good photo of the cuties.
Afterwards, there’s a longer boat break on a private island that hosts a hotel and pool. Relax for an hour, take a swim or grab a 2×1 cocktail. The food is a little expensive, so you’d be better off skipping lunch here.
Isetas are beautiful to see and for us, feeding the monkeys was so worth it. We are glad we did it but don’t kick yourself if you miss this.
Locals might suggest to you to walk down towards the lake (from Calle Calzada and take a right) and then walk along the water front to the Centro Turistico. From here it’s another keep walking 40 mins until you approach the boats. Prices may cheaper down here but not by that much. We dont suggest walking down here after dark.
Treehouse Hostel Party:
If you’re looking for a fun night out on the booze, head for the Treehouse Hostel. Literally party it up high in the trees, and enjoy cheap drinks at the all-night-long fiesta, in this hidden hostel.
Ask for details in your hostel, or head down and catch the specially arranged Sunset bus that leaves from the top of the central park at 8pm and 9pm, and it’s free. Shuttles run back into town before sunrise.
Our Granada highlight, we were buzzed to have finally seen hot, bubbling lava spitting from an active volcano, obviously.
I remember first seeing a volcano on this trip. We were on a bus travelling from Mexico City to Puebla. I was Skyping my little sister at the time, when I saw the smog bellow from a triangular silhouette. I nearly shit a kitten. Myself and my sister gasped, while people stared at me as if I’d been living under a rock all my life. It was just a volcano.
As we ventured through Central America, the novelty of seeing a volcano wore thin quite quickly. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll stop, you’ll gaze and you’ll still continue to pinch yourself but that “holy shit” factor slowly but surely diminishes.
So when we heard that there was an highly active volcano, one that guatanteed a look at hot bubbling lava, a mere bus ride away and we could visit at nighttime, we were in.
As always, there are tours available. As always, they’re so overpriced. Especially for the night time tour, the most appealing one personally.
So in true Ungraceful Guide style we did this DIY and saved a fortune by doing so.
Bus from Granada to Masayaa:
Jump the bus from Granada’s little bus terminal, one block south from the central park (with your back facing the church, head towards the top left hand side corner of park and take an immediate left.) You’ll see some busses parked outside.
Ask for the bus to Managua via ‘Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya’, don’t pay more than 13 cordobas (€0.40) per person.
It’ll take about 30minutes to get there, ask the auydante (bus helper) to call on your when nearer the stop.
Although, we must warn you. Our driver told us to get off at a stop and pointed us in completely different direction of the volcano. Asshole! So maybe ask a fellow passenger instead.
Off the bus, and a little annoyed, when we asked a local for further directions, he told us that busses tend to do that sometimes. For no reason other than to make quick money and then, when needed, to make more space.
This gent flagged another passing bus for us, and spoke to the driver; making sure he dropped us at the right place.
No major biggie, it meant we paid two seperate bus fares so maybe follow the bus route on your Google Maps.
Time: 30-40 minutes
Park and Drive:
Less than a tour but more costly than a day visit, pay 297 cordobas (€8.50) entrance fee (per person) plus 100 cordobas (€2.80) for transport up and back to the volcano. Do not pay anymore than this!
There are many cars and 4x4s parked at the entrance of the park so do price each car. We picked a 4×4 for the fun of hanging off it. At around 5.30pm, the 4×4 brought us to volcano (you cannot trek at night due to high activity). All cars usually leave just before sunset so get here no later than 5.30pm.
It takes 10 minutes to the top, you get to 15 minutes stating into the mesmerising red heavy glare of the lava, and then another 10 minutes to get back down to the entrance gate.
It’s a quick visit, and ideally we would have preferred more time to enjoy the airs brining sensation but due to a recent eruption and activity, the park won’t allow longer than 15 minutes.
As mentioned, it’s much to visit during the day since the park only charges 100 cordobas (€2.80) entry fee. But considering the nighttime darkness adds so much more to the lively (and vivid red) lava experience, we don’t think a day trip would be the same.
Checking online reviews beforehand, we read that before the volcano visit, you kill time before sunset and visit bat caves. But when we were there in April 2017, this wasn’t the case anymore. Do let us know if this has changed again.
This is down to a small eruption that happened a year prior, where many tourists were injured. There was something thrilling about seeing the vans parked with engines still running, all facing away from volcano. If it dis erupt, we were ready to evacuate.
Despite no bat cave visits, we did take a quick stop on the way up to the volcano where we caught a beautiful high, scenic view clouded with flying bats.
Cost (nighttime): €11.30
Time (nighttime): 30 minutes
Bus from Masaya to Granada:
Leave the park and see the main road which you can in on. Stand at the corner of the entrance on the left hand side, flag down any bus, they ayudante will shout “Granada”.
The small white bus is express and costs 20-25 cordobas (€.70). Thethe chicken bus takes a little longer and costs 18 cordobas (€.50).
Time: 30-40 minutes
Visit ABC English School:
We popped by the ABC language school and found it to be way more fun that expected.
At the time, we were looking for teaching jobs and prior to our arrival to Granada, we had been chatting with the owner, Marlon. He invited us down to see the school and meet the students.A quick meeting turned into a whole day as we popped into different classes and levels to help the students practice their conversational English.
It was an incredible insight to local life and their attitude towards the English language. English isn’t widely spoken in Nicaragua. Sadly to say, the education system itself is poor. With primary school being compulsory but secondary being costly, so leaving school while in their early-teens is the norm.
In places like Granada, with thousands of tourists landing on its lakeside shores, to have the second language means these people have better employment opportunities and can therefore improve the quality of life for themselves, their families and their community.
We met a young teen who, outside his own studies, his job and his English lessons, volunteers with a medical team. Together, they visit the smaller and more isolated towns to offer them medical services. His aim is to improve his English so he can start teaching these people. How inspiring is that?!
Now, imagine taking time from your day to help people like him. And all you have to do is talk, listen and have a laugh. Lots of laughs guaranteed.
How To Visit:
Contact Marlon by email firstname.lastname@example.org to pre-arrange a visit or pop on down to the school and knock. It’s on at the bottom of Calle El Consulado Calle near the corner of Elena Arellano.
Laguna De Apoyo:
No trip to Granada is complete without a quick stop at the local holiday hotspot, Laguna de Apoyo.
This natural lake-filled volcano crater is a highly recommended visit, and while many enjoy a day away from the city, we think a day here just isn’t enough.
We were delighted with our decision to stay for the night, and we’re shocked to meet many tourists who didn’t know they could stay at the lake, assuming it was a “day at the beach” kind of thing.
So if you have the time, enjoy a night here, at least! You’ll thank us when you wake up to the sounds and sights of nature that includes screaming Howler monkeys.
We visited during holiday season, and even though it was packed we loved the simplicity, the sheer beauty and the vibes of Laguna de Apoyo. So much so, we decided to give it it’s own blog which you can read here.
A regret of mine was not taking Spanish lessons in Guatemala. Luke is fluent in Spanish so spending 6 hours a day in a class and living with a local family for two weeks to practice was only beneficial for me. I felt my Spanish was already improving and so I ignored the ridiculously low prices starting at €150 per week and on I went.
It wasn’t until I reached Nicaragua that I realised I was sick of self-teaching and craving a classroom environment. After shopping around in León, Granada’s low fees were far more appealing.
To answer your thought, Luke could of course teach me and he does. Every day. But firstly, Latin American Spanish and Castellano Spanish are so different (Latin American Spanish being the easier one in my opinion). Secondly, Luke never went to classes and instead just picked it up while living in Madrid. So he doesn’t really know how to explain the ‘why’ behind the language and I really need that ‘why’ to help me remember.
Anyway, there are so many opportunities to learn Spanish throughout your travels with Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Colombia accents being the easiest to understand. Nicaragua and Guatemala being the cheapest.
Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to improve one aspect of your language learning, I can vouch for One on One Tutoring Spanish School. One week of classes, three hours a day for only €60.
I had two different teachers. One for grammar, rules and regulations and the other for conversational Spanish.
My grammar teacher Roger used familiar methods of teaching, such as drilling, memory tests etc. but it’s effective and he speaks excellent English which helps.
His sister spoke to me only in Spanish and encouraged me to only ever speak in Spanish. We covered conversational topics, pronunciation, reading and writing. Everything from my ABC’s to role playing.
I spent 6 years in school learning Spanish, and left without a bloody word. One week of classes in a Spanish speaking environment and I am delighted to now say I can hold my own. I still rely heavily on Luke as my interpretator but I’ve no fear when it comes to the language and with a strong base, I can get by.
So high on my list of recommendations is to get your habla on and say goodbye to the use of “no comprendo” or as they say here in Latin America “no entiendo.” Granada being the perfect place to do so.
Overall, while we didn’t fall head over heels with Granada that is not to say you won’t. In fact, we are the minor few who felt this way and we always encourage any reader or follower to visit a place and make their own mind up. While influence can be beautiful, personal experience is far better. So on you go and we hope you enjoy every minute.
Actually, let us know if you did by popping a comment below.