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7 Best Things to Do in Granada, Nicaragua

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (also known as Catedral Inmaculada Concepción de María)

Picture this: colorful streets, lively markets, the largest lake in Central America, and a volcano as your backdrop – this is Granada, Nicaragua. If any of that sounds appealing to you, know you’re not alone. All of these things and more make Granada the top city for tourism in the country. 


Granada is the second oldest city in Central America and we loved exploring its rich history, stunning architecture, and natural wonders. From visiting the iconic Parque Central to heading off the beaten path to shop at Mercado Municipal, there's always something to see and do in the city.


In this guide, we'll take you through some of the sites and experiences that are definitely a must-see if you're visiting this Central American gem.


A fountain and gazebo in Parque Central

1. Visit Parque Central de Granada 

Abbey standing in front of Parque Central

If you’re doing any sightseeing in downtown Granada, Parque Central (also known as Parque Colón) really can’t be missed. This is the area that life seems to revolve around in the city and most of the restaurants, shops, and accommodations are within a few block radius from this city center. We stayed in Hostel Oasis, just two blocks from the park and loved being able to walk to Parque Central multiple times a day to grab a bite to eat and take in the vibes. 


At the heart of Parque Central, bordered by la Plaza de la Independencia, is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (also known as Catedral Inmaculada Concepción de María). This is the bright yellow church you see in every iconic photo of Granada. The cathedral has a long history, getting its start as a small temple in 1210. In the centuries since, it has undergone countless renovations and was finally completed in 1972. Today, with most of Granada’s buildings standing just a couple stories tall, the cathedral towers over it all and is a main attraction for tourists. Entrance is free, but you can pay a small amount to climb up to the bell tower. There is also a mass held daily in Spanish (9AM Monday-Saturday, 11AM Sunday).  


The rest of the Parque Central area always seems to be bustling with things to do. The plaza encompasses a large fountain, trees, a gazebo, and a number of statues. You’ll see vendors selling food and souvenirs and can hail a horse drawn carriage here to take you around the city. The park stays busy most of the day and into the night, when the streetlamps come on to light the plaza (though we wouldn’t necessarily recommend being out too long after dark).  


Dinner at Calle La Calzada

2. Eat at Calle La Calzada  

Elliot walking down Calle La Calzada

Directly off of Parque Central you’ll find Calle La Calzada. This is probably the most famous street in Granada and serves as a major hub for tourists and locals alike. During the day, this cobblestone street can be traveled by car, but at night, each of the bars and restaurants bring their tables out into the street making it a pedestrian-only area. 


It only takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end of Calle La Calzada to the other, during which time you’ll be able to see long stretches of brightly colored buildings, vendors selling jewelry and other crafts, and urban art and mosaics detailed in the cobblestone. 


We came to Calle la Calzada for countless meals during our stay in Granada. The food was always excellent, but the experience of eating out on the street and watching the lively city was the true appeal.  


Entrance to Mercado Municipal

3. Shop at Mercado Municipal 

Elliot walking through Mercado Municipal

Open from 5AM to 5PM daily, Granada’s primary market (or Mercado Municipal) is located just a few blocks off the main square. Like many markets in Central and South America, the space is geared toward locals, not tourists. This means you won’t find many souvenirs here like you’ll see in the plazas and parks, but instead will be met with fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, tools, clothing, shoes – really anything you might need on a daily basis.  


The market is held in a large building that seems to have been gutted to make space for each of the individual stalls – nothing fancy but an experience in and of itself. Once you head in, you can wind your way through the colorful maze of vendors, both inside and outside, and get a better taste of what shopping is like for Nicaraguan locals. 

Iglesia La Merced, or Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced

4. Climb Iglesia La Merced  

View from the bell tower of Iglesia La Merced

Granada’s Iglesia La Merced, or Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced, has seen its fair share of turmoil. This Catholic church is set near the center of downtown and was originally completed in 1539. Since then, it was burnt and raided a number of times, leading to its rebuilding in both the 1670's and 1860's.


With chipping stucco and a weather-worn roof, the outer facade of the “Church of Mercy” does a great job reflecting its age as one of the oldest churches in Central America. As you walk inside, however, you’ll be met with a simple, cleanly adorned interior and a beautiful altar and shrine dedicated to the Virgen de Fatima.  


Despite all this, the main reason to visit the church as a tourist is the 360° view from its bell tower. To do this, you’ll head into the church and take an immediate left where you’ll see a thin spiral staircase leading straight up. You’ll need to pay an attendant approximately $2 and from there you’re free to climb. The stairs are tight with low railings and we wouldn’t recommend this to anyone with claustrophobia. Once you reach the top, you’ll be able to see the entire city in the distance, including Lake Nicaragua and Volcán Mombacho.


We met a lot of people who recommended heading up the bell tower just before sunset for the best view. Be aware though, while the church closes at 6PM, the tower itself closes by 5:30PM, so make sure you time your visit right.  


One of the islands seen at Las Isletas

5. Tour Las Isletas  


Elliot looking out the side of the boat at Las Isletas

If you’re looking for a chance to see Nicaraguan wildlife and get a better understanding of the country’s pirate-ridden past, a tour of Las Isletas is the perfect place to start. Thousands of years ago when Volcán Mombacho erupted, it sent sediment flying into Lake Nicaragua. This chain of events formed the Asese peninsula, along with its 365 surrounding islets. 

Given Lake Nicaragua’s strategic position and link to the Caribbean, Las Isletas emerged as a hub for pirates as early as 1665. Nowadays, the pirates are long gone and the small islets are now occupied by local Nicaraguan homes, juxtaposed with the vacation mansions of foreigners. 


A tour of Las Isletas can take quite a few forms: paddle boarding, kayaking, or by boat. We opted for an $18 boat tour and spent the morning learning the Spanish names of each bird we saw, visiting “Monkey Island,” and making a pit stop at Fuerte San Pablo where we were able to climb to the top of the 18th century fortress built to protect the city of Granada from raids. 

Read more about our tour of Las Isletas in this article


View of the Santiago crater at Parque Nacional de Volcán Masaya

6. Tour Volcán Masaya  

Lava bubbling in Volcán Masaya

Roughly 40 minutes from the heart of Granada, you’ll find one of your best tour options in the area. As part of the “Ring of Fire,” a tectonic belt along the Pacific Ocean, Nicaragua has plenty of volcanoes to choose from. However, Masaya is one of the few still known to be active in the country. 


Located in the Masaya District, Parque Nacional de Volcán Masaya is Nicaragua’s first national park, and the largest. At the heart of this park lies the complex volcano, known simply as Masaya, that consists of a series of calderas and craters: Masaya, Santiago, Nindiri, and San Pedro. Upon arriving, we were surprised to discover that the active crater we would soon be seeing is actually Santiago, rather than the Masaya crater itself. 


A tour to the park includes a trip to the visitor’s center, or Museo del Parque Volcán De Masaya, and then roughly ten minutes at the top to take in the crater and see the lava bubbling far down below. If you're lucky enough to arrive at sunset like we did, the plumes of sulfur given off by the volcano will make the sky glow orange and red – making the whole experience even more exciting.


While we heard mixed reviews about the volcano from fellow travelers, we really feel like it’s a must-see when visiting Nicaragua, especially if you’re like us and have never looked directly into an active volcano. The sheer awe this tour inspired was well worth the $25 we spent. 


Read more about our tour of Masaya in this article.


View from a mirador at Laguna de Apoyo

7. Visit Laguna de Apoyo  

Kayaks and SUPs available at Hostel Paradiso

Like Masaya, a day trip to Laguna de Apoyo will take you right to the heart of a volcano – only this one’s extinct. Roughly 23,000 years ago in what would later become western Nicaragua, a large lake began to form in the caldera of an extinct volcano. Today, that lake is known as Laguna de Apoyo, and it has become one of the most-visited tourist sites in the country – for good reason!  


The Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is now one of 78 protected areas in Nicaragua and encompasses the large crater lake and the forests surrounding it. Notably the clearest lake in Nicaragua (and reportedly all of Central America) the water of Apoyo is heated by volcanic vents far beneath the surface. This means the water maintains a temperature of roughly 80F year-round, making it the perfect place for a relaxing swim, as opposed to the big-wave scene of SJDS. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, there are also an abundance of activities to keep you busy including kayaking, SUPs, birdwatching, and freediving.  


Whether you choose to make the trek over to the Laguna on your own or with a tour like we did, you’ll likely end up spending the day at one of the many lakefront hostels that line the shores (like Hostel Paradiso). Our tour cost us $14 a person and included entrance into the hostel ($7), use of all amenities, and a shuttle to and from. 


Read more about our day trip to Laguna de Apoyo in this article


View of Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción from Calle La Calzada

Ultimately, if you're planning a trip to Nicaragua, you can't skip Granada. The history is rich, the streets are vibrant, and there's so much to do you really can't get bored. From grabbing a meal on Calle La Calzada to exploring both active and extinct volcanoes just a short drive away, there's something for everyone in this Central American city.

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We're Abbey and Elliot.

We began our travels in

2022 with just our small backpacks and started this blog to share everything we've learned along the way. We hope we can help inspire your next trip.

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