Sometimes called “La Gran Sultana,” or The Grand Sultan, for its Moorish-Andalusian aura, Granada is one of Central America’s best-preserved cities. Its setting on Lake Nicaragua is stunning, and its colonial-era buildings do, in fact, make you feel as if you have stepped into Southern Spain. During our Discover Nicaragua small-group adventure, we call this historic gem home for three nights, giving you a chance to explore after getting oriented with our included horse-drawn carriage tour. Here’s how to make the most of your time:
Stroll the Promenade on Lake Nicaragua. Lined with palm trees and overlooking the largest lake in the country, the relaxed promenade offers a pleasant way to while away an hour or so. As you do, ponder the water’s fame as one of the only freshwater homes to sharks; the bull shark swims upstream in the San Juan River from the Caribbean Sea, jumping through the river’s rapids like salmon.
Admire Pretty Pastel Houses. Granada seems made for strolling, if only because its narrow, cobbled streets were designed for people and horses, not for cars. The result is a cozy- and intimate-feeling city, with many of its lanes lined with vibrantly painted houses. The cheery facades illustrate the pride that home owners take in their homes and, by extension, in their families.
Browse the Bustling Parque Central. Granada’s colonial grandeur is on full display in the city’s main square. The centerpiece is the impossible-to-miss, yellow cathedral (see below). This is also an ideal spot to mingle with the vendors selling local items such as straw hats and mangoes. The square has long been a commercial heart of the city. In the 1950s, the proximity of your house to Parque Central defined your social status; the closer you lived to it, the higher your place.
Sample the Culinary Scene along La Calzada. Granada is fast becoming a food destination, and sampling the dishes along La Calzada explains why. Along this pedestrian boulevard, relaxed cafes and high-end eateries serve up the fresh bounty of Nicaragua’s fertile farms. The street, with its colorful colonial buildings and stately mansions, is also the perfect place for an after-dinner stroll.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth at the ChocoMuseo. Chocolate is one of Nicaragua’s major exports, so we’re sure to take you to the city’s chocolate museum, located in the seductively named Mansión de Chocolate. Here, you can learn about the local history of the cacao bean, then enjoy a hands-on demonstration of roasting and grinding, followed by the chance to mold your own delectable chocolate bar.
Marvel at the Granada Cathedral. So bright is this breathtaking, butter-hued masterpiece of neoclassicism, you would never know that it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since its initial construction in 1525. Its most recent completion was in 1972 and features four chapels and twelve beautiful stained-glass windows set into the soaring dome.
Ascend the Bell Tower of La Merced Church. Originally built just ten years after the Granada Cathedral, La Merced Church is praised for its deep character and authenticity. This historic treasure certainly shows its age—how could it not, after having been razed by pirates in 1655 and damaged by revolutionary forces in 1854—but it is beloved as a religious stalwart by the city. You can climb its soaring tower for a small fee, worth the climb for the sweeping city views you’ll enjoy.