Granada, Nicaragua is one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas, founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, a Spanish conquistador. If you’re wondering if it’s in anyway related to the city that’s home of the Alhambra in Spain, it is. Granada, Spain was Córdoba’s hometown.
With picturesque streets, a lakeside location and history at every corner, it came no surprise to me during my visit to learn that Granada is one of Nicaragua’s most visited destinations. It’s proximity to nearby attractions such as las isletas de Lake Nicaragua, Laguna de Apopyo, Mombacho Volcano and Managua also make it a great base to explore the rest of Nicaragua’s treasures.
Granada has museums, cathedrals, unique restaurants and local markets, but my favorite part of visiting was simply wandering the old streets and taking in the architecture, colors and people. Here are some of my favorite snaps from my stay.
Granada, Nicaragua in Photos
Catedral de Granada
The most prolific sight in the city of Granada is the Cathedral of Granada. It’s bright yellow walls and red topped peaks loom in the distance down nearly every street corner. Although a church has sat on these grounds since 1583, the current church, built in a neoclassical style, was finished in 1915. The original cathedral was destroyed by William Walker, an American politician who attempted (unsuccessfully) to conquer parts of Central America in the mid 19th century.
Granada is a flat city, and it can be difficult to photograph the cathedral in its entirety due to its massive size and the narrow streets that surround it. The interior of the cathedral is painted a similar yellow hue and marked by tall arches and rows of pews that lead to the cathedral’s altar.
Cathedral of Granda Bell Tower
For a whopping $1, visitors can climb the cathedral’s left bell tower. Narrow metal steps wind up several stories to a platform that overlooks the city’s sights, including Central Park, Iglesia La Merced and the Central Plaza. Given that the city is flat and two-story buildings block any wide views from the street level, the bell tower is an excellent place to get a panoramic view.
Parque Central is the main hub of action in Granada. The park’s cobblestone plaza is full of local artisans, street vendors and families enjoying a stroll. I guess here is a good time to mention a not-so-charming fact of Granada’s streets and public spaces: cat calling. In all my travels around the world, I have never been cat called half as much as I was in Granada. As a female solo traveler I guess I’ve been lucky to largely wander the world anonymously, unnoticed or unbothered as I explore. In Granada, down every street I was whistled at, shouted at or, in some cases, followed.
In my first few hours in Granada I tried to avoid attracting attention to myself by wearing pants and a long-sleeved shirt. The heat was sweltered and I eventually changed into shorts, and then, in a further attempt to find relieve from the heat, a thin, cotton dress. The levels of cat calling remained the same, loud, insistent, unrelenting, no matter what wardrobe I was wearing.
Streets of Granada
I didn’t feel unsafe walking the streets of Granada alone, but the cat calling did get annoying. Combined with the heat it wore me down and I found myself spending more time at my hotel, Casa Lucia Yoga Boutique Hotel, than I normally spend at my accommodations while traveling.
Calle La Caldeza is where the main dining scene in Granada is located, home to a swirl of traditional Nicaraguan, Mexican and American restaurants. This street leads from near the shores of Lake Nicaragua to the backside of the Cathedral of Granada. The restaurants here bleed into the street and eating on the patio and people watching from a street-side table is a “must-do.”
I found Calle La Caldeza to be loud and chaotic, and full of stray dogs and more cat calling. As I ate dinner at a restaurant on the street one night a pair of beggar children came up to my table and asked me for money. It felt horrible to not give any money to the sweet, pleading faces before me, but Granada’s hotels and restaurants are full of signs urging visitors not to give money to beggars. Giving money doesn’t solve the problem of poverty, but rather reinforces a culture of begging. If you really want to help, locals recommend spending your time in Nicaragua volunteering rather than giving away your money.
Following this advice I hung my head at my table and ignored the children. After several minutes of pleading they turned hostile and started shouting at me, screaming, calling the attention of all the other dinners around. The owner of the restaurant, a portly Nicaraguan woman, came out and screamed back at the children, telling them to leave me in peace. The children didn’t leave. Instead they threw ice cubes at me and the owner moved me to a different table. This was one of the most uncomfortable situations I’ve encountered in my travels. I felt conflicted and guilty, and went to bed early that night. No drinking for me in Nicaragua.
Iglesia de La Merced
Granada’s second most famous church is Iglesia de La Merced, home to the patron saint La Virgen de La Merced. The bell tower here offers some of the best views of the Cathedral de Granada, but unfortunately I didn’t climb during my visit.
Granada sits on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America and second-largest lake in Latin America. Larger than the island of Puerto Rico, this lake has 375 islands which were formed by volcanic activity some 20,000 years ago. The lake also offers views of Mombacho volcano, an active volcano that is a popular destination for hikers in the country.