Granada Just Wasn’t for Me

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When I first booked my trip to Nicaragua, I didn’t have any intention of going to Granada.  I ended up changing my mind at the last minute, simply to have a quick trip from the airport when I arrived.  It’s an easy 45-minute taxi to Granada, and it looked awfully pretty.

Granada, Nicaragua is a colonial gem but the ambiance didn't mesh well with expectations of this traveler. Have you been? What did you think? Full editorial at https://sightdoing.net/granada-nicaragua/

Situated on Lake Nicaragua, Granada is a picturesque city.  It was named after Granada, Spain when it was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and it has been an important city in Nicaragua ever since.  Today, its colonial history lives on through beautiful buildings and a gorgeous yellow cathedral.  Even the streets are pretty to walk down and the Central Park is a lovely respite from the nearby market.

Granada, Nicaragua

Combined with its pleasant setting, Granada offers a lot to do and a developed tourist infrastructure, so it’s no surprise that it’s a popular place to visit in Nicaragua.  You can boat around the small islands of Lake Nicaragua, make your own chocolate from locally grown cacao, take a horse and carriage ride (or go horseback riding), or indulge in a spa treatment.  Granada is also a popular base for day tours to surrounding volcanoes and a few other areas and because of that, tourists tend to stay awhile.

Granada Nicaragua

Despite having the potential to be charming, I found Granada to feel too much like home.  I was surrounded by English menus, bars full of ex-pats watching the Denver Broncos play, and merchants selling worthless made-in-China souvenirs.

Add to that children begging for hand-outs, prostitutes on some street corners, and a laundry list of places that I was warned to avoid after dark, and unfortunately Granada lost a lot of its potential old-world charm.

Calle Calzado (the main drag) early in the evening, before it was swarmed with tourists
Calle Calzado (the main drag) early in the evening, before it was swarmed with tourists

I’m not trying to give Granada a bad review and in fact, I stumbled upon a few things that made Granada really interesting.  I enjoyed wandering through the local market (as I often do).  I stopped to watch a neighborhood baseball game and it was pretty apparent that baseball is truly the #1 pastime of Nicaragua.  Out of luck, I also stumbled upon a funeral procession — one very different from what I’m used to.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/wnqpIr7VFkA]

I’ll admit that I am often quick to judge whether or not I like a city, and I have no doubt that Granada has other experiences to seek out.  However, when you travel solo, you’re allowed to call all the shots and move onward without having to justify your decision (especially when you have no pre-set plans).  I ended up spending very little time in Granada itself, which was the right decision for me.

Warming up for a friendly baseball game in Granada, Nicaragua.
Warming up for a friendly baseball game in Granada, Nicaragua.

I may not have been impressed by Granada, but I loved Leon and have a wishlist of other places to visit on my next trip to Nicaragua.

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If you’ve been to Granada, what was your impression?  Did I miss out on something wonderful?  Let me know in the comments!

17 thoughts on “Granada Just Wasn’t for Me”

  1. I have been to Granada twice and stayed with a family and took Spanish. I did not consider myseff a tourist. I did not go to Leon the first time but did the second. It is surprisingly more friendly. You sit on a bench and the guy starts talking to you. Yes Granada is less authentic and has sidewalks that look pretty. Ihave a few friends there, they are not gringos, they are the horse carriage operators , a tour guide a driver. I do not seek out other gringos. You need to make the effort to bond with the locals not hang out in tourist bars. I am going back again as Granada has my heart. However I usually am ore interested in the locals than tourists so I always try to bond with the locals. Helps to speak Spanish as well. I will be renting a house for 5 weeks next Christmas. Yes I see gringos at Kathy’s but pretend they are no there. Perhaps you should go to Costa Rica, seems it wa made for tourists.

    1. @Ian, it sounds like Granada is a wonderful place dear to your heart. It just wasn’t a good fit for me and I’ll be heading elsewhere in Nicaragua for my next trip. Happy travels!

    2. Why would she go to Costa Rica because it’s made for tourists? If you read her article she said Granada wasn’t for her because it was more touristy than other cities.

      Your whole comment is just trying to puff yourself up and act like you’re better than other travelers because somehow in your mind you’re not a tourist even though you’re exactly that.

      If you really hate being around gringos so much, go to a city with less gringos rather than going to the most touristy city in the country and then “pretend they are no there” when you see gringos.

  2. As a Nicaraguan who left the country at an early age, I finally visited Granada for the first time 4 years ago. It really doesn’t look anything like the rest of the country and maybe that’s why I liked it. It was different for me, it was beautiful and I got a sense of peace just sitting at the park having ice cream watching people go by. I didn’t stay the night or anything, it was more of a day trip.

    It IS a touristic destination so I see what you’re saying when you say you felt more like you were at home than anything else. But I enjoyed it because at least for me, it was very different to the rest of the country and what I’m used to when I go back to visit family.

    If you’re looking for a more authentic experience then I definitely agree, that probably wasn’t it.

    BTW, next time you’re in Nicaragua you should visit Matagalpa (not sure if you have already), and go to Selva Negra. It’s a nature reserve with beautiful hiking paths. Definitely recommend it. 🙂

    1. @Aurora, On every trip, I’m looking for something different and because of that I can understand how sometimes Granada may be the perfect destination for a certain person. I’ve heard wonderful things about Matagalpa and hope to visit there someday.

    1. @JCyr, I’m not opposed to “pretty” towns (I loved Antigua, Guatemala, for example) but Granada seems to have lost a lot of its personality. Such a shame!

  3. Amanda Venegas

    Did you go to Las Isletas in Granada? That is one of the best spots in Central America, yet you didn’t mention it. They are a group of little islands in the lake. You can get a ride on a small boat for about a dollar and go to a restaurant or pool on one of the many islands that has them. When I went, I ordered fish and they went off one side of the island, caught it for me, and threw it on the grill. It was gorgeous.

    1. @Amanda, I did not go to las isletas – I did go to the dock area on the lake with the intention of going there, but ended up deciding against it based on how badly the lake smelled. Glad you had a good time though!

  4. @Becky: I’m from Granada and so is my family with whom I migrated to the U.S. in 1976 when I was only 13. I’m now 51 and have not been back to Granada. However, I know people that have gone and came back and told me stories about Granada today. I’ve also seen pictures and videos and I can’t help to agree with you that the city has lost a lot of its charm. It isn’t what it was when I left in 1976. It has been gringonized with European and American tourists. I’m more shocked by how Americanized its youth is. American culture, capitalism, and way of life has infiltrated the city in the same way it has in many other Central American cities. I’m sure you must have noticed this.

    Looking at its history, we see that Granada has been witness and victim to many of the battles with and invasions from English, French and Dutch pirates trying to take control of Nicaragua. The city was set ablaze by Charles Frederick Henningsen, who was an army general to William Walker, an American filibuster. I read somewhere that the city had been set ablaze more than once before the Spaniard Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba founded the city in 1524 and crowned it the settlement of the conquest. Can you imagine the charm of the first colonial Granada?

    I will be going back to visit next year hopefully. I am sure I will be disappointed. Much of the family and friends we knew were killed by Sandinistas. The rest moved out of the country. I don’t know anyone there anymore. But, I can’t help to feel the urge to go back to the land of my childhood and visit many of the places I visited with my family as a child (some are still standing).

    I have to agree with Amanda Venegas when she said Las Isletas is one place you should have explored. I mean, have you seen the beauty of these little islands from pictures taken from the air? Have you seen pictures or videos from land? You could spend days exploring them; the area is so huge!! I don’t know about that smell coming from the lake, but I doubt it very much that it smells like that all over Las Isletas.

    I have a feeling that one day you will go back to Granada and go to Las Isletas. You should bring a helicopter and rent one of those little islets all for yourself while you’re there. Here’s a link to one of my public postings on my Facebook profile in which I shared some history about Las Isletas (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=542735689108663&set=a.368542716527962.75557.100001167115382&type=3&theater).

    HAPPY TRAVELS!!

  5. @Lucia, Thanks for sharing your story. I really hope that you connect with Granada again when you return and I can understand the urge to go back. Don’t go back expecting to be disappointed; my experience will not necessarily be the same as yours.

    It sounds like Las Isletas is a popular place to visit and maybe someday I will return. As for now, my list is still too full with places I haven’t yet been to or places I loved and would like to re-visit. Unfortunately, that means places like Granada may not be re-visited in the near future. I’ll keep you posted if plans change!

  6. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having tourists from different parts of the world coming to visit the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. I have been to Granada and contrary to feeling a gringo commercialized city, I felt like it had a lot of history through the architecture, the activities(horse and buggie ride), the food, and even just the local transportation (chicken buses). I went with my aunt five years ago and you can tell it is up and coming which is something to celebrate. It will not become a major populated metropolitan city over night, but it is nice to see that tourism is helping pique the interest of other nations to help Nicaragua build a strong infrastructure, i.e. the Dutch building windmills, Chinese building canals. In the week I was there during Semana Santa, we saw a parade, went into the church during mass and climbed the tower, and met a lot of friendly locals who always wanted to chat us up. Not only are Las Isletas beautiful, but renting a bike and riding around the town like the locals is also a great thing to do. I understand you may not like the city through your various reasons, and they are your own opinions, but I feel like one day is not enough time to judge a city. I am sure if it wasn’t for Granada or Leon, which are both heavily Spanish influenced, most people would not put Nicaragua on their map as a travel destination. Anyway, safe travels and glad you enjoyed this special gem of the the Americas!

    1. @Blue, Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I certainly agree that Granada has plenty to offer and that one day is probably not enough to judge a city. However, I also feel like my time is precious and that if I’m not enjoying a destination, it’s not worth sitting around and hoping to like it on day 2 when there are many other places in the world to visit. I absolutely loved the other places I visited in Nicaragua, though!

    1. @Karlie, If you have time, I’d say you should do both – some people really love Granada and it is picturesque at the very least. However, my obvious recommendation if you only do one is Leon. Happy travels!

      1. My husband and I have been reading some more of your blog, along with many others, today, and I think we’ve both decided on splitting our time between León and the beaches in the north rather than Granada/San Juan Del Sur. We may spend one night in Granada on the way back to the airport.

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