Following is a List of our Top Things to do in Granada:
There are many things to do in Granada. Above all, you should do a walking tour of the city. Visit Colon Park, the Cathedral and Independence Plaza, all around Central Park. Don’t miss the main colonial churches, they are always interesting. The local museums are a must: the Museum of Archaeology, the Ceramics Museum and the Chocolate Museum. A stop at the Mombacho Cigar facility is also interesting. An alternative to a walk is to hire a horse drawn carriage at Parque Colon. Have your driver give you a complete tour! There is no doubt that a walking or horse drawn carriage tours of Granada is top on the list of things to do in Granada.
20,000 years ago, the Mombacho Volvano erupted. This event created approximately 350 small islands in Lake Cocibolca of Nicaragua. Today, these small islands are lush tropical islands that are home to a large variety of birds, iguanas and even monkeys! Many are privately and have luxurious weekend homes. Some of them belong to the rich Nicaraguans from Managua and Granada. Occasionally you will find a small intimate hotel or a typical restaurant to enjoy a meal. There is even one that has a colonial fortress. The Spanish Conquistadors build the fortress to defend the city of Granada from pirate attacks. The pirates would sneak in from the Caribbean Sea via the San Juan River! A visit to Las Isletas is the favourite among all things to do in Granada for the Nicas.
They enjoy hiring a motorboat and taking a two to three hour tour of the islands. Visit the Fortress of San Pablo, the Island of Monkeys. Meander in your boat through the canals that separate the islands. There is a pleasant alternative to the motor boats, which is paddling around the islands. This option, of course, gives you chance to see many more birds and local wildlife. There are two different operators that provide this tour. Inuit Kayak Tours, located on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, within the Centro Turistico Granada is one. The other is at Marina Cocibolca.
Both provide good boats, good guides and quality service. The cost of the tour is around $25.00 US per person, but depends on how long you are willing to paddle. A paddling tour of Las Isletas is without doubt the most enjoyable way discover these islands. It should definitely be on your list of things to do in Granada. If you decide that you prefer a motorboat, these are going for around $20.00 US per hour. However you might be better off hiring the tour through a local tour operator. This would insure that you get a good boat with a reliable driver! In any case, there are many different boats for hire within the Centro Turistico Granada lakeshore area.
Towering over the city of Granada, the Mombacho volcano is seldom seen. Clouds surround and hide the massive peak. Covered with a dense tropical vegetation, Mombacho has several different types of vegetation on its slopes. This includes tropical cloud forest, a midget forest and a dry tropical forest in the lower areas. The area is part of the Nicaragua National Park system and is officially the Mombacho Volcano Wildlife Reserve.
The last time that Mombacho erupted was in 1570. The volcano is active and regularly smokes out of one of its craters. However, it has been fairly quiet ever since 1570. Mombacho is only 18 kilometres from Granada. To get there, take the road that leads from Granada towards Nandaime and the Southern highway. On this main road, precisely at a junction that leads towards Managua, you will see a clearly marked sign indicating a road. This detour leads up towards the mountain and the Visitors Center for the Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve.
Just before the visitors center you will come upon the Miravalle Canopy Tour, a zipline facility that has a total of 11 cables and three hanging bridges. The installations are open daily from 8:30 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. and have a cost of $28.00 US dollars per person for foreigners and $17.00 US for Nicaraguans. The service includes bilingual guides. They also have vehicles available for tours up to Mombacho Volcano and can arrange for transfers from Granada to the Canopy tour and volcano.
The Visitor Center has a parking area, an information booth and a cashier were you will be required to pay your entrance fee which is a total of $18.00 per person and includes round trip transfers to the summit, and the hiking fee for the trails. Regular vehicles are not allowed past this point unless they are 4X4 in which case you will be required to pay $23.00 US per vehicle plus $5.00 per passenger in the vehicle. Although the road is only 5 kilometres long, and is totally paved, it is extremely steep; you will climb from 250 meters above sea level to 1,150 meters in these short 5 kilometres.
If you do have a 4X4 and decide to drive up, make sure you follow the instructions that guides will give you, especially on the way down use the 4X4 low option and come down in low gear to assist you in braking. You will overheat your brakes if you don’t! Access in your own vehicle is subject to a schedule between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. If you opt for the transfer in the Eco-Mobil (the local truck that provides the transfer service), this service operates with the following schedules: Monday to Wednesday: 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.; Thursday to Sunday: 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. These are the only schedules that this service operates on.
An alternative to this transportation is to hire the transportation services at Miravalle Canopy Tour, just below the visitors center at Mombacho. Tour operators out of Granada selling the trip know the schedules and will have you arriving in time for the transfer.
Coffee Tour in El Mombacho!
Half way up the road you will arrive at Café Las Flores / Finca El Progreso, a coffee plantation and production center that offers a coffee tour. The tour is best between November and January, because this is the crop picking season and thus you will be able to experience first hand the process of producing coffee, from the plant nursery to the coffee bean and actual cup of coffee.
Here you will have a chance to see a working coffee plantation, sit down and enjoy a cup of freshly brewed coffee from the finca and enjoy the views from their terrace. You will also have the opportunity to experience a Canopy Tour operation on the property. The cost of the Canopy tour is $28.75US per person. The Canopy tour includes 7 zip lines, a rappel drop and several challenges. Transfers from the Visitors Center are included. For an additional $6.00 US transfers from Granada can be arranged.
On to the Mombacho Summit!
Continuing on to the top, you will find this is the steepest part of the road, so if you are driving, use extreme caution! The road leads to an altitude of 1,150 meters. Here you will find another visitors center, where you will receive a quick induction of the trails, instructions on what to do or not to do. There is a good three dimensional map of the volcano, which shows the different stops that you will find in the trails. There are two distinct trails around the crests of Mombacho, which can be partially combined to create a third option.
The short self guided trail is the El Crater trail. This hike will take you up to 1 ½ hours and has a total length of 1.5 km. If you prefer to have a guide, you can hire one at the visitor center for a cost of $5.00 US for groups of up to 10 persons. (If you need an English speaking guide please consider an additional $5.00 US to the fee).
The second trail, which is 4 km. long is the El Puma trail. This trail has some steep sections and you can only access it with a guide, which must be hired at the Mombacho Visitor Center at the top of the volcano. The cost of the guide is $15US for a group of up to 5 persons. Again, if you require an English speaking guide there is an additional fee of $5.00 for the group. This trail will take you approximately 4 hours hiking.
Finally, a combination of the El Crater trail and a part of the El Puma results in El Tigrillo trail, which is 2.8 km long and can be enjoyed in about 2 hours and forty minutes. The cost of the guide for this trail is $10.00 US for a group of up to 5 persons, again, there is a $5.00 additional charge for an English speaking guide.
There is a small restaurant at the visitor’s center where you can have typical Nicaraguan food, bottled water and soft drinks.
If you have taken the Eco Mobil transportation service, you must coordinate with them for your transportation back down. The best option is to talk with the park rangers at the visitor center at the peak. Remember that between Monday and Wednesday there are only two trips scheduled, the rest of the week there are four, so you will have more flexibility.
Are feeling really adventuresome, and would like to experience Mombacho at your own pace? Spend the night in the surroundings of this magnificent Nature Reserve. Allow me to recommend that you spend the night at one of the most unique hostels in Central America: El Poste Rojo (The Red Post) This is a unique tree house hostel that is within walking distance of the Miravalle Canopy Tour and the parking area, entrance gate where you can get the transport up to the Visitor Center at the top of the Mombacho Volcano. For more information on the El Poste Rojo Hostel, visit their webpage at www.posterojo.com, E mail them at [email protected] or call at (505) 8903 4563. There is a shuttle operating daily out of Granada that departs at noon from the Bearded Monkey Hostel in Granada.
Laguna de Apoyo
A relatively small volcanic lake, Apoyo is a true jewel and is only a few kilometres from Granada on the road towards Managua. If you are driving your own car, take the road towards Managua, and roughly at km 37 you will see a road on your left hand side leading towards the lake. There are a few detours en route, but they are clearly marked. Follow the signs to Laguna de Apoyo or any one of the several small hotels that are on the lake front. Officially a Natural Reserve, the Laguna de Apoyo is the largest Crater Lake in Nicaragua, and has a diameter of approximately 6 km. across, and a maximum depth of over 100 meters.
The lake has beautiful clear water which is kept at a very pleasant temperature of 27 to 28 degrees Celsius (approximately 75 degrees Fahrenheit) by natural hot springs that vent from the old volcano. The lagoon has no rivers flowing in or out of it, so it depends exclusively on rain water and the hot springs to maintain its level. Although the water is quite pure, it is not adequate for human consumption.
Because of the Natural Reserve status, the use of motor vessels, such as speedboats, jet skis and wave runners are not allowed, therefore only kayaks, canoes and sailboats are allowed on the lake. The vegetation around the lake is a dry tropical forest, which can get quite dry during the summer (November to March) or dry season and very lush in the rainy season (April to October). The forest is home to a series of animals. Monkeys are common in the area. Whatever you do during your visit to Granada, this is certainly one of the things to do in Granada that you should not miss!
Facilties at Apoyo Lagoon
There are about eight small hotels on the shores around Apoyo. The largest, most complete is the Las Villas at Apoyo. This is a pleasant, condo style property on the slopes just opposite of the road from the lake. Although not directly on the lake, there is access to the lake via Norome Restaurant. The Villas at Apoyo actually has a total of 64 rooms. Many of them in one, two and three bedroom villas. Each room with a private bath and access to a common area with a living room and full kitchen. They also have a lovely infinity swimming pool and a restaurant that is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Other outstanding options for sleeping facilities are the Posada Ecologica La Abuela and the Monkey Hut. The Monkey Hut offers transfers from Granada through their sister hostel The Bearded Monkey. Visit them or call 2552 4028 for more information. The Monkey Hut offers nice rooms and a cabin, as well as dorm facilities. They have several kayaks available to their guests on a complimentary basis, as well as a Hobbie cat that rents for $25.00 US an hour. The Posada Ecologica La Abuela offers truly unique facilities with nice cabins. They have a very pleasant restaurant right on the lake front and direct access to the lake. If you have time to spend a couple of nights in the Laguna de Apoyo hotels, you should definitely plan on doing so. It is a great way to get the best out of this top things to do in Granada activity list!
The Catarina Lookout Point
One of the most visited spots around the lake is the lookout spot at the town of Catarina. The lookout is 500 meters over the lake on the rim of the crater. It offers spectacular views of the lake, the City of Granada, the Mombacho volcano. Huge Lake Cocibolca stands in the background. This area also offers a variety of restaurants, souvenir shops and horse back riding tours. Access to the Catarina lookout spot is via the Masaya to Nanadaimo highway and is clearly marked. The town, a cute, clean typical Nica town also has many souvenir shops and plant nursery’s, which are very pretty to look at and definitely very picturesque.
There is a trail that leads from the Catarina lookout center to the lake. You can kike the trail in either direction. I recommend doing it from Catarina to the lake, since this is a downwards direction. Remember that the difference in altitude between the lake and the lookout is over 500 meters (1600 ft)!
In addition to the restaurants at the before mentioned hotels, another very good option is the Norome restaurant, located right on the lake across the street, on the lake side, from the Villas at Apoyo.
The Selva Negra hotel offers Padi diving facilities on the lake. Diving in a lagoon is not as colorful as diving in a coral reef on the Caribbean. Diving in a volcanic crater lake offers a very different scenery and experience. This is a chance to see some of the endemic species of fish that inhabit the lake.
This one is certainly one of the top things to do in Granada. Masaya is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. It is the most active in Nicaragua. The Masaya Volcano is only about 23 km. from Managua. It is roughly half way between Granada and the capital city. Access is very easy from the main Managua to Granada 4 lane highway.
The park is open daily, including holidays from 9:00 a.m. till 4:45 p.m. There is an entrance fee with different rates for Nicaraguans and foreigners. There is a small control building at the entrance to the park where you will pay your fee and receive instructions from the park rangers. The road leading to the summit is paved. It ends at large plaza known as “Plaza Oviedo”. This is basically an area designed for cars to park. Beyond this point it is strictly walking access.
A 177 step staircase leads up to a lookout point were a wooden cross stands. According to historical data, it was put there by a Spanish priest during the early colonial days. According to historical data, La Cruz de Bobadilla, prevents that Satan himself from exits through the volcano’s crater. The natives considered this as a gateway to the Underworld. The sulphur fumaroles, the incandescent lava at the bottom of the crater and the occasional hellish rumble certainly inspired devilish fears!
Halfways up the road there is a visitor’s center with a nice museum. You will find souvenir shop, a store where you can buy water or bottled beverages and park rangers. Here you can hire a guide to take you on the different trails and lookout points. Take note that you must hire a park ranger / guide to have access to the trails. The fee is $10.00 US per person with a minimum of 6 persons in each group.
Perhaps the most popular of tours is the night tour, which is available strictly by reservation. This tour includes a visit to the Tzinasconostoc caves (bat caves). You will also have an opportunity to see hundreds of parrots (chocollos). The parrots live in the small caves around the crater and arrive just prior to sunset. Thousands of bats leave their cave at dusk to feed during the night. This gives you a chance to enter the caves, which where formed by lava flows hundreds of years ago. The tour ends with a view of the crater where you can see the incandescent flow of lava. Make reservations for the night tour through your local tour operator or call 2528 1444. This is the Masaya Volcano Parks office, alternately, call 8393 8730, which belongs to Mr Gustavo Sandino, one of the local park rangers.
Located in Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca, the island is usually overlooked by tourists. It is somewhat difficult to get to, as you must hire your own boat, and accommodations there are limited. However the island has a very rich pre-Columbian heritage. If you are into archaeological areas, this is one of the things to do in Granada that you should not miss! Most of the archaeological pieces that you can see at the Museum in the restored San Francisco Convent in Granada actually came from Zapatera Island. The island still has many archaeological remains, including a large variety of petroglyphs. The island has a total land mass of 52 square kilometres, and has been a national park since 1983. The island is sparsely populated, and the communities there subsist from fishing, agriculture and cattle ranching.
There are two different options for lodging on the island. The community owned alberque at Sonsapote is a basic accommodation that will allow you to mingle in with the local community. The Hacienda Santa Maria Lodge and Spa offers modern amenities in a rural atmosphere. Santa Maria features spa service and truly unique setting. It is in a lovely old hacienda complex. For more information, visit www.islazapatera.com or E-mail: [email protected] . The alberque Sonzapote does not have a web site or email. You must contact Dora Maria Ortega at phone (505) 8755-8790.
You can arrange transportation to Zapatera from the Marina Asese in Granada. Another option is to purchase a tour to Zapatera Island through Kevin. You can find him at his restaurant bar during the evenings, Imagine Bar and Restaurant, or at [email protected].