My love affair with Central America began nearly fifteen years ago during a wonderful trip to Guatemala with my best friend, Amy. Since then, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to return to this amazing region many times over. It’s safe to say that T and I have never met a Latin American country that we didn’t love and Nicaragua was certainly no exception. Over the past few years, Nicaragua has received a lot of (well-deserved) attention and has been deemed by many as “the next Costa Rica”. Well, considering T and I married and honeymooned in Costa Rica, and recently returned a few years ago with friends, Costa Rica has always held a special and long-lasting place in our hearts. So my desire to travel to Nicaragua didn’t just occur out of the blue. Nicaragua’s constant comparison to Costa Rica piqued my interest and well, I just had to experience firsthand what all the hype was about. It didn’t take long for Nicaragua to quickly rise to the top tier of my forever-growing travel list. So when I found reasonable flights for over winter break, I immediately jumped on booking our trip. While Nicaragua certainly has become red-hot (see what I’m doing here?) over the last few years and travelers from around the world continue to flock there for its beauty, charm, and affordability, we were thrilled to see that so much of it remains pleasantly undiscovered. Of course, like with all good things, our beloved Costa Rica included, it’s hard to believe that this will last for much longer. My advice? Go to Nicaragua now! The secret is out and surely it won’t remain untouched forever. On second thought, maybe wait until you’re done reading this post. Then, by all means, book your tickets and go!
Less than thirty miles from Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua, the quaint and picturesque city of Granada feels and looks like a completely different world. After doing some brief research on Managua, T and I decided to forgo its hustle and bustle and pre-arranged a car transfer directly to Granada. Within minutes of wandering through this colonial city, I was instantly transported back to the charming city of Antigua, Guatemala (a city that I love) with its cobble-stoned streets, Spanish-style architecture, and myriad of colorful and well-preserved buildings. Ah, those colors though. Granada is easily one of the most colorful cities we have ever visited; its rich palette of vivid hues will immediately put a smile on even the most weary traveler’s face. Beauty has certainly painted a broad stroke across this lovely city in the best possible way. There in Granada it was clear my love affair with Central America was alive and well.
I see your true colors, Granada. And I like ’em.
Like so many Central American cities, Granada’s heartbeat lies within its central plaza, Parque Central. The Cathedral of Granada, a stunning example of Nicaragua’s prevalent colonial-era architecture, looms over this picturesque square. Throughout this historic district, street vendors line the edges of the plaza selling everything from woven table runners to ceramic pots and embroidered children’s clothing. Lurking in the shade of the trees, numerous stalls brim with various handcrafted items and local street food. Enjoying delicious iced coffee while people-watching in this delightful square was the only proof we needed that Parque Central was indeed a special place.
We ate very well in Granada. Our two favorite dining spots were both off of the main street, Calla La Calzada.
Bistro Entrada: Regarded as one of the best dining spots in Granada–the food and ambience certainly lived up to its excellent reputation. Considering Granada’s laid-back vibe, this restaurant feels a bit “higher-end”, and of course it comes with higher price tag. Definitely recommend, however it’s somewhat expensive compared to other Granada restaurants.
The Garden Cafe: Delicious, healthy and plenty of vegetarian and pescatarian options. Their lovely courtyard provides a beautiful and romantic atmosphere. Highly recommend.
Just off of Parque Central lies a wonderful pedestrian zone lined with countless restaurants, bars, gelaterias, and street performers. This main street is certainly touristy but we found it worth spending some time here. A great place to eat, drink, and people-watch. We loved the gelato at Montebianco.
Granada’s ideal location on Lake Nicaragua provides a plethora of wonderful day trips, all within easy reach. We took a half-day boat tour of the nearby isletas with the wonderful tour company, Tierra Tours. We sailed around the Asese peninsula and learned that 365 small islands, formed nearly 20,000 years ago by a massive volcanic explosion, are scattered throughout the peninsula. Along the boat tour, we saw beautiful scenery, a few fishing villages, a wide variety of birdlife and a Spanish fortress. We stopped at a restaurant/bar to enjoy some refreshing Tonas beer and coconut water (coconuts cracked by yours truly…thanks, Jillian!).
Hanging out with some locals…
The Spanish built a fortress in the 17th century to stop pirate attacks of Granada. There are spectacular views from atop of the fortress.
So, is Nicaragua the next Costa Rica? I guess it depends on who you ask. It’s lovely, vibrant and welcoming in its own right and certainly shouldn’t play second fiddle to any country, including its neighboring big brother. But don’t take my word for it. Now that this post has ended, you have the green light (last color reference–I couldn’t resist!) to book your tickets and plan your trip. Get set. And go!