Our first Nicaraguan experience in gorgeous Granada
Granada, situated on a beautiful lake Nicaragua with the glorious Mombacho volcano overlooking the town has been one of the biggest surprises of our trip. A charming town filled with newly restored colonial buildings painted in pastel shades, huge colourful churches and a network of foreign owned restaurants and cafés with high quality cheap meals. Horse drawn carriages trot down the streets, old men relax in the plaza where they chat with friends and always have time for a big smile and a “good day” as you walk past – these are the things that make Granada an indulgent yet affordable place to easily get stuck here for days or even weeks.
To get here we left La Fortuna in Costa Rica on a 730am bus, connected with a second bus at San Jose to get to the Penas Blancas border. The border crossing was an interesting one, a medical check with temperature taken is mandatory before getting stamped into Nicaragua. It was also an expensive one with a $7 fee to leave Costa Rica and a $12 fee to enter Nicaragua plus a $1 ‘especial contribution’ that only tourists had to pay – for what no one knows. As we entered Nicaragua we already felt a difference – smiling ladies selling fried chicken with plantains and shredded cabbage in plastic bags for next to nothing – this was real Central America.
We arrived in Granada late afternoon, checked into Hostel La Mexicana where the owner who is the most friendly lady we have come across in our travels showed us around. It is a hostel and her family home. It was a simple yet homely place with a small living room with TV, VHS and rocking chairs complete with pictures of family on the walls. A kitchen opening up into a courtyard with hammocks and a small garden was situated outside the 5 rooms. We instantly fell in love with this place and it has become our favourite place to stay of far – at $17 a night it was also the cheapest.
I read that Nicaragua has the best steak in Central America, so craving a good piece of meat we went to Cafe De Arte where we had 2 amazingly tender steaks compete with salad, green veggies and potatoes, with a beer, cocktail and tip for the friendly waiter we paid $20. After that we hit the bar street, Calle Calzada a long pedestrian road and being a Friday night it was in full swing with Mariachi bands, break dancers and magicians performing with mucho enthusiasm. We found a bar with happy hour drinks that seemed to run 24hours and sipped the night away as we watched the entertainers pass by. We had 6 in total including mojitos, caprihnias, and the national drink of rum made with sugar cane for a total of $9!!!
The next morning we visited Don Elba for a cigar making tour – unfortunately we found out they don’t do the tours on weekends but kindly did one for us anyway. We watched the cigar being made which was a much quicker process than we assumed and they allowed Ben to have it and smoke it there. They also had a huge red macaw and let us hold it, in true Nicaraguan style Ben smoked his cigar in his rocking chair and held a big exotic bird. This tour is free so we tipped $5, a very good deal.
As always we had to try the top rated coffee in town as we like to do in each new place – it was a funky cafe with garden and open kitchen called Espressonita – the coffees were some of the best. Yes I say that everytime but I swear they just keep getting better! Then we headed to the Mombacho Beach Club, where for $5 we had access to their amazing pool and facilities. We enjoyed cocktails, sun baking and refreshing dips in the pool in the hot Granada weather.
On our final day we did more strolling of the streets, there is always something interesting to look at, especially when each homes front door is on the food path and they are always open. Peering in, the usual scene was grey haired Nicas rocking back and forth on their rocking chairs, some of the more interesting sights was a naked old man asleep, flat on his stomach on a mattress, small children watching big clunky 70s era TVs and a man shaving on his front steps.
We made our way back to the relaxing beach club where I indulged and got a pedicure and eye brow wax – my first since leaving which is a long time for me! It was $14 for both and guaranteed free use of the pool again. Afterwards we visited Soy Nica, a shop with very colourful leather bags and wallets, hand made on site using modern Scandanavian designs. Ben bought me a beautiful yellow wallet for my birthday!
That afternoon we went on a tour to the Masaya volcano, an extremely active volcano that emits huge amounts of toxic smoke. We were given gas masks, helmets and flashlights as we descended to the crater. Unfortunately it was too smokey to see the red hot lava 600m below but we saw a pretty cool sunset which contrasted nicely with the smoke.
Next we had a guided tour of some bat caves where our helmets came in handy as we walked through a huge tunnel that was made from lava, mineral rich stalagnyes lined the walls with a bright blue shimmer. We saw lots of tiny bats flying about and even a small snake!
As we retuned back to town our driver stopped and said here’s your stop. We were puzzled as we didn’t know where we were, it was a pitch dark street. We then realised as our eyes adjusted we were outside our hostel – there was a blackout in town! We were super hungry for dinner as it was 8pm so headed to town with flashlight in hand. We found a restaurant with generator and shared a very well made potato and sausage pizza and three scoops of the best gelato of this trip so far – made by an Italian of course!
The next morning we had breakfast at the Garden Cafe – a huge breakfast burrito and coffee before heading off to our next destination – Laguna Apoyo. On the way to finding the bus we stumbled across a German owned fruit shop with some amazing exotic fruits – we tired red bananas which were delicious and I bought chia seeds!! So excited as I’ve been looking for them the whole trip – $5 for 1kg bag – I could buy a suitcase full and take them back to Sydney and become a millionaire at these prices!!
Granada to Laguna / Lake Apoyo
Take a chicken bus from mostly anywhere in the city Masaya written on the front. Ask the driver to stop at the lake entrance 30mins .50cents. Next take a taxi which wait at the entrance to your accommodation 15mins $4.
Hostel la Mexicana $17 private room with shared bathrooms, fans, wifi, kitchen and washing facilities. The best value and cleanest accommodation we have had in our travels.
Mombacho Beach Club
$5 for entry to pool and bar but free if you use their spa facilities. $4 eyebrow waxing, $9 pedicures, massages and facials also available.