10 Reasons Why Granada, Nicaragua Is a ‘Must-See City’ in Central America
La París de Centroamérica (The Paris of Central America) is the well-earned nickname for the city of Granada in Nicaragua. The reason for such a title is the importance poetry has there, which makes it the most visited colonial city in Nicaragua.
If you’ve never visited a colonial city before, I can assure you it’s like traveling back in time. Granada, a neoclassical architecture gem—with quaint small houses, tiled roofs next to one another, carts pulled by horses, a cathedral and a square in the center of the town, and narrow romantic streets—is a unique display you will love when you visit.
Furthermore, Granada has a big title too! It is a historical and cultural Nicaraguan heritage city that will amaze you. So accompany me as I explore the 10 best things that make Granada a unique city!
FUN FACT! The word granada in Spanish can also mean grenades or pomegranate.
A Few Facts About Granada
1. Granada is one of Nicaragua’s two colonial cities.
This kind of town is highly common in Latin America, and since Colonial structures date as far back as the Spanish Conquest, they attract many visitors from around the world.
2. Granada is almost 500 years old.
The Spanish conqueror, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, founded Granada and named it Santiago de Granada on April 21st, 1524, making the city almost half a millennium old!
3. Granada has a low population density.
As of 2019, the population in Granada was estimated at 131,018 people. It has 205 square miles (531 square km), which gives it a population density of 285 people per square mile (110 people per square km).
Granada, Nicaragua in a Map
Granada is the capital of the department of Granada. It is 27 miles (45 km) away from Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. 18 miles (30 km) away from Nicaragua’s international airport, and, as you can see on the map, 30 miles (48 km) away from the Pacific ocean, giving Granada an excellent place-geographically speaking-within the Nicaraguan territory.
The weather in this colonial city is tropical. The average temperature in Granada is 77°F (25°C).
10 Reasons Why Granada Is a “Must-See City”
Anyone can write poetry anywhere. Edgar Allan Poe did it in Boston, Gabriel García Márquez did it in Cartagena, József Attila did it in Budapest. Yes, that is all true, but La Paris de Centroamérica is special because of the amount of culture you can breathe through its streets.
Can you imagine 1,500 poets from 100 different countries roaming around the cafés, restaurants, and streets of Granada? That’s what used to happen every February during the celebration of the International Festival of Poetry.
From 2005 to 2018 the festival gathered poets from all over the world. Due to the socio-political events that Nicargua has been suffering since 2018 they didn’t celebrate the festival. In 2020 and 2021, people have celebrated the festival with careful observance of the COVID pandemic safety measures.
Nicaraguan poets Joaquín Pasos, Ernesto Cardenal and José Coronel Utrecho were born in the colonial city. And the mega-famous Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, author of Azul (Blue), A Colón (To Colombus), Amo, amas (I love, you love), and Venus, lived in the center of the city.
PRO TIP! If you’re into literature, check these 6 Latin American Nobel Prize Winners
2. Cocibolca (Nicaragua) Lake
If you saw the map above carefully, you should have spotted a very big lake next to Granada. That’s Cocibolca Lake, which is popularly called Nicaragua Lake and Granada Lake by the locals. The biggest lake in Central America, second largest in Latin America (Titicaca in Bolivia and Perú is the biggest), and the 19th in the world.
The lake has 3,191 square miles (8,372 square km) and more than 300 islets to explore in it, 3 islands and 2 volcanoes. Spaniards used to call it La mar dulce (The sweet sea) and just like any sea, it is the only lake in the world where you can find sharks, more specifically, bull sharks, which have adapted to Nicaragua Lake’s fresh water.
If you’re into ecotourism, Nicaragua Lake is your kind of place. You can surf, do some kayaking, hiking, swimming, horseback riding or simply laying down under the sun and getting a tan.
Ometepe island is the biggest one in a freshwater lake in the world. Here you can find white sand beaches as well as black sand beaches thanks to the volcanic sand from the two volcanoes nearby.
PRO TIP! Both “la” mar and “el” mar are correct in Spanish. Usually sailors call it “la” mar and most others call it “el” mar.
3. Neoclassical Architecture
Some people can consider colonial cities like outdoor museums, and I would totally agree with them. As I mentioned above, Granada has a neoclassical architecture. Big buildings, empty walls, big columns and simple geometric forms all conjugate well to form Granada’s most beautiful buildings.
As in many towns that used to be ruled by the Spaniards, there are many Catholic churches. These are some of the best and most beautiful buildings which adorn the city.
La Catedral de Granada (The Cathedral of Granada) is a beautiful church with two towers on each side accompanying the main entrance. The church itself is painted yellow and has white details which gives off a very simplistic-looking building that goes very well with the city.
La Iglesia de Xalteva (The Church of Xalteva) is another must-see church in Granada, whether you’re a religious person or not, churches in Granada are beautiful pieces of art, from the outside but also within. This church has no towers on the sides, but only one which comes off the main entrance. The church is also yellowish and covers its details such as the columns, cross and saints in white.
La Capilla María Auxiliadora (The Chapel of Mary, Help of the Christians) is a different sight. While always keeping a neoclassical architecture, the church seems to be tall, but this one is painted in white and holds blue details.
Apart from religious temples, there are some others which are worth taking a look at, such as the City Hall (La alcaldía municipal). This one also combines yellow and white, with the coat of arms of the city on top of the building, and columns which seem to be twisted and arches that go along the building.
El monumento a Córdoba (The Monument of Cordoba), El Palacio Episcopal, El monumento a a Emilio Bernard Doude, and Tesoros de Nicaragua Gift Shop are some other landmarks that you should check out when visiting the city.
4. The City’s Peculiar History
Do you remember how I mentioned that Granada is almost 500 years old? Its 497 years of existence give it the title as the oldest city in the Americas, according to Roberto Ferrey in Wall Street International Magazine.
While many buildings inside Granada have “seen” their fair share of action throughout the years, and each one of them holds a different story as unique as the actual building, the city of Granada has a rich history itself as well.
It was the Spaniards who discovered, conquered and built the city. They moved the indigenous tribes out of the place when they arrived. Because of the vicinity to the Pacific Ocean, it was great to build a harbor. What was even better, was Cocicalba Lake closeness to the Atlantic Ocean through the San Juan river, so the place became a city, a harbor and a focus of commerce within Central America.
In Colonial times Spain’s enemies used to attack the city. Among the many attacks, we can mention the one by the English pirates, who wanted to conquer it and wanted to loot the city. These constant attacks led the Spaniards to build La Fortaleza de San Pablo de Granda (Saint Paul of Granada’s fortress) in which several battles occurred. Now it’s a great landmark to visit within the city.
Many years later, in the 19th century, American William Walker conquered the city. He wanted to conquer and annex Latin American countries to the U.S. being there, he fought against other Nicaraguans in a civil war. After this expansion, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras sent troops to fight him and before fleeing the city he set fire to it.
Through it all, Granada is still here today, and when you visit it, you’ll walk among history and find it in every street and corner of the city.
New York City has pizza and hot dogs, Philadelphia has the Philly Steak Sandwich, Mexico has tacos, Argentina has churrasco, what does Granada, Nicaragua have to eat?
El Vigorón is Granada’s traditional dish, so Granada is just the city to taste it right. Vigorón is made of boiled yuca, covered in pork rind and mixed with cabbage. It is a source of carbohydrates, protein and vegetables, perfectly balanced.
El Gallo Pinto is Nicaragua’s national dish. It is a very simple recipe. Red beans, combined with white rice, cooked separately and fried together. You’ll eat a lot of Gallo Pinto when visiting Nicaragua.
Las Tajadas are a great snack! You can find them in the streets of Granada. They’re fried slices of plantain covered with salt. That’s it! The sweet and savory taste combine perfectly and the crunchiness of the fried plantain will keep you coming for more.
Cajeta de Coco is a traditional Nicaraguan dessert. They use coconut and sweetened yuca. They mix the two and make it a ball, which they proceed to cook covering with more coconut.
PRO TIP! If you’re a gastro-tourist and want to learn more about Latin American food, check these 15 Must-Try National Dishes of Latin America
There are few things as charismatic as a Latin American market. Vendors on the street, people bargaining, and narrow aisles where to walk in to find lots of things to buy. If you decide to visit El Mercado Municipal you’ll find a more “authentic” Granada, and not so full of tourists.
The pros of this is that you’ll be able to acquire many things while bargaining and at very low prices, especially super fresh fruit, which you can use to make a smoothie and alleviate the heat. You’ll be able to find souvenirs, food and places where to sit down and actually eat. This market holds the reputation as one of the “cheapest markets” in Central America.
If you’re into more touristy stuff, and a more organized and clean market, you should visit El Mercado San Agustín. This market is built where there used to be a convent, in Colonial times, which was later occupied by Napoleon’s army, and finally it had to be torn down. They rebuilt the market three times, 1988 being the last one.
San Agustín Market has around 60 places in which you can find meat, vegetables, fruit, fish and everything else you can normally find in a market. The second floor has a gourmet section in which to visit different restaurants.
7. Mombacho Volcano
Mombacho Volcano is toward the south of Granada. It is a National park, and if you’re into hiking this volcano makes this city (or its proximity) very unique. The volcano’s summit is located at 4,593 feet (1,400 meters) above sea level , and the volcano is currently inactive, and covered completely in vegetation. You can find 52 species of mammals, 238 different kinds of birds, 12 different species of amphibians, 36 reptiles, 100 different types of butterflies nad 765 different species of flora.
At the summit you can find a scientific lab and a museum as well, which is completely worth visiting. But before getting to the summit you can rest and look down on Nicaragua Lake, and the city of Granada, from the volcano.
Mombacho volcano has three different trails to hike in. El Cráter Trail, El Tigrillo Trail and El Puma Trail are the names of each one, classified in order of difficulty and amount of time to climb them. Mombacho Volcano national park is well-worth visiting.
8. Islets on Lake Nicaragua
A long time ago, the Mombacho volcano erupted so violently that it consumed one third of the volcano. It also erupted big chunks of lava, which eventually became more than 300 islets on Lake Nicaragua. After many years, vegetation grew on them. There are islets as small as 1000 square feet (100 square meters) to 100 hectares.
The islets in the lake are very diverse. Fishermen live in some of them, while some of them are deserted and have simply palm trees growing on them, and some others have cafés, restaurants, and even hotels. You can rent a boat and pay around 40 USD to cruise around the lake and see the islands by yourself, stop to try a plate of vigorón or some cold coconut water, and even spend a night or two at one of the hotels in the islets. This is an experience you couldn’t have anywhere else in the world!
9. San Francisco Church and Museum
The San Francisco Church is an important temple in Granada, and it dates back to 1529. Back then, the pirate Morgan and William Walker burned it, but some of the structure remains intact and it is part of the original church.
If you’re an art lover, you ought to check the museum inside the temple, which shows some pieces of work made by Nicaraguan artists. What’s even more amazing are the statues made by the indigenous people who used to live on Zapatera Island (in Lake Nicaragua). The indigenous tribes built these statues between 800 and 1,200, making them between 1,200 and 900 years old! Talk about taking a tour back in time!
The entrance fee for foreigners is 2 USD.
10. Museum of Chocolate
When you think about chocolate, probably Switzerland and Belgium pop right up in your head, but cocoa is quite Central American, and it was actually used as currency among certain indigenous tribes. Chocolate culture is huge in Central America. Granada has a museum of chocolate (chocomuseo).
You can take a chocolate workshop or make a trip to a cacao farm and learn about how Nicaraguans harvest cocoa, process it, and consume it. Inside the museum you’ll also be able to taste pure chocolate (but be careful, it’s not as sweet as you might think), learn how to make a chocolate bar from a cocoa seed, and taste cocoa tea.
If you decide to take a trip to the cocoa farm you’ll take a trip and be able to see the islets in Nicaragua lake, which will cost 89 USD plus 15% tax. If you prefer to stay at the museum and learn in the workshop the price will be considerably reduced, because it costs 21 USD plus 15% tax.
Get Your Spanish in Motion
Does Granada sound like an awesome city? Before you jump on a plane and go looking for the time of your life in this majestic, colonial city, it would be an awesome idea to learn, practice, or polish your Spanish. Not only to speak with granadinos (Granada’s locals) and the 43 million people who live in the United States and speak Spanish, but to make the price tag on those plane tickets look smaller. According to The Economist, you can earn anywhere from up to 125,000 USD extra just by knowing a foreign language alone.
Sign up for a free class today! And learn how to say anything you want in Spanish. From useful travel vocabulary, all the way to specialized vocabulary to use in your workplace. Learning Spanish is an investment that you won’t regret.
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