UPDATE 2019: Check with your local embassy or government travel websites before traveling to Nicaragua to make sure there are no current warnings.
Traveling to Granada, Nicaragua is fun for people of all ages. If you are traveling with children, it’s an easy city to navigate. Here are my Granada recommendations for adults or children in order:
Carriage ride around the city (a must)
We rode in carriage #15 and carriage #21, both drivers were excellent and spoke English. #21 was great with my kids. My kids asked to sit in the front with him and although this was an odd request, he was completely okay with that. My son asked him questions non-stop and he answered all of them, and when he pointed out a church, my son asked if we could go in, and he pulled over and waited for us to go in and look around. He even let my daughter “drive” for a few minutes.
Las Isletas (Islets of Granada)
Before you take the carriage ride around the city, go ahead and negotiate the rate to do the city tour, then have the driver take you to the lake to ride the boat to the Isletas, then wait for you to drive you back. The boat ride was about an hour, and my children (ages 6 and 8) loved it. There are also playgrounds on the way to the boat if you are looking for somewhere to play with small children. We didn’t stop, but I saw several on the way.
There are several good art galleries on Calle el Arsenal between Tip Top and Kathy’s Waffle House.
This random little rustic and magical botanical slice of paradise is attached to the Choco Museo (Chocolate Museum). For some reason my children had no interest in the Chocolate Museum. It was shocking. The two times we walked in, it was crowded and noisy with large groups. I think they do classes and/or tours that people seemed to enjoy, but my children were having none of it.
But it wasn’t a completely wasted trip because we all loved the Choco spa. You can get treatments, but we all just got manicures (even my children). They have a pool that they allow children and my kids loved it. There were people there with toddlers, but I wouldn’t advise it with small children as there are a lot of cactus and you’d have to keep a close eye on your child.
Make sure you go up the spiral staircase next to the bar because there is a fantastic view of the city on the roof, even though it appeared to only be 1 story above ground.
Centro Cultural Museos Convento San Francisco
This is a small museum, but totally worth going to, good for both adults and children. The first two rooms as you walk in are your typical historical people trapped behind a glass window type of museum. And they have a video on Nicaragua that is informative and interesting. Then if you keep walking past the gift shop, it opens up to a courtyard filled with palm trees and paintings on a back room that shake as the wind whips through the building. And there are more statues in a garden out back and a view of the volcano behind the statues.
Most people see this volcano at night. But I didn’t think that our children would be able to stay up or more importantly, engaged for this. From our hotel, the concierge said it was 3 hours there and back at night because of traffic, to only see the volcano for 5 or 10 minutes. (During the day the drive to the volcano was only about 25-30 mins from our hotel.)
So we went during the day, there was no wait getting into the park, no wait at the museum, which was small but well done/informative, and no wait when we drove to the actual volcano to look down. And it was beautiful because you could see for miles and you can see the fields of lava rock that you drive past on the way.
Masaya Artisan Market – Mercado de Atesanías
Cafe du Parc was recommended. On the same park is Kaffe Cafe Bistro. Restaurante Verdi 2 was also recommended. Quesillos el Pipe is another one that was supposed to be great. But we didn’t make it to any of them because we ended up getting smoothies at the Mercado.
Laguna de Apoya
I recommend-ish this. We did not have a great experience because I didn’t know that you have to have reservations ahead of time. But I can see how one would have a good experience if they drove all the way there and were actually able to use the lake and facilities.
Laguna Beach Club would be my top choice to spend a day at Laguna de Apoya, again, call ahead and make sure you have a reservation.
My second choice would be The Monkey Hut, although when we were there they were very unorganized and we stood in line for about 10-15 minutes even though only 2 people we ahead of us in line. And although The Monkey Hut has wifi, they won’t let you use it or give you the password unless you are an overnight guest.
I found that in Nicaragua, it’s not good enough to call and ask if a place is open, you have to call ask if they are open and if you need a reservation. Same with wifi. Don’t just ask if they have wifi, ask if they have wifi that they will let you use.
Our cell phones did not have service at Laguna de Apoya, so if you aren’t on someone’s wifi, you won’t be able to reach the outside world.
Coffee plantation tour – Hacienda el Progreso.
I recommend this, but it wouldn’t be at the very top of my list. If you have already seen and done everything you want to do in Grenada, then I recommend this. My kids loved this and our guide spoke English and was very informative. I believe they also have zip-lining here if that is something you are looking to do. And we didn’t have time to hike, but I read that the hike is amazing.
You can take a shuttle from Granada and they will pick you up at your hotel. Then once you get there you take an open air giant jeep/truck up to the coffee plantation, and it looked like it would be a lot of fun to ride in.
We had a rental car, so I drove to Hacienda el Progreso. It was fine driving up. But I don’t recommend driving up if you don’t have a car with a decent amount of horsepower or 4WD. Or if you’re not comfortable with the idea of driving up the side of a volcano on a one way street made out of cobblestone/tiles and several drainage ditches on the way. (Note: at no point is the road unsafe or near the edge of cliffs, it just happens to be steep for most rental cars.)
Rental Cars vs. Shuttles
You can get around with a car, but also get by without a car as well. The roads are better maintained that I was expecting. There are shuttles and taxi’s and tuk-tuks or motorized rickshaws everywhere. Price wise, we probably would have come out about the same or cheaper to have not rented a car, but it depends on where you are planning to visit during your time in Nicaragua.
WHERE TO EAT IN GRANADA
We ate here two nights. It was both mine and my husband’s favorite place and my children loved it. It’s basically just the front porch of a new/modern hostel and it overlooks a park. They have giant swings that my kids couldn’t get enough of, good music and great drinks. There food was amazing, too. Although the menu is limited, everything we ate was fantastic – lentil soup, chicken sandwich, chicken satay, etc. It sounds wrong, but it’s a kid-friendly bar vibe with good food. Check it out.
This was probably the fanciest place we ate in Granada, although it is still very kid-friendly and has a little house in the middle of the restaurant/garden for children to play in. The service was great and the food was good.
The Garden Cafe
We ate here 3 times during our stay. It’s a restaurant with a garden inside and shop. I think of it more of a breakfast/lunch place, but they might be open for dinner.
Nicer than it sounds. It sounds like something you’d find in a mall food court, but it is better. It has an indoor garden and the best service we had our entire time in Nicaragua. We were seated quickly, the service was prompt, and a manager even came by to ask if we were enjoying our meal. All the food we ate was very good and chocolate lava cake desert was amazing.
Taco Stop (Taco Restaurant)
Down the street from the Choco Museo. It is a good place to grab a quick bite. I wouldn’t plan your day around this restaurant, but if you’re in the area, it’s a good place to eat for lunch. It’s small, but it has indoor seating and sidewalk seating.
Tip Top (sigh)
I made the mistake of accidentally walking past it the first day in Granada, and my kids made me promise we’d go back. We saved this for the last day. Tip Top is like if KFC had an indoor playground. My kids loved it. No, my kids LOVED it. They ate all of their food and played and had a blast. There are several Tip Top locations in cities in Nicaragua.
This place has a cool indoors and garden. I actually didn’t eat here, because I discovered it after we had just eaten and were walking around. But it’s good for drinks and on my list to go back to and eat at next time I’m in Granada.
Kathy’s Waffle House
Everyone raves about it, and it actually looks like a nice place. I just couldn’t get excited about a place with “waffle house” in the title. It is across the street from Centro Cultural Museos Convento San Francisco, and I’m certain it’s delicious, so I’ll check it out next time.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Plaza Colon
I highly recommend this one if it is your first time in Granada. It is centrally located across the street from the carriage rides and park, parque central, down the street from Selina and other restaurants, and it has a good bar and decent breakfast buffet. It also has larger than your average hotel rooms and our room had a vaulted ceiling. And the concierge and front desk staff were very helpful.
Hotel Gran Balcon
This hotel is crisp and modern and nice and the staff are exceptional. The rooms are small, so if you have children or a bunch of luggage it might be a tight squeeze, but it is stunning. And it has a courtyard pool and a good restaurant.
Paraiso Granada Condominums
I highly recommend if you are traveling with several people. It is basically a hotel with a pool and a restaurant, but instead of rooms you have your own condo. The only thing it didn’t have was a washer/dryer. You can have them wash your clothes but it was pretty pricey. I think $2 to $3 per item of clothing.
This hotel is across the street from Paraiso. I haven’t stayed here yet, but everyone that I know that has loves it. However, it’s an adult-only hotel, so if you have children you should book other accommodations.
In general, the food is saltier than I’m used to in Nicaragua.
People wear jeans even when it’s insanely hot. People even wear jeans in water. At water parks. Even though their are signs saying not to.
In some places, the lines in the middle of the road will look like it is okay to pass, but then there will be a sign that says “Don’t Pass” so I’m not sure what the correct answer is, so I’d err on the side of caution and not pass.
There are police everywhere. I can’t decide if that is good or bad. There are many traffic stops.
It is a beautiful country. I was shocked at how well maintained the roads were.
Be aware that if you are reading reviews online about volcanos, apparently people get the Masaya volcano and the Mombacho volcano confused.
Happy travels. Don’t drink the water.