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I loved spending a lazy week in Granada. But I recognize that for many travelers, those who don’t work online or have a new-found Zumba addiction to feed, for example, seven days might be a bit much. In fact, when it comes down to straight up tourist activities, pretty much everything I accomplished could probably be compressed into a day — though if I were planning an itinerary for a friend I’d allot at least three. One for an active adventure like hiking Volcán Masaya or kayaking to Las Isletas, one for swinging in a hammock, reading a book, lingering in a café and getting a massage at Pure, and one for the sightseeing I’ll outline below.

Throughout the week, whenever I needed a break from my laptop, I’d grab my camera and head out on a part of ‘s self-guided walking tour. Over several days, I eventually made it to thirteen out of the fifteen highlighted locations, and got a great feel for the city in the process.

Colonial Granada, Nicaragua

My first stop was Iglesia de La Merced, a must on almost every tourist’s Granada itinerary. However, it’s not popular because of its centuries-old facade or its colorful interior.

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

No, it’s popular because of the views from its lofty bell tower. From its perch, you can spot every one of Granada’s most famous landmarks, and see all the way to Lago de Nicaragua. As much as I swooned at those views, my favorite memory from Iglesia de La Merced came a few days later, when I stumbled on a Sunday night church service on my way back from yoga. I was drawn in by the sound of live music, and slipped in the back. The service was standing room only, and the mariachi band at the pulpit produced the liveliest music I’d ever heard inside a church. Outside, there were motorcycles pulled right up on the plaza, resting on the facade of a this centuries-old architectural gem, and inside, bicycles rested against the pews. It’s one of my favorite memories from the city.

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

From the bell tower, you’ll have a prime view of the famed Cathedral de Granada, which graces postcards all over Nicaragua. I heard from a commenter on that you can also get into this church’s bell tower with a bit of sweet talking, but I was never able to find my way up there.

Still, I always knew where I was in the city simply by spotting those beautiful red domes piercing the sky.

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

Walking along Calle Real Xalteva, away from Iglesia La Merded, I ticked several other sights off the list. One was the mustard colored church I’d first admired from Merced’s bell tower, and now enjoyed from the shady respite of Parque Xalteva. Another was the pastel hued Capilla Maria Auxiladora, well worth a peek.

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de La Asuncion, Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de La Asuncion, Granada, Nicaragua

Capilla Maria Auxiladora, Granada, Nicaragua

Capilla Maria Auxiladora, Granada, Nicaragua

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

At the end of the road was Fortaleza La Polvora, a fortress that supposedly had amazing views over the city, but I found looking very indefinitely closed. No matter — the stroll has been well worthwhile.

Fortaleza la Polvora, Granada, Nicaragua

Doubling back, I decided to check out the Mercado Municipal. It was the one stop on the map where I thought, what were they thinking? Normally, I love markets, but this one was entirely skip-able. The only thing that made the long walk down a busy road on a bum ankle worthwhile was the big grocery store across the street, where I stocked up on Diet Coke and mysterious Nicaraguan snack foods.

I took the side streets back home.

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

Another day, I walked in the opposite direction, and resumed my sightseeing at the Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco. Here, I’d been primed to find a robin’s egg blue church front, and walked in circles a few times before I realized that the facade had been repainted a bland off-white hue.

Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco

Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco

While the bare bones museum inside was nothing to write home about, the $2 admission fee was nothing to feel cheated out of, either.

Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco

Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco

In fact, I was itching to get inside more of Granada’s gorgeous buildings. In some ways, the city reminded me of Trujillo in Northern Peru — not least of which because of the tradition of leaving front doors wide open with just a cast iron gate closed for security, so you are basically forced to peek in people’s houses. This nosy neighbor loved it. But I wanted more than just a passing glance.

Colonial Granada, Nicaragua

Colonial Granada, Nicaragua

Which is why I was so thrilled to discover the Granada Colonial Homes Tour. I found out about the tour from a small poster on a notice board, which advertised the chance to see inside some of Granada’s most beautiful and historic private homes. I was in.

When Tuesday morning rolled around, I was the only one on the tour. That meant I had plenty of time to chat with Helen, an American woman who has been living abroad for more than thirty years, the last eleven of them spent in Granada. Helen leads the tours to raise funds for Biblioteca Puedo Leer, a library she runs. Apparently, in Nicaragua, municipal libraries don’t lend out books — they are more like reference resources. So her library does.

Colonial House Tour in Granada, Nicaragua

It was an interesting morning in which we slipped through the doors of three different colonial houses. The first one was occupied by another expat, and I loved seeing how she lived in the space. The other two were vacant luxury rentals. All three were all enormous, with huge courtyards – which in the luxury rentals had been converted into pools.

All were beautifully and uniquely restored with just the right amount of modern. The rent, apparently, for about $3-4,000USD per month — I couldn’t stop thinking what a great base they’d be for a family reunion. Our final stop even had a rooftop deck from which you could see the tops of both the Iglesia de La Merced and the Cathedral de Granada. Apparently, the deck was illegal, because you aren’t supposed to build anything that looks into your neighbors courtyard — but Helen explained that a bribe was likely involved.

Colonial House Tour in Granada, Nicaragua

Colonial House Tour in Granada, Nicaragua

This tour, like many others, needs to do a better job advertising — I was devastated when I discovered both SUP and yoga tours to Lago de Nicaragua just as I was leaving. But at least in the case of the colonial homes tour, I’m so grateful I stumbled upon that little notice board. Want to join one? They depart each Tuesday at 10am from the Centro de Arte off Calle Calzada, cost $15, and visit a rotation of different homes each week. Tell Helen I said hi — and to get on Tripadvisor already!

Colonial House Tour in Granada, Nicaragua

Filled up on colonial charm, I was ready to make my next move. Waving goodbye to the cobblestone streets of Granada, I packed by bags and made my way to San Juan del Sur.

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56 Comments...
  • Kristin McNeil
    April 17 2015

    Your photography captures the beauty of Granada magnificently! I think you need to offer an Meihoukai’s Guide to Photoshop course. 😉

    So, gun to your head, which do you like better overall – Guatemala or Nicaragua?
    Kristin McNeil recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      No gun necessary — Nicaragua! I can’t wait to return for a longer stay.

      • Chris
        April 20 2015

        My recommendation would be easily the other way.

        Not to say I didn’t like Nicaragua, but Guatemala is a gem!
        Chris recently posted..

        • Meihoukai
          April 21 2015

          Different strokes for different folks — I felt the opposite!

  • Justine
    April 17 2015

    This post brings me back. I’d love to visit Granada again. I remember being completely smitten with it. And the home tour would be totally up my alley. I love seeing how expats live in other countries!
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      Me too! They do a house tour like this in my mom’s neighborhood in Martha’s Vineyard. Really hoping to catch one this summer!

  • Shirley
    April 17 2015

    Did you do the Cloud Forest tour and the Zipline Tour? Both are fantastic!
    Shirley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      I didn’t! My ankle kind of kept me from anything active 🙁 Next time!

  • Shaun's Cracked Compass
    April 17 2015

    Nicaragua was my first stop outside the US or Canada so I soak up every article about someone else’s experience.

    So glad you enjoyed your time in Grenada. I really like hitting the streets and seeing what you stumble upon. There’s also a boat tour to monkey island that’s fun, I bought everyone a Toña which the boat driver really appreciated.
    Shaun’s Cracked Compass recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      I can definitely see how that would win over the crowd! I tried to do the boat tour, kept signing up but no one ever had a group!

  • Marni
    April 17 2015

    I LOVE how colorful the city is! It really seems like the perfect city to walk around with no real destination in mind.

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      It was basically my favorite thing to do there. Take an hour, grab a camera and go for a walk!

  • I loved Granada the 12 hours I was there a few years ago. I totally would have done the home tour too! Very cool to see how homes are built and designed in different environments and countries.
    Katelyn @ Diaries of a Wandering Lobster recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      Yes! I love being a peeping neighbor 🙂 It was one of the highlights!

  • Maddy
    April 17 2015

    These pictures are just gorgeous Meihoukai! I don’t know how you do it! Well, I mean, I KNOW how you do it, but… still.

    Thanks for the peek inside Granada!
    Maddy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      Ha, this comment made me smile Maddy. Thank you!

  • newsfromNOMADS-Elise
    April 17 2015

    Nice! In the beginning I was confused…Granada…see everything in one day..huh? O you were talking about a different Granada! I went to the city in Spain! Wrote an article about this place, also very nice to go to! And not boring at all!
    newsfromNOMADS-Elise recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      Ha, yes… I’ve been to both! The Spanish one I was at about fifteen years ago so can’t quite recall the details 🙂

  • Sky
    April 17 2015

    Ah, this makes me miss Nicaragua! I regret that I never took the time to explore Granada on foot while I was there…I just took it for granted that I’d have another 2 months to explore it all. Gorgeous shots!
    Sky recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      I know how that goes, Sky! But you know what I always say… good reason to go back!

  • Marina
    April 17 2015

    Goodness, I just thought at first when I saw the title that you just suddenly flew to Spain for a shoestring! Granada, Trujillo.. we both share names of different spanish-speaking villages!

    Nice shoots in any case 🙂
    Marina recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      Ha, nope… this was the Nicaragua version 🙂 Though I wouldn’t mind returning to the Spanish one someday!

  • Emily
    April 17 2015

    It looks so beautiful! (And I hope your ankle is okay!)
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2015

      Finally — FINALLY — it seems to be totally healed! No wonder it took so long when I was Zumbaing my way to healing…

  • Kristen
    April 17 2015

    Funny, after the first few pictures/paragraphs I was reminded of Trujillo as well! My time in trujillo was spent nursing one of the top 5 worse cases of food poisoning I’ve ever gotten–not adventuring into cool buildings. But the neighborhoods sure were colorful!
    Kristen recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 18 2015

      Ugh, I’m so sorry to hear that Kristen. I just went through the same in El Salvador. It truly is the worst!

  • Julie
    April 18 2015

    Now I’m seriously considering bringing my massive family to one of those amazing homes for a crazy Christmas! Or maybe I’ll just go myself and wander around, keeping the red domes in view. So many options!

    • Meihoukai
      April 18 2015

      I couldn’t stop dreaming about a big family reunion in one of them! It would be so lovely — mornings lazing around the pool, afternoons sightseeing, and nights with big home-cooked group meals!

  • Lizzie
    April 18 2015

    WOW the colours are incredible! I love the rows of bright houses – just like a postcard! Like some of the other commenters, I thought you were talking about the Spanish Granada at first, and I was like “eeeee!” because it’s basically just down the road from me (a very long road, mind), but I’ll just have to make do with putting Nicaragua on my ever-expanding bucketlist for now! Fab photos 🙂
    Lizzie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 18 2015

      Thanks Lizzie! It is an insanely picturesque city.

  • Sarah
    April 18 2015

    I love the pictures you are taking at the moment! I guess colourful central America helps too 🙂 I really need to go there, you make me so jealous!
    Sarah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 18 2015

      Thanks Sarah! I’ve been spending so much time photo editing lately but I guess I’m taking a lot of pictures! You guys gushing over them makes it worth it though 🙂

  • Julia Nix
    April 18 2015

    Is there anymore Koh Tao posts coming up? 🙂 I know you are in S.A but still, always love it when you have write ups and pictures of Koh Tao. You can mention basically, anything everything. Ha, Rinse. Repeat. Play.

    • Meihoukai
      April 18 2015

      Unfortunately no, no Koh Tao posts for a while 🙂 Lots of Central America goodness coming up though!

  • Severn Jones
    April 18 2015

    I’m currently planning a trip to South America and your website has become an invaluable resource for me. Thank you for your honest and pleasant to read articles! Xx

    • Meihoukai
      April 20 2015

      That is so lovely to hear, Severn. Thank you! Enjoy your journey to Latin America!

  • Lauren
    April 19 2015

    Such stunning photos! The colours are breathtaking, especially contrasted against that beautiful blue sky. Central America is definitely on my must-see list 🙂
    Lauren recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 20 2015

      It is my second favorite region in the world 🙂 (After Southeast Asia, of course!)

  • Beatrice
    April 19 2015

    I saw the little notice about this colonial home tour! I wanted to do it but I wasn’t there long enough. Granada enchanted and pleased me greatly. Thank you for this post!

    • Meihoukai
      April 20 2015

      You’re so welcome Beatrice… I felt the same way!

  • I love your photos. They’re bright and gorgeous. I’m a big supporter of historical buildings and monuments and would love to go on the Granada Colonial Homes Tour. Very nice indeed!
    [email protected] The British Berliner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 20 2015

      I also loved that it was raising money for a good cause. A morning well spent!

  • Chris
    April 20 2015

    I think Granada is one of the perfect places for you with your photographic talents!
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 21 2015

      Thanks Chris! It definitely had me feeling inspired.

  • Rachel
    April 21 2015

    Fantastic post Meihoukai!

    Love the colourful pics too. I’ve been to Granada for a brief visit years ago, although after reading your blog, I think I need to return and see more!
    Rachel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 21 2015

      I can see why it’s a place people keep returning to! I miss Pure and Garden Cafe already 🙂

  • becky hutner
    April 21 2015

    i jump at any chance to peek into beautiful homes. love the tile & the airy kitchen in those granada gems!
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 21 2015

      The only downside I can imagine would be trying to get around in a downpour 🙂 But yes, love the open air plans as well!

  • tammyonthemove
    April 22 2015

    You are definitely selling Nicaragua to me Meihoukai. What a gorgeous place! The buildings are so beautiful. I think buildings in Central America in general are a bit more colourful than in South America. If only aid workers earned more money, then I would rent one of those colonial houses on the spot. 🙂
    tammyonthemove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 23 2015

      Yeah, I don’t know if there’s anywhere in the world I’ve ever been that has as much color as Central America does. So beautiful! It’s one of the things that will keep me coming back over and over again.

  • Marjie
    April 24 2015

    Granada looks so lovely. I love how a country’s culture shows in its architecture.

    BTW, is Granada catholic? They seem to have a good number of churches based on your photos. Reminds me of where I come from, the Philippines, where we have lots of churches around.
    Marjie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 25 2015

      Yes, Nicaragua is heavily Catholic! Churches are everywhere and from what I saw, services are well attended.

  • Timothy Roney
    May 1 2016

    The Museo del Convento San Francisco has one extraordinary room you may have missed – over a dozen large, ancient stone statues from Isla Zapatera dating from 800 AD.

    • Meihoukai
      May 1 2016

      Hm, I can’t recall if I visited that room or not. I did love Granada!

  • Amanda Keeley-Thurman
    March 9 2017

    Great post, this helped so much with research that I am doing for a future trip. I love the colors and I am definitely going to take the colonial house tour!
    Amanda Keeley-Thurman recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 20 2017

      You’ll love it! That tour was a total highlight for me — so glad I happened to spot their flyer on a random bulletin board!