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 Lonely Planet Nicaragua‘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.
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.
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.
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 my Instagram 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While the bare bones museum inside was nothing to write home about, the $2 admission fee was nothing to feel cheated out of, either.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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