Few Central American cities can compete with the colonial charm and lovely surroundings of Granada, Nicaragua—the region’s oldest city (founded in 1524). Granada is less than an hour’s drive from Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, and nearly as close to pristine Pacific beaches. Here’s what to do:
1. Avoid the Heat. Midday temperatures often soar above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). Cool off at nearby Laguna de Apoyo, approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside Granada. The volcanic waters are even said to have healing powers
2. See the Isletas. Take a boat tour of the approximately 356-island archipelago that dots Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest lake. The inhabitants are a mixture of local fisherman, wealthy Nicaraguans and expats seeking solitude.
3. Stroll through Parque Colón. Also known as Parque Central, the plaza bustles with artisans, troubadours and Vigorón sellers, offering the traditional plate of yucca, pork rind, salad, and chicha (a fermented corn drink).
4. Visit Convento San Francisco. Built in 1529, the convent was nearly destroyed when William Walker’s troops set the city ablaze in 1856. Today the convent has been converted to a historical museum and cultural center, but the adjacent church still offers mass services.
5. Hike Volcán Mombacho. Ten miles (16 kilometers) south of Granada, explore one of Nicaragua’s active volcanoes. Zip line tours that allow travelers to skim over the national park’s four craters await the adventurous.
6. Savor Street Theater. Find an outdoor table at any of the cafes or bars that line bustling Calle La Calzada and settle back to take in the evening street life, including the myriad of street performers.
7. Take in the Colonial Architecture. An afternoon stroll through Granada’s colonial past will offer views of elegant sixteenth-century homes. Stop and meet friendly Granadinos who customarily enjoy the afternoons in their rocking chairs (made in the nearby town of Masaya).
8. Be Poetic. Every February the city’s week-long International Poetry Festival, which began in 2005, celebrates Nicaragua’s legacy of acclaimed poets such as Rubén Dario, Ernesto Cardenal and Giaconda Belli—and attracts poetry-lovers from around the world for programs of readings and concerts.
9. Feast on Guapote. Head to El Zaguán, just off Parque Colón, for steak or guapote (rainbow bass) from Lake Nicaragua, deep-fried and served in a tomato-onion salsa. Wash it down with a Toña beer.
10. Dance the Night Away. Catch Nicaragua’s contemporary music scene at the unpretentious Café Nuit, with acts ranging from trova to salsa.