Day Trips From Granada, Nicaragua
After racing our way northwards through Panama and Costa Rica, Adam and I were done with moving around once we got to Nicaragua. Lucky for us, there are plenty of day trips from Granada, so we didn’t have to travel far to see some awesome sights!
Here’s my list of top day trips from Granada…
Just a 30 minute bus ride outside Nicaragua lies the picturesque town of Masaya. While the Masaya Volcano National Park is the main draw for visitors (see no. 2 below), the town itself is well worth a day trip from Granada.
Masaya is known for its handicrafts, which are sold each day in Masaya Market Castle (yes, it’s an actual castle). The stalls are overflowing with colourful hammocks, wooden statues, and embroidered clothing. I had to keep reminding myself that I still had a few months left before going home, otherwise here is definitely where I would have stocked up on souvenirs.
There are several small eateries inside the castle itself, and a local family band were performing while we were there. Unfortunately, we missed the weekly folkloric dancing that takes place on Thursday nights.
The rest of the town can be explored by a horse-drawn carriage trip (around US$2.50 per person) or via the tourist train, which departs from Hotel Madera’s Inn on a 40 minute tour (Thursday to Sunday only, $2 per person).
We chose to explore Masaya on foot, and strolled through the pretty streets lined with colourful trees and painted stones. We also visited the nearby lake, where we could see smoke rising from the volcanic crater of Masaya Volcano Park.
2. Masaya Volcano National Park
Masaya Volcano National Park was the trip that I was most excited about in Nicaragua. Hiking to a continually smoking volcanic crater, surrounded by woodlands filled with racoons, iguanas, monkeys and more- what’s not to love?
Unfortunately for us, a recent surge in activity means that the park was closed when we were in Granada. At the time of writing, there is limited access to the crater, and the rest of the park remains closed.
When it is open, the park offers several tours, including a variety of hiking trails, trips through underground lava tunnels, night tours to see bats, and visits to the active crater. Based on descriptions such as this, it looks like we’ll need to plan a return visit to Nicaragua!
3. Pueblos Blancos
The Pueblos Blancos are a collection of towns that make some nice day trips from Granada. Located on a mountainside, they offer views of the Laguna de Apoyo, a serene blue lake surrounded by forested slopes.
We opted for the town of Catarina, where we visited the mirador overlooking the lake (entrance fee $1). It was a nice view, if a bit hazy, but I’m not convinced it was worth the trip. There isn’t much to do here except sit and enjoy the view, or grab something to eat at the overpriced restaurants nearby.
4 Laguna de Apoyo
There are several options to get to Laguna de Apoyo on a day trip from Granada. The first is to get to the mirador (see no.3 above) and either walk down the steep trail towards the lake, or hire a horse for $5. If you want to skip the mirador, you can take a bus from Granada (look for the bus labelled “El Valle de la Laguna”, $0.70). Or, you can walk the two kilometres from Granada to the lake (the walk there is easy, but it is steeply uphill on the way back). Taxis to and from the lake are overpriced, at around $10.
The lake draws crowds looking to escape the searing Nicaraguan heat by cooling off in the water. Hotels offer docks where swimmers can enter and exit the water.
Reserve Natural Volcán Mombacho makes for a nice, if tiring, day trip from Granada. Buses drop visitors 1.5km outside to the park, from where they can walk or take a tuk-tuk to the entrance. From here, you can take the bus to the top of the volcano, but we opted to walk instead.
The climb to the top was a sweaty, exhausting, uphill struggle. The surroundings were beautiful, though- a lush rainforest where we spotted birds and howler monkeys. And the the sense of accomplishment when we finally made it to the crater and looked down on where we had started made the tiring hike worth it.
At the top of the volcano, several hikes are available, though a guide is compulsory for the longer trails. We opted for a short and easy 1.5km loop around the crater. As the crater is covered in thick forest, the only indication that we were standing on top of a volcano was the sulphurous smell.
There was no way we could have managed the hike back down the volcano, so we chose to take the bus. At $10 for the bus down, and $15 for the entry to the park, this was the most expensive of our day trips from Granada (though just about worth it).
Tips for Day Trips from Granada
Protect yourself from the sun, especially when hiking. The heat here can be unbelievable, so go slowly, drink plenty of water, and cover up against sunburn.
Entrance fees can be paid in US dollars or Córdobas (the local currency). If you are using dollars, be sure that the bills are in perfect condition (no marks or tears), or they may not be accepted.
Buses for different destinations depart from different parts of Granada, and it’s best to ask at your hostel to be sure to go to the right station. Granada is a small city, however, so the bus stations are all within walking distance of each other.
If you do decide to buy some souvenirs in Masaya market, don’t be afraid to haggle (though, as always, keep it calm and friendly).
Be sure to spend some time in Granada! There are some great day trips from Granada, but it also is a wonderful destination in itself. Make sure to spend a day or two strolling around the city, taking in the pretty sights, eating at some tasty restaurants, and heading out to bars to hear some live music.