Situated on the northwest shore of vast Lake Nicaragua, and at the foot of Volcán Mombacho, Granada is increasingly popular and currently the place to hang out in Nicaragua. Founded in 1524 by Hernández de Córdoba on the site of the indigenous village of Xalteva, it is the oldest city to be continually inhabited and in its original location in continental Latin America. The prosperous city was attacked on at least three occasions by British and French pirates coming up the San Juan and Escalante rivers, and much of old Granada was burnt by filibuster William Walker in 1856. Despite it's turbulent history, Granada - the third largest city of the republic - still retains many beautiful buildings and has preserved its Castilian traditions.

Ins and outs

Getting there

There are very regular and quick bus and minibus services between Managua and Granada, making it a good base even if your main interest is the capital. International buses pass the western side of town.

Getting around

Small and manageable on foot, the focal point of the town is the Parque Central. Heading east takes you to Lake Nicaragua and the Complejo Turístico (tourist centre). South of the Parque is the working heart of the city with the market and many bus departure points. East, west and north of the park, the streets are a bit quieter. Horse-drawn carriages available for hire if you want to rest your feet.

Tourist information

The best INTUR office in the country, with good maps, lots of information on local and national sites, and English-speaking staff.


The centre of the city, about 10 blocks from the lake, is the
Parque Central
, with many trees and food stalls selling Granada's famous
, a popular dish of fried pork skins, yucca, and cabbage salad served on a big banana leaf. Bordering the park are many civic buildings, the landmark
Hotel Alhambra
, the cathedral and the local tourist office (southeast corner). In between the red house of the bishop and the cathedral is the century cross with a time capsule of belongings from 1899 buried underneath in the hope of a peaceful 20th century. This practice was repeated in 1999 with another cross and time capsule in front of the La Merced church in the hope of a peaceful 21st century. The
, rebuilt in neoclassical style, is simpler in design and ornamentation than the church of
La Merced
to the west, which was built in 1781 to 1783, half destroyed in the civil wars of 1854, restored in 1862 and is currently undergoing another restoration. Its interior is painted in pastel shades, predominantly green and blue. It has some unusual features and interesting lighting. Away from the centre, beyond La Merced, is the church of
La Jalteva
- the indigenous name of Granada), which faces a park with formal ponds. Note that to view the interiors of Granada's churches you must time your visit from 0600-0800 or 1500-1700. Not far from La Jalteva is
La Pólvora
, an old fortress that has been partially restored and opened to the public. It has a pleasant rooftop with views of the church and volcano east from the turrets. The chapel of
María Auxiliadora
, where Las Casas, Apostle of the Indies, often preached, is hung with local lace and needlework. Heading southwest from Jalteva, the cemetery is worth a visit as the resting place of key figures from Nicaraguan history. Heading towards the Managua bus terminal from Jalteva, you pass the beautiful, now-dilapidated
, which was built in 1886.

Directly north of Parque Central is the restored
Casa de Los Leones
,, restored and run by the international foundation
Casa de los Tres Mundos
. It is a beautiful colonial house, with art exhibits and concerts. Heading west is the fortress-church of
San Francisco
, Nicaragua's oldest, though burned many times and now only the front steps are from 1524. There are some wonderful sculptures inside. Next door is the
Museo del Convento de San Francisco
. Originally a convent (1524), it was then a Spanish garrison, William Walker's garrison, a university and more recently an institute. The cloister surrounds about three dozen tall palms. Restoration is now complete and it is the country's most interesting pre-Columbian museum, housing 28 sculptures from Isla
Zapatera in the lake, dating from AD 800- 1200. Note especially the double sculptures of standing or seated figures bearing huge animal masks, or doubles, on their heads and shoulders (including lizard, tortoise, jaguar). The museum also contains several galleries with changing exhibits of Nicaraguan art and there's a snack bar.

A road runs from the Parque Central to Plaza España by the dock on Lake Nicaragua; the church of
is on this road. From Plaza España it is a 30-minute walk along the lakeshore to the
Complejo Turístico
, an area with restaurants, bars, paths and benches. The lake beach is popular, having been cleaned up and built into a pleasant park; marimba bands stroll the beach and play a song for you for a small fee. At night everyone decants to the club and bars of the

Horse-drawn carriages are available for hire and are used here as taxis by the locals. The drivers are happy to take visitors around the city. You can see most of the city's sites in a half-hour rental. A recommended walk, or carriage ride, starts from La Pólvora and continues down Calle Real, past La Capilla María Auxiliadora, La Jalteva, La Merced to Parque Central. From the cathedral you can then continue to La Virgen de Guadalupe and to the lake front along La Calzada.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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