With its colorfully painted buildings, cobblestone streets, and Spanish colonial architecture, Granada is a picturesque town that wears its history on its streets. The colorful architecture is carefully preserved. It’s reputed to be the oldest city in the Americas. It’s a charming place to decompress and take it easy for a while. The pace is leisurely, the locals friendly, and the food and drink good. In terms of Central American travel, it doesn’t get much easier.
Sharing similarities with Antigua, Guatemala, and Valladolid, Mexico, and a host of other Spanish colonial towns throughout Central America, the historic heart of the town is the Parque Central, with streets radiating from there in a grid.
Church steeples, bell towers, and clock towers are the only really tall structures in town, standing far above the otherwise low-level buildings. Many of the city’s beautiful historic buildings have been damaged or destroyed and rebuilt over the years.
It was a target because of its wealth and strategic position. Founded by Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba (after whom the currency is named) in 1524 on the banks of Lago Nicaragua, it lays claim to being the oldest city in the Americas. It was later discovered that the Rio San Juan, linking Lago Nicaragua with the Caribbean Sea, was navigable by boat, which enhanced the city’s importance as a strategic trade hub. In the 1660s, pirates used that route to launch raids on the city.
The city rebuilt but suffered again in a civil war in the 1850s when it was torched by the self-declared president of Nicaragua, American William Walker. That prompted yet another round of rebuilding, creating the basis of the charming city we see today.
Photos of Grenada
What to Know Before You Go
- Granada is about a half-hour drive southeast of Managua airport (MGA / Augusto C. Sandino International Airport). You can, of course, take a taxi, but most hotels can arrange a private airport pickup to take you directly, and that can work out more economical as well as more practical if you’re a larger group or have a lot of luggage. It’s also possible to take a chicken bus if you’re travelling light and trying to keep costs to a minimum.
- The historic old town is easily walkable (although mind the uneven sidewalks and occasional pothole). It’s also bike-friendly. If you’d prefer not to be trudging by foot through the heat of the day, taxis are easily available. There’s also the occasional tuck-tuck, and, if you’re so inclined, the horse-drawn carts next to Parque Central can take you between many of the tourist sites.
- There’s a thriving expat scene in Granada, so there are a lot of English-speaking bars and restaurants.
- There are also quite a few Spanish immersion schools where you can learn Spanish on location with native speakers for as long as your budget and schedule permit. They’re often surprisingly affordable, even with the optional homestay packages.
- The tap water isn’t drinkable, but any of the bars catering to tourists will probably be using purified water for their ice, cooking, and food preparation. That said, it’s a prudent habit to ask. Bottled, purified drinking water is readily and cheaply available for purchase from street carts and stores.
- At the time of writing, the CDC does not consider Granada city to be a malaria-risk area. But if you’re using Granada as a launching-off point for nearby areas such as the islands on the lake, those areas might be quite different. And things change, so it’s a good idea to check with a specialized travel clinic and the current CDC recommendations for Nicaragua, which you can find here. Moreover, malaria isn’t the only disease mosquitoes carry; chikungunya and dengue are others that are common in the region.