Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Granada
Dominating the city skyline of pastel-colored houses, Nicaragua’s Granada Cathedral sits on the eastern side of the main plaza, Parque Colón, in a vision of red domes and lemon yellow walls with Mombacho Volcano rising behind it.
The cathedral was originally built in 1583, and is one of Granada’s most famous buildings. However, in 1856, the crazed American filibuster William Walker decided that if he couldn’t have Granada for himself, no-one could have it, and so, tragically, he burned both cathedral and city to the ground.
By order of priest Silvestre Alvarez, rebuilding of the cathedral began in 1880. The design was overseen by Italian Andrés Zappata, who modeled the cupola on the Vatican’s Basilica. However, lack of funds meant that it wasn’t until 1905 that the new cathedral was completed. Head inside the cathedral today to see its flowing arches and light streaming in through the stained glass windows.
As far as identifiable buildings in Granada go, it doesn't get much more noticeable than the baby-blue facade on the Iglesia San Francisco. The church dates back to 1529, making it one of the oldest in Central America, but the original church was destroyed and rebuilt a few times. The building has served many purposes in its life - including housing the military and a university - and today it's a museum.
Visitors enter the San Francisco church museum through a door on the left of the facade, and the museum's collection includes a big scale model of Granada and a superb selection of artwork by the region's native peoples. The main draw, however, of the Iglesia San Francisco (also called the Antiguo Convento San Francisco) is the collection of statues from Zapatera Island. These basalt statues, dating from 800-1200 AD, were discovered and brought from the island in the 1920s.
Granada’s Calle La Calzada leads from the ferry terminal on the lake into the heart of the town. Anyone looking to feel the pulse of Granada should plan to spend some time strolling this street. A somewhat quiet pedestrian zone by day, Calle La Calzada truly comes alive at night, when bars and restaurants set up tables on the pavement, street performers entertain and local artists sell their creations along the side of the road.
Believed to have been created more than 20,000 years ago after the cone of the Apoyo Volcano imploded, the Laguna de Apoyo got its start as subterranean rivers and rainwater filled and drowned the crater. It is located between two other Nicaraguan volcanoes: Masaya to the north and Mombacho to the south. Part of a nature reserve, the lagoon is regarded as the cleanest swimming spot in Nicaragua. The surrounding area is part of a tropical dry forest ecosystem with a diverse wildlife population. There are over 500 species of plants and tropical dry trees, as well as more than 200 documented species of birds. Reptiles such as green iguanas and a huge variety of birds are also prevalent in the area. Laguna de Apoyo’s clean, blue waters are thermally vented inside the crater, and it maintains a nice year-round temperature. There are plenty of water-related activities like scuba diving and kayaking to keep visitors occupied, although relaxing on the lakeshore is also an option.
On the forested flanks of Mombacho Volcano, high above the cobbled streets of the colonial city of Granada, the family-run Hacienda El Progreso is where Nicaraguan coffee is born. On a tour of this aromatic coffee compound, learn the steps that go into making the perfect cup of coffee—from choosing the soil to plant the trees and methods of roasting the beans, to the best way to grind the coffee and retain the original freshness. The Palazio family has been brewing coffee here since the late 19th century, and as a testament to their love for the land around them, is committed to eco-friendly growing practices that preserve the health of the land. Other activities include eco-tours such as ziplines running through the forest, or you can simply combat the mountainside chill with a freshly poured cup at the café.
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