Nica: Granada or León?

In Nicaragua, there is a friendly competition for which is the most loved city: Granana or León? During our stay, we spent a few days in Granada and did not plan on visiting León. However, a bonus day happened and we made it to León for one epic night of adventures. Whether you visit one or both, check out below for best lodging, eats and drinks, and adventure activities.

Granada

The Basics
We arrived to Granada by car. It is about an hour away and accessible by bus or other transportation. The main parts of town are easily accessible by foot, but I recommend grabbing a taxi after dark if you’re staying outside of the central area. Note that locations in Nicaragua do not have numbered addresses or street names. They are given directions based off how many blocks away from a notable building or statue they sit. Taxi drivers are familiar with this system, but if Google tells you an address on a street name, they may not.

I wouldn’t boast about where we stayed. However, our lovely hostel owner from Ometepe Island recommends Hospedaje San Jorge. We passed by it, as it was in the center of the market area.

Get Your Adventure On
There are several tour companies in town to get outside of Granada and visit the famous sites. Below are the two that we used and the experience we had on the tour.

Viva Nicaragua: We went to Las Isletas, a 20 minute drive from town. This 2.5 hour tour took us around the small islands on a private boat. We saw a variety of wildlife such as spider monkeys, howler monkeys, iguanas, and heron. What I loved: the respectful employees, a private tour for only a few dollars more than other companies, and our knowledgeable guide who taught us and answered questions about the area.

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Las Isletas tour near Granada

Erick Tours: We signed up for a night tour of the Masaya volcano with a group, which turned out to be an unforgettable experience of seeing the glow of red lava at night. The tour group did leave 20 minutes late, but I would still recommend the company. They offered us a discount after a little haggling ($19 per person). We first drove about 20 minutes to Masaya town to stop in their handcraft market for 1 hour. Then we waited at the volcano park entrance for our turn. Our guide Alberto took advantage of this waiting time to give lots of history about Nicaragua. Once we got to the volcano, we were allotted around 15-20 minutes at crater edge for viewing and photos.

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Photos can’t capture the volcano magic!

El Merced: Get a classic view of the city of Granada from the top of their bell tower. A small entrance fee is worth it.

Eats & Drinks
Pita Pita: Amazing Mediterranean food. Portions and prices were decent. I was surprised by the flavors of the chicken schwarma platter I ordered. I would go back in a heartbeat! It can be confusing that there are two restaurants inside one building (the other is El Pizzaiole).

Bistro Estrada: When the power was out in the whole city (which happens from time to time), this place saved us. We relished the air con they had on using their own generator. I loved the atmosphere and coffee. We came back for sangria pitchers as well!

El Merced Hotel Cafe: Only a few blocks from the center, this cafe had delicious breakfast options for lower prices than you’ll find elsewhere. Perfect to grab a bite to eat before going up the tower for a view at El Merced.

What Next?
Laguna Apoyo is 15-30 minutes away from Granada (depending on which side of the lake you are headed to). We spent a night on this crater lake, although many make a day trip out of it for swimming and water activities.

We stayed at Laguna Beach Club. Their private rooms run around $40/night and includes beach access, kayaking, paddle boarding, kitchen use. If you’re only staying the day, expect to pay $6 for facilities use (bring your own towel!). The restaurant has great food and blended smoothies to enjoy.

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View of the crater lake at Laguna Beach Club

León

The Basics
We arrived to León from Managua by car. It was a little over an hour, but we stopped in between for some traditional tiste and nacatamal along the way. If you’re relying on public transport, check out your options.

We were there for one suprise (unintended) night, so we grabbed a last-minute hostel reservation. Hostel Sleeping Dog had everything we needed: bed, shower, air con, and pancakes, all for a low price. We walked a couple blocks to get to the center of town.

Get Your Adventure On
Cathedral: A small entrance fee is worth it to see the top of this church. We walked all around the roof and enjoyed views of not only the city but also the architecture, which reminded me of something by Gaudí or the island of Santorini.

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On top of the cathedral in León

Eats & Drinks
Vía Vía: This hostel/bar was bustling on a Friday night. They had a live salsa band, drink specials, and a full house packed with both tourists and locals.

Street food: What could fill your hungry belly after a late night of drinking? Quite possibly the largest cheeseburger I’ve ever seen in my life. These stands stay open late and attract a fun crowd to people-watch.

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If this face doesn’t say happy, I don’t know what does

What Next?
Even though we were only there for one night, León won our hearts. The ending to the love story is that we choose León! One of the activities we missed was volcano boarding, which I would come back to do.

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