Compared to León, Granada caters to tourists on a much grander scale. There is an entire street that runs through the middle of town that is lined with restaurants, tour operators, and souvenir shops all trying to thrive on the tourist industry. We took several excursions around Granada, but found the best trips all involved volcanoes. Below are three different ways to observe these craters up close and personal.
Mombacho volcano sits just outside the city of Granada. It is not an extinct volcano, but the last eruption occurred in 1570, which apparently took off the top half of this 1344-meter giant. The highest regions of the volcano are home to a cloud forest and dwarf forest, which contain flora and fauna endemic to the volcano. More than 700 different plants are registered around Mombacho, including many species of orchids.
Early in our stay in Granada, we found a rooftop bar that served fabulous drinks and had a spectacular view of Mombacho. On a couple (or maybe several) evenings, we would sit at this bar and imagine the spectacular views that we would have from the top of the volcano. There were other days that we were glad we had not ventured to Mombacho as it remained covered in clouds all day.
tour of mombacho
We found a tour guide with an excellent reputation (according to Lonely Planet) and booked our tour. With fingers crossed that we picked a good day, we set off to hike around the rim of Mombacho. The tour included a coffee plantation tour half way up the mountain and a zip line tour to finish out the day. Many of the reviews talked about the wildlife in the cloud forest and mentioned sloths and howler monkeys. Excited didn’t even come close to how I was feeling about seeing a sloth. How cool would it be to see a sloth!
After checking in at the base of the volcano, we boarded a large truck and headed up the steep road to the coffee plantation. We were pointed to a coffee urn sitting on a small table outside a gift shop. The merchandise in the store included 3 shirts and a few bags of beans. The plantation tour consisted of us pumping ourselves a 3-ounce cup of coffee. We also noticed that the cloud was not clearing from the volcano, but we carried on undeterred. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and we hiked around the rim surrounded by mist, clouds, and a fair amount of rain. We did, however, catch a quick glimpse of a howler monkey and heard troops of monkeys in the distance howling at one another. Apparently, the howler monkeys are quite territorial and can be heard up to two kilometers away. With the cloud surrounding us on all sides, we had no idea how near or far these animals were from where we were standing. It was terrifying.
Once we finished the hike, we returned to the coffee plantation where our guide found a red-eyed tree frog. After hearing the howler monkeys on the top of the volcano, I was happy the frog was the only wildlife we had come in close contact with. We walked to the zip line building and got suited up to zip around the mountain. All four of us had been zip lining before, but this tour included swinging like Tarzan from tree to tree, a walk across a tight wire, and a drop from a 30-foot platform straight down to the ground. Also a little terrifying, but at least I felt safe.
Masaya (pictured at the top of this post) is a caldera located between Granada and the capital city, Managua. Situated within Nicaragua’s first and largest national park, the volcano is continually erupting. The park is open until 4:45 p.m. every day, but reopens at 5 p.m. for a sunset viewing of the lava lake. As we waited in line for a night time viewing, we asked our guide if looking over an erupting volcano was safe. He replied that the last eruption spewed out boulders that smashed a ranger’s truck, but it was 7 a.m., so no one was hurt and tours were not suspended. Once the gates open, we proceeded to the top of the volcano and the viewing area only a couple hundred feet above molten lava. Looking closely, you could see the lava churning away in the pit below. After 15 minutes — the maximum allotted time to view the lava — a whistle blew and we were hurried back to the vans and whisked down the hill. Not much time to spent lingering at the top, but well worth a visit!
Laguna de Apoyo
One of our favorite excursions was to a day club located at Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Located between Masaya and Granada, Lake Apoyo was believed to have originated around 23,000 years ago when the volcano stopped erupting and began to fill with water. Tourists flock to the hostels and day clubs surrounding the lake and spend the day lounging on the shore, kayaking, eating, and drinking. According to one of the clubs, the water is the most crystal-clear out of all fresh water bodies in Nicaragua and possibly Central America. The temperature was about 80 degrees, which made it perfect for swimming. We enjoyed our relaxing day so much, that we went back a second time and spent the night. It was a lovely way to end our time in Nicaragua.
As for the city of Granada itself, it has its good points as well as bad. Pros — it has an old-city feel with horse-drawn carts on every corner, there are tour offices all over town offering a wide range of excursions, there is a large market every day. Cons — the main street caters to tourists and the prices reflect it, there isn’t a lot to do in the city of Granada itself, the excursions are overpriced and don’t live up to the hype. If you’re looking to make your money go father and get an organic, authentic taste of Nicaragua, visit León. But if you’re into volcanoes, visit Granada.