I’m not really much of a city person, but Granada just smacks you in the face with it’s charm upon arrival. The cobblestone streets, old colonial buildings, parks and trees, not to mention the huge lake boardwalk lined with bars and more parks make the city beautiful and enticing, and then you throw in some crazy contrasts of the most elegant hotels and the bustling old market. The streets are crowded and stiflingly hot, which makes the breeze down by the lake more than welcome. Because all the buildings are quite colonial and old, many feature adorable courtyards to cool off either on a patio or in a pool. The hostel I chose was called Oasis, a fitting name for this little gem, which like the hostels in San Jose features an iron gate. The hostels cool tile floor and many hammocks truly make it an oasis, and of course a pool which no matter the size is always great. Walking up to the laundry area upstairs you can have a great view of the city and the nearby cathedral, also a great place to see the moon and feel the breeze above the hustle and bustle of the busy streets below. Oasis also has a kitchen, multiple computers and wife, free breakfast in the morning and free coffee all day! It’s located centrally and quite close to the city market, a grocery store, and a quick walk to Parque Central. The streets are lined with tons of everything for sale, fruit, speakers, shoes, more shoes, you name it, so definitely a good place to do a little bit of shopping. Head to the city market and browse through the labyrinth of foods and goods for sale. Although my street food go to was fricken delicious and inexpensive (pickled cabbage and yuka wrapped in a banana leaf, 20 cords, approx. 1 dollar) I noticed many of the locals enjoying big buckets of soup during the daytime. I practiced my Spanish on a woman selling juices and asked where I could get in on this soup deal. Her reply sent me deep into the heart of the city market into what looked like a restaurant, hidden from the market, hidden from the street and pumping the veins of the city with fragrant soup full of herbs and vegetables. For 6o cords I purchased some rice, tortillas and the hugest bag of soup I’ve ever seen. Mission accomplished. With giant chunks of yuka, squash, tarot and onions, this was seriously one of the best street foods, and soups, that I have ever had. I still think about it. There were huge pieces of some kind of herb in there too which almost acted like a spinach and just made it explode with flavour and the kind of nutrients you can only get from the greenest of herbs and careful combination of spices. So anyway, enough about soup, but seriously go get that. I spent quite a while in Granada due to my Spanish studies, which were conveniently located next door to the hostel. Ave Nica Aguitawas where I plunked down for 4 hours a day, for 5 days and finally delved into the language. My teacher was a young university student who was extremely helpful and patient, and by the end of the week I was remarkably more fluent than before. She didn’t speak English so that helped me as well, because I was forced to use only Spanish then, but it definitely helped to have a slight grasp of the language beforehand and also know some French. The course was also really well priced so all in all a great experience. On the last day another one of the groups there had a little part that they invited me to, complete with the Central American charm of guacamole and refried beans with tortillas and music so loud your ears try to suck themselves into your head. Good times for sure. Granada is also a good place to stay if you want to explore the area but still have a home base. Nearby are the volcanoes Mombacho and Masaya, which are both pretty close and easy to set up a tour for. For Mombacho, about a 20 minute bus ride, you can easily get there yourself and go without a tour, but it comes out to be around the same price anyway, which is around 34 dollars. Not cheap, but amazing, do it on a day that’s clear so you have a killer view. A MUST if you’re in Granada or nearby is to go check out Laguna de Apoyo. Holy shit this place is beautiful. A crisp and clean crater lake surrounded by mountains and with pure water so old that some of the organisms in it have actually only been found in this one place. Such a spectacular place to spend some time. I stayed at Paradiso Hostel, a sister hostel of Oasis. They have good priced rooms and dorms, kayaks for rent, a restaurant and bar, ping pong, petanque court (like bocce ball), and you can even study some Spanish here if you feel up to it! Not to mention the luxurious looking grounds of the resort itself and the friendliest staff. This place is seriously a slice of heaven on Earth. Good thing I accidentally stole the room key so I have more reasons to go back. Hang out on the beach, dip into the lake and swim out to the dock, or pop in a kayak and do your own kayak pub crawl around the edge of the crater, you will love any time spent here. Paradiso and Oasis set up shuttles between them, 10 dollar roundtrip day trip from Oasis or free shuttle if you choose to stay overnight! (which you should:)) In the city of Granada itself, explore the streets and take in the culture of the city, climb to the top of the Cathedral’s bell tower and take a walk down by the lake. Although coined “gringo street”, Calle Calzada, where tourists flock for dinners, drinks and shopping, is a neat stroll down a wide stoney street that reminded me of Government Street in downtown Victoria BC. It is packed with good restaurants and bars, all come with a price tag but worth it for at least one night. I recommend ‘Nectar’ for some creative and delicious dishes, patio ambience and people watching. Afterwards if you feel so inclined, head on over to Kelly’s bar to dance the night away, more of a local place and really good music. If you’re ‘on one’ catch a cab down near the lake to ‘Weekend’ for some bumpin’ music on a better-than-most-here sound system, happy people and cool lakeside location. So when you’re exhausted from hiking and swimming and eating amazing food just remember to take time for yourself. There are plenty of boutique and less expensive spas and massage parlours in Granada, and many have flyers at hostels and hotels. I hit the Coco Berry Spa one blissful day and indulged in a full facial, massage and pedicure session. Holy heaven. The best massage I’ve had (outside of Thailand) complete with all natural oils and products that you will be honored to put on your face and perhaps want to eat. The price was not rock bottom but more than reasonable for the services, and much much cheaper than in Canada so who’s complaining. That day goes down in the books. I can honestly say this is one of the only places not near the ocean I really would go back to and stay a while. Granada, thank you for being so damn awesome, hasta luego!
Have you been to Granada? What did you do here? Do you have a favorite city that you were surprised to love?