All within an hour of the capital Managua, Granada, Masaya, and Carazo contain a taste of Nicaragua’s must-sees. You’ll find quaint colonial towns, smoking volcanoes, lagoons, traditional artistry, coffee farms, and the crashing tide of the Pacific Ocean.

City street in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo © Dreamstime.

City street in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo © Dreamstime.

It’s possible to make Masaya your base for excursions, though many travelers opt to stay in Granada.Granada’s polished colonial architecture, horse-drawn carriages, and abundance of cafés, hotels, and spas—plus its strategic location—make it one of the country’s most comfortable and popular spots for international visitors. Granada is a historical stronghold of conservatism. It is a striking juxtaposition of antique and modern, rich and poor, foreign and local. If you want to get a chocolate massage, eat a Middle Eastern dinner, and soak up some colonial charm, Granada is the place to go.

Just half an hour outside Managua, Masaya is a small town with a relaxed vibe. It’s a city of artisans, metalworkers, leatherworkers, carpenters, painters, and musicians. In fact, no other region of Nicaragua is as blessed with a sense of artistry and creativity. Many of the handicrafts found in markets throughout the country are Masayan: hand-woven hammocks, terra-cotta pottery, musical instruments, and more. The charming Pueblos Blancos, to the south and west of Masaya, are artisan villages. Make a day of pueblo hopping to visit workshops. In San Juan de Oriente you can watch a potter form a vase on a foot-spun wheel and buy pieces right out of the kiln for very reasonable prices. If you’re eager to come home with something special, this is the place to find it.

Also outside Masaya are two must-see volcanic craters. Volcán Masaya is one of the world’s most accessible volcanoes, one of only two on Earth where you can walk up to the crater lip and look inside. The region’s most popular swimming hole, the Laguna de Apoyo, is a scenic 200-meter-deep crater lagoon. Lie on a floating dock, or kayak across it, surrounded by the sounds of birds and howler monkeys.

Maps - Nicaragua 6e - Granada and Masaya City

Granada and Masaya

Planning Your Time

There’s a lot to see in this region. One day is enough time to see the major sites within the city of Granada. A lot of the city’s charm lies in the interesting excursions reachable using Granada as a base camp. Leave half a day for a boat ride in Las Isletas, and another day for Volcán Mombacho. Naturalists can easily spend a long day on hiking trails, in the visitor’s center, and on guided tours.

Volcan Mombacho. Photo © Nicolas de Corte/123rf.

Volcán Mombacho. Photo © Nicolas de Corte/123rf.

Most travelers devote a day or so to visiting the pueblos and markets in and around Masaya. It’s possible to make Masaya your base for excursions, though many travelers opt to stay in Granada, which has a much wider selection of hotels and restaurants that cater to tourists. While you could conceivably day-trip to the Laguna de Apoyo, the hotel options make it a fun place to stay overnight. (When was the last time you woke up inside a volcano crater?) Just an hour to the west are the Carazo beaches. Spend the day soaking up the sun and surf in La Boquita, or stay a night and let the waves lull you to sleep.

Public transportation is frequent in this region, and it’s easy enough to hop on a bus to get where you need to go. However, renting a car is a must if you’re short on time.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.