Granada, Nicaragua

Granada is a historically significant and visually captivating city in Nicaragua. Founded in 1524 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, it is one of the oldest European-established cities in the mainland Americas. It is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Nicaragua, just about an hour south of the capital, Managua.

Granada is celebrated for its colonial architecture, vibrant culture, and stunning natural surroundings. For visitors and residents alike, it offers a compelling blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Its colonial architectural heritage, combined with the warmth of its people and the stunning landscapes that surround it, make Granada a popular destination for travellers seeking an authentic Nicaraguan experience. Whether exploring its historic streets, enjoying the local cuisine, or venturing into the natural wonders nearby, Granada promises a memorable journey into the heart of Central America.

The Church in Central Granada with Lake Nicaragua in the background.
The Church in Central Granada with Lake Nicaragua in the background.


Granada’s history is marked by prosperity and conflict, serving as a key trading center during colonial times due to its strategic location on Lake Nicaragua, which is connected to the Caribbean through the Río San Juan.

Over the centuries, Granada has witnessed colonialism, pirate attacks, independence struggles, foreign invasions, and various internal conflicts, all of which have contributed to its historical tapestry. Despite these tumultuous periods, the city has managed to preserve or rebuild much of its colonial style and architecture.

Why is it called Granada?

The European settlement here was established by Spanish conquistadors led by Hernándezde Córdoba. He named the settlement after the city of Granada in Spain, to celebrate how the military forces of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I had taken that city from the Emirate of Granada, completing the reconquista – series of military campaigns waged by Christian kingdoms against  Muslim kingdoms following the Umayyad conquest of Hispania.

A former capital

For many years, Granada and León were the respective base for opposing internal Nicaraguan forces and political sentiments. Granada was the major stronghold of the Conservatives, while the Liberals favoured Léon. At times, the conflict and tension would escalate into violence and bloodshed.

In the mid 1800s, a compromise was reached an Managua – a small lakeside town situated on the road between Granada and León – was established as the new capital of Nicaragua in 1852.

William Walker and the confligration of Granada

After invading Nicaragua with his forces, the U.S. filibuster William Walker took up residence in Granada, conducted a fraudulent election, and proclaimed himself President of Nicaragua. After his inauguration in July 1856, he reinstated slavery and declared English the official language. By revoking Nicaragua’s emancipation edict of 1821, Walker increased his support among whites in Southern United States.

After Walker’s forces were weakened by defections and a cholera epidemic, they were defeated by a Central American coalition led Juan Rafael Mora Porras, the President of Costa Rica. As Walker’s forces in Granada found themselves surrounded by the colation on December 14, 1856, one of Walker’s generals gave the order to set the city on fire. In the tumoult, Walker´s forces managed to escape and fight their way to Lake Nicaragua. A detachment was left behind with orders to destroy the city further. As a result of the blaze and the actions of the detachment, a lot of Granada’s colonial-era architecture was destroyed and what we see today is largely rebuilds.

Highlights in and around Granada

La Calzada: This pedestrian street is the heart of Granada’s nightlife and culinary scene. It is filled with restaurants, bars, and cafes that blend local and international flavors. It’s a perfect spot for enjoying an evening stroll and some live music, and for soaking in the city’s atmosphere.

Architecture: Granada’s streets are lined with colorful colonial-style buildings, historic churches, and charming plazas. Key landmarks include the Cathedral of Granada, with its striking yellow and white façade overlooking the central Parque Colón (Central Park), and La Merced Church which offers panoramic views of the city and the Mombacho Volcano from its bell tower.

Mombacho volcano: The nearby Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve is a haven for nature lovers, offering cloud forest treks, canopy tours, and breathtaking views of Lake Nicaragua and Granada. The volcano’s slopes are home to a rich biodiversity, including orchids, howler monkeys, and hundreds of bird species.

Lake Nicaragua: As the largest lake in Central America, Lake Nicaragua is a major draw for tourists, offering opportunities for kayaking, fishing, and swimming. Its vast expanse and the backdrop of volcanoes create a picturesque setting for water-based activities.

Las Isletas: Just off the city’s coast in Lake Nicaragua are Las Isletas de Granada, over 350 small islands and islets formed by a volcanic explosion a long time ago. Boat tours offer a glimpse into the unique lifestyle of the islet communities and stunning views of the Mombacho Volcano. It is also possible to book accommodation on some of the islands, or why not rent a whole tropical island for yourself?

Sustainable tourism

Granada has become a focal point for sustainable tourism in Nicaragua, with many local businesses and tour operators emphasizing eco-friendly practices and community involvement. Visitors are encouraged to engage respectfully with local culture, support local artisans, and participate in tours that contribute to environmental conservation and community development.