By: Liisa Vexler of The Family Freedom Project
Children: Charlie (then aged 4) and Dexter (then aged 6)
If you’re interested in more information on visiting Nicaragua with kids take a look at our comprehensive family guide.
Why Nicaragua with Kids?
Founded in 1524, the Nicaraguans claim that Granada is the oldest city in the Americas. It is a colourful colonial town, filled with historic richness and modern energy. We chose to visit Granada because it was a short three-hour drive from our home in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. It is only an hour or so from Augusto César Sandino International Airport (ACS) – the main airport in Managua – so accessible no matter where you start.
Nicaragua is an up-and-coming tourist destination for several reasons: It offers friendly people, good value, historic interest, and natural beauty. Granada has all of the above, in addition to being a walkable and thus child-friendly city.
We had been in Costa Rica for three months when we made this trip. You cross the border into Nicaragua, and though the weather and landscape are similar, you can immediately feel that the political climate and economy are not. There is much more obvious poverty here and this can be both an educational opportunity and a challenge to explain to children.
Tour the city by horse drawn carriage
In the central square you will see the drivers and their extravagantly decorated carriages. Find the one you like and hop in for a tour of the city. The driver will show you city landmarks, including the opportunity to climb the bell tower in the central church for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Hike around the top of an active volcano
We hiked around Volcano Mombacho with our 4 and 6 year olds – it was about an hour hike. The terrain is do-able for kids, but wear good shoes and bring a sweater (we did neither!). I would not advise doing this on your own, and I am not even sure that it’s possible. Tour companies provide transportation and guides from hotels and other locations in the city centre.
Visit the city market and an artisan market
The Masaya Market about twenty minutes from downtown is an artisan market with something for everyone. Find everything, from typical tshirts and souvenirs, to unique handicrafts and artwork. My kids love their Nicaragua baseball jerseys, and I found some beautiful handmade jewellery.
Take a boat tour of Las Isletas
A boat tour of Las Isletas, the 365 little inhabited islands just off the harbour of Granada is fascinating. Some islands have mansions with weekend homes of the wealthy, while others have small cabinas housing local families. Birds, monkeys and interesting flora add to the attraction. The boat tour is about 2 hours. We did not stop along the way, though some of the tours do stop for a drink at a hotel on one of the islands. For more information on the boat tour take a look at this post.
Learn to make chocolate, from bean to bar
We all enjoyed our visit to the Choco Museo, where we took part in a chocolate making workshop. Everyone loves chocolate in some form or another, so this place was a hit with family members of all ages!
We learned the steps involved in making chocolate, from the point of growing and picking the pod from the tree, to finding the ready-to-eat product on store shelves. We roasted, shelled (or winnowed) and ground the cacao beans. From the pure cacao, we made Mayan hot chocolate while learning its history, and then a more traditional, sweet, artisanal chocolate bar. This was an engaging, educational, and delicious stop on our journey. For more information on the Choco Museo, take a look at this post.
Stay at Hotel Colonial Granada
We stayed at the Hotel Colonial Granada right in the middle of town. It is a courtyard style hotel with a lovely pool in the middle, perfect for downtime during the day. We paid $99 a night during high season for a large room with two queen beds, a sitting area, and a full breakfast each morning.
We all enjoyed our meal at El Zaguán, a traditional steakhouse. They had interesting options for the kids, and vegetarian plate for me. There was a play area for the kids which allowed them to make some new friends while we finished our meal.
We also loved The Garden Café at lunch for sandwiches, salads, and yummy smoothies.
The Best Time To Visit Nicaragua
It is hot in Granada all year round. It rains primarily April through November, with the most rain falling in September and October. If you want to avoid crowds but want to maximize dry days, traveling April through June is probably your best bet.
Three Things You Should Definitely Do
1. A walk, a snack, and maybe a horse and buggy ride around the city centre.
2. Visit the Masaya Market
3. Take a boat tour of Las Isletas
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About the Author
Liisa is the voice behind the Family Freedom Project book and website. She is a Canadian writer who began her career specializing in the health sector, but now writes about her passions, travel and lifestyle with kids. She currently lives at the beach in Tamarindo, Costa Rica with her husband and two boys ages 7 and 9.