5 Reasons Granada is the Star of Spain

Granada, the quintessential southern Spanish, Andalusian town, will steal your heart upon first glance; stay longer than a few days and you may never leave.  Granada is exotic and intriguing, yet it is so warm and welcoming that one immediately feels at ease.  The locals are some of the friendliest you will ever meet and they are eager to show off their city.  The architecture is marvelous at every turn and the surrounding landscapes- mountains, rivers and valleys- are peaceful and breathtaking.  Granada is a city meant to be explored on foot; wander the intricate streets and absorb this Andalusian culture.  Granada is a young and vibrant town, which means the drinks are cheap and tapas are plentiful (and delicious!), so grab a chair, and some tapas, and watch this Spanish life unfold all around you.

5. Alhambra

Originally constructed as a fortress in 889 and converted into a royal palace in 1332, it makes sense that the Alhambra is the star it is.  Ornate and intricate, grand yet intimate, this UNESCO landmark sees 6000 people wander across its grounds each day.  Poets have described the palace as “a pearl set in emeralds”; the colors, textures and perfectly crafted Moorish details are a true marvel.  Due to the need for preservation and the volume of tourists who visit each day, visitors must book tickets in advance to guarantee entry; you will only be able to access the Nasrid Palaces at the time indicated on your ticket, so arrive early!  The surrounding structures and sprawling gardens are just as beautiful, and travelers can quite easily pass a day marveling at the great Muslim architecture; just make sure you pack more than one camera battery, you will need it!

Alhambra Granada

4. Albayzin District

Perhaps the most popular neighborhood in Granada, the Albayzin District is Granada’s old Muslim quarter, and protected by UNESCO.  Essentially an open-museum, one could easily get lost wandering the winding, narrow, cobblestone streets, lined with white-washed mansions, adorned with beautifully colored walled gardens.  Located across the valley from the Alhambra and high up on the hill, the Albayzin offers show stopping views of the Alhambra, the city and the surrounding mountains. Chances are good that if you hang around the Mirador San Nicolas, the neighborhoods’ premier lookout point, the flamenco music will be constant, and welcoming.  Most restaurants situated right on the cliff have an unrivaled view, but the costs are high, so grab some fresh fruit and bread at the market, and head out just before sunset to find your own private lookout point- there are plenty!

Albayzin District Granada

3. Sacromonte, Granada

If you desire some true Flamenco music and dance, wander the streets of the Sacromonte neighborhood after dusk- the locals here open their doors to visitors to show off their beautiful and passionate culture.  Home to a thriving Roma community (commonly known as Gypsies), the caves of Sacromonte are filled to the brim with their traditional crafts and artwork; you can expect to find plenty of colorful fabrics and detailed clay work, made locally.  The caves themselves are a draw; located on top of the hill, you can wander around them on your own, or you can go with a tour guide; the guides will often take you inside an occupied cave to show you how the locals live.  The Sacromonte now is very much geared towards tourists, but head further up the hill and you can really get a feel of how this tight-knit cave community lived in the mid 1900’s.

Sacromonte, Granada

2. Carrera del Darro & Plaza Nueva

One of the oldest streets in Granada, the Carrera del Darro is located along the entire left bank of the River Darro, the river that runs through Granada itself.  Many consider this the most scenic street in town; the street, dating back to the 17th century, houses many interesting buildings from that era, with plenty of Arabic influence.  The river can be crossed by two handmade brick and stone bridges, artwork in themselves.  The Plaza Nueva is the oldest square in Granada and the entrance to the Carrera del Darro- it divides the modern part of town from the old.  From here, you can walk to almost all the historical sites in town, including the Alhambra and the Albaycin, as well as many important buildings, like the Royal Chancellery.  The square is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a cold beer and some Spanish tapas after a full day of sightseeing; as the heart of town, most people pass by here at least once a day- it is the perfect place to take in Spanish life and culture.

Carrera del Darro Granada

1. Basilica de San Juan de Dios

The Basilica de San Juan de Dios is one of the most beautiful and intricate religious landmarks in all of Spain- the interior of this building literally glitters with gold.  Many people feel that if they have seen inside one church, they have seen all churches, but the same absolutely cannot be said for this gem.  Pay the worthwhile 4 euro entrance fee and step inside a world of intricate murals, ornate gold designs and interesting Spanish sculptures.  If you want, an audio guide is included in your admission fee, available in four languages.  Even if you aren’t interested in religious history, the architecture you see and feeling you get walking through the basilica is enough cause for an afternoon spent here.  Located on the Calle San Juan de Dios, the Basilica is in a central part of town, and offers the perfect reprieve from the hot Spanish heat.

Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com
Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

10 Things to See and Do in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is just recently becoming one of the hottest new destinations for tourists in Central America. It has been kept under the radar in the past, shadowed by the more developed country of Costa Rica. Fortunately for visitors looking to give Nicaragua a chance, it will not disappoint in terms of things to see and do. From the amazing Caribbean waters of the Corn Islands to the nesting sea turtles to the lush jungles and towering volcanoes; there is no shortage of incredible natural wonders to explore. Whether you are looking for an adrenaline packed vacation or something a little more relaxing, here are 10 incredible things to see and do in Nicaragua.

10. Explore Granada

Many travelers love to use this colonial city as their home base when exploring the country. The city is breathtaking with pastel colored buildings, historic churches and cobblestone streets. Its interesting history and the fact that it is relatively safe draws a lot of tourists here. There are multiple forms of transportation to get around town, including horse drawn carriages, but luckily most attractions here can be reached by foot. Mombacho Volcano is located just outside of town and offers activities such as canopy tours, hikes and a few hot springs. Other visitors here like to take a boat out to the Granada Islets, horseback ride around the farms at the base of the volcano or visit one of the cigar lounges. Making this city your home base ensures there is enough to do within footing, yet still gives you access to many day trips, it’s the perfect combination for your trip.

Granada, Nicaragua

9. Visit the Turtles

There are several beaches in this country where the sea turtles arrive to lay their eggs, sometimes in droves of hundreds. It occurs several times throughout the year and Nicaragua is one of the few places in the world where visitors can witness this amazing event. On the pacific side, the two beaches to see this incredible event are La Flor and Chacocente. They are both dedicated wildlife refuges and under constant supervision. These beaches can be reached by both public transportation or guided tour. On the Caribbean side there is no particular beach to seek out as the turtles here live and feed all year round and therefore can be seen along the entire coast. If you choose to visit the turtles in nesting season or hatching season please respect them by keeping your distance and following all guidelines and rules set out by the guides.

Pete Niesen / Shutterstock.com
Pete Niesen / Shutterstock.com

8. Go Volcano Boarding

Volcano boarding is a fairly new sport for the adrenaline seeking junkies that visit this country. Cerro Negro, the small active volcano is the perfect spot to try this sport. Many tour operators out of Leon offer this thrilling experience where you strap a board or sled onto your back and head up the volcano. Hiking to the top takes less than an hour and then the fun begins. The companies provide protective gear such as knee and elbow pads, as well as goggles and jumpsuits. With the choice of boarding down like a snowboard or sitting and sledding down, visitors will fly down the black rocks and try this once in a lifetime opportunity. It is up to you how fast you want to go but we suggest giving it your all as you only get one shot at it.  Nowhere else in the world can you experience the thrill of sliding down an active volcano.

Volcano Boarding, Nicaragua

7. Experience Miraflor National Park

This unique national reserve features three different climates and a variety of flora and fauna spread throughout. One of the most impressive features of this reserve is the variety of orchids; there are over 200 species throughout the park. These orchids not only grow in their typical flowering plants, but also on the ground and between the rocks. Nine communities are housed on the reserve and offer visitors a unique way to stay. Farmers open their doors to tourists and invite you to stay with a family, learning about life in the Miraflor National Park and the landscape that surrounds them. Wander through cloud forests, rivers and waterfalls during your excursion to this incredible diverse park. Whether you go for just a day or stay a few with a local family, the park will not disappoint.

MiraFlora National Park

6. Explore Leon

Leon is a colonial city full of breathtaking churches, incredible art collections, happening nightlife and colorful colonial architecture. A lot of visitors come here just to experience Volcano boarding, but end up loving the actual city itself. Walking is the transit of choice to get around town and plan on stopping in to check out one of the 13 churches. Leon is not as well preserved as Granada and tends to be less touristy, perhaps even more authentic with bullet holes still present in many of the buildings. There are a ton of volunteer opportunities in this city as well as many non-profit organizations that lead tours and treks to the nearby natural wonders; giving back to the community.

City of Leon, Nicaragua

5. Visit the Granada Islets

Located in Lake Nicaragua are 365 islands scattered off the coast of Granada, the result of Mombacho Volcano blowing its lid years ago. The islands are covered in lush green vegetation and many are occupied by private individuals with vacation homes. Taking a boat tour around the islands is perhaps the best way to explore them and many tours are available from Granada. The bird population here includes cormorants, herons, parrots, hawks and vultures. The monkey island is one of the most popular islands here as the boat can pull up close enough for visitors to reach out and feed them. The monkeys happen to be gentle and love to interact with people. Most of the guides are well informed and will talk to you about the history of the islands, the different architecture and the lake itself.

Photo by: Mukul
Photo by: Mukul

4. Surf in San Juan del Sur

Surfers from all over the world are learning about this incredible surfing location yet it still remains largely less crowded than its neighbor Costa Rica. With over 300 days of offshore winds, there are plenty of swells year round for both beginners and experts. The beach town of San Juan del Sur is the perfect place to call home while you explore the surrounding beaches as it is loaded with restaurants, accommodations and other travelers. One of the most popular beaches for surfing is Playa Maderas, it features a consistent sand bottom beach break and is only 15 minutes from the town. Surf camps are plentiful on this beach and beginners will have no problem finding someone to give them lessons. If you are looking to head out on a boat and find the ultimate wave, join a group going to Colorado where the river mouth beach break provides some of the most incredible barreling rights.

San Juan del Sur

3. Hike a Volcano

This country is often referred to as the country of Lakes and Volcanoes and it would be a shame to visit here without summiting on one of the many volcanoes. There is an impressive line of volcanoes that run north to south and offer everything from crater lakes on top of the volcano, active lava and bellowing smoke that pours out. San Cristóbal Volcano is the highest most active volcano in the country and exhibits some of the characteristics we most associate with volcanoes, cone-shape, smoking and a gigantic stature that towers over the landscape. It is one of the hardest but most rewarding climbs in the country. For something a little easier, head to Masaya Volcano, the most accessible one in the country. Here visitors can drive up to the smoking Santiago Crater where white gas pours out of the top. A national park has been erected around this volcano and visitors can hike to numerous summits and even visit a bat cave.

Masaya Volcano

2. Escape to the Corn Islands

If you are looking for a laid back island complete with palm trees, soft silky white sand and stunningly clear water teeming with marine life; the Corn Islands is where you will want to head. Big Corn and Little Corn are named respectively for their size and for those looking for the ultimate peace and quiet, Little Corn is perfect. With no cars allowed on the island, a handful of restaurants, accommodations and two dive shops; this is the perfect home base for snorkelers and scuba divers. Big Corn on the other hand offers a plentiful variety of restaurants, accommodations, nightlife and more amenities. A short plane ride from the capital city of Managua or a ferry from Blue Corn will get you out to these incredible islands in no time. Eat, relax, swim and dive – these are the four major ways to pass the time here.

Little Corn Island

1. Visit Ometepe Island

This island in Lake Nicaragua never fails to impress visitors with its towering volcanoes that rise dramatically out of the lake. This island has been largely untouched by tourism, offering pristine wildlife, wide beaches, clean waters, a handful of archeological sites and may just be a traveler’s paradise. It is often thought of as the “oasis of peace” and is considered one of the great rock areas of the world due to the number of petroglyphs and stone carvings that have been carved into its boulders. Visitors here can wander the many beaches, stay in adorable B&B’s, climb one of its two volcanoes, bike around the island, take a dip in the natural springs and much more. Visiting Ometepe should be on the top of your list for an unforgettable destination in this wonderful country.

Ometepe Island