When you think about Nicaragua, do you think revolution, Contras, Sandinistas, combat, danger? Nicaragua has indeed had a tumultuous history and many travelers have expressed to us that they have been wary because of this. When I think of Nicaragua, I think of culture, community, history, beaches, volcanoes and truly genuine people. After returning from our trip to Nicaragua last week, the only sentiment I have about Nicaragua now is one of awe. This country is so very rich in fascinating history and, at the same time, they have so many natural wonders to explore. Nicaragua has so much to offer travelers and I just want to shout it out from the rooftops, “Yes! It’s time to take that trip to Nicaragua!”

The entire Rico Tours staff attended this recent journey to Nicaragua. Some said we were crazy to take everyone, but we all wanted to see with our own eyes the progress and development that has taken place in this Central American country. Now, when you call us for a Nicaragua trip, everyone you speak to can impart the latest and greatest information about the country.

La Gran Francia

La Gran Francia

Our adventure began as most Nicaragua vacations do, at the Managua International Airport. Our flight landed in the evening, but not too late, so we opted to take a transfer from the airport to Granada. The transfer time is about an hour. We arrived at the quaint boutique hotel, La Gran Francia, and split off into our rooms. La Gran Francia is located right in the heart of Granada and is estimated to have been built in 1524. The building was restored in the 90s and now it is a cozy hotel (21 rooms) with unique colonial touches. The guest rooms are situated along open air corridors that surround a small courtyard with an adorable pool in the center. A few of our agents explored Granada City that night, sampling the local fare. The ceviche that the local vendors serve is amazing!

La Gran Francia Courtyard

La Gran Francia Courtyard

The next morning, we were greeted by our guide, Juan Carlos, of Careli Tours. Juan Carlos is absolutely brilliant and he was worth his weight in gold as our dedicated guide throughout our trip. I can confidently say that this man knows just about all there is to know about Nicaragua and, trust me, that’s a lot! He pretty much blew our minds with his extensive knowledge of the country’s history (every battle, tribal rituals, names and dates of every political figure, and all the details about the notorious William Walker), then he’ll switch gears and give you a detailed scientific explanation of volcanic activity and plate tectonics. He’ll spot a bird and tell you all about its habitat, behaviors, and migratory patterns. Juan Carlos is the real deal – a human encyclopedia of all things Nicaragua!

Juan Carlos of Careli Tours

Juan Carlos of Careli Tours

So, Nicaraguan Superman, Juan Carlos met us at La Gran Francia with 2 horse-drawn carriages. From there we took a tour of Granada City. I highly recommend this tour. Your guide will take you through the city streets and point out several historical sites (almost too many to count). We made a quick stop at the old railway station and passed by many beautiful churches and colorful cafes. The city is abuzz with motor bikes, trucks, other horse-drawn carriages, and bicycles. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the city and get a handle on where everything is and, as always, you’ll learn about history. Granada has so many stories to tell. Each site you see offers a glimpse into the very distant past. So many places we saw were constructed in the 1600s & 1700s. If you’re into history, this place is a dream!

Horse Carriage Tour of Granada City

Horse Carriage Tour of Granada City

We made a stop at Doña Elba’s Cigars to watch them hand-roll a cigar. It was a beautiful process to watch. Everything smelled so delightful! This is a great place to buy a unique gift for a cigar lover. Nicaragua is known for their excellent cigars and nothing beats getting the cigars straight from the source.

Doña Elba Cigars

Doña Elba Cigars

Next we stopped to check out a little gem of a hotel, Casa del Consulado. This hotel is vibrant with color and the courtyard gardens are absolutely gorgeous! There was a very airy, relaxed vibe there. The rooms are charming with dark woods and nice colonial-inspired furnishings. They offer complimentary use of their bicycles for those who want to explore Granada on their own. We loved this hotel and thought it was a great place to hang your hat while you’re in Granada.

With Lennin Garcia at Hotel Casa del Consulado

With Lennin Garcia at Hotel Casa del Consulado

Next we had a look at another one of our favorite hotels in Granada, Hotel Plaza Colón. One of the best things about this hotel is that it’s located right on the square. The rooms have balconies that overlook all of the activity in downtown Granada. Imagine sitting on the balcony, enjoying an ice cold Toña (Nicaragua’s national beer) and watching everything going on below you. The rooms are nicely done in a colonial style with comfortable bedding and upscale furnishings. If you like to be right where the action is, then this is your place. They also have a lovely courtyard with a pool and tables for dining.

Balcony view at Hotel Plaza Colón

Balcony view at Hotel Plaza Colón

One thing that all of the Granada hotels we visited have in common is a cozy, charming feel. You aren’t staying at a Holiday Inn, you are staying in very old buildings with current day furnishings and amenities. It’s a great experience and a must if you visit Nicaragua. We recommend at least 2 nights in Granada to soak up all of the activities.

Our first day in Nicaragua was a long one! There is a lot more to tell.

Stay tuned for the next installment…