We recently came back from six days in Nicaragua with five- and seven-year-old kids. Here’s what our family discovered and enjoyed across the country.
Granada is a great city to spend a couple days. It’s both a launching pad for day trips and a quant colonial city that is almost 500 years old.
Horse drawn carriages are popular to get around Granada (mainly with tourists) and an excellent way to see the city and learn about its fascinating history. My kids loved this ride and my five-year-old got to ask every burning question she had ever had about horses, “How do you brush the horse? What does the horse eat? Do horses make friends? When do horses die?” (She is fascinated by death lately).
Be sure not to miss chocolate making at the Choco Museo for an hour long hands-on lesson in chocolate from fermentation to roasting to your very own chocolate bar in the flavors you choose. I had to explain to my little one a few times that this was in fact real chocolate since it tasted different from the chocolate we usually eat. Ask for Israel as an instructor. He was awesome—so energetic and funny. My girls talked for days after about how he painted his own face with chocolate. The lesson isn’t cheap ($19 per person if I remember correctly) and you can also buy a variety of Nicaraguan chocolate for $4 a bar to bring back for friends.
Once you feel satisfied with Granada, use it as a base for a variety of different activities. You can see the active Masaya volcano and artisans market (a half day trip to do both).
It was recommended to us by a family with kids a little older than ours to take the night tour where you can see the red lava and walk through a cave with bats. As we knew this would scare our five-year-old, we opted to go during the day. You can’t see much in the open crater except smoke and smell the gas. It wasn’t terribly exciting for the kids so the night tour would probably have been better.
The Mombacho volcano and coffee farm tour is another beautiful day trip. Once at the crater, you can do a four-hour hike (ya right with kids) or a 1.5 hour hike (that’s more like it). Finally, take a boat tour of Las Isletas de Granada on Lake Nicaragua, that has the distinction of being the only freshwater lake in the world with sharks.
The boat takes you around a bunch of islands in Lake Nicaragua where mainly rich people have private-island houses and there’s a tiny island with four monkeys. As a note, you definitely don’t need more than an hour for this as some tours are two and three hours.
We stayed at the Hotel Colonial Granada and I highly recommend it with kids. Granada is hot and the two swimming pools at the hotel were perfect to cool off in the mornings and afternoons. The rooms are a good size and very clean and the staff is friendly and helpful. I often worried about how loud and disruptive my kids were being at the pool or running up and down the stairs between their room and the room of the new friends they made but the hotel was extremely tolerant and friendly.
As for food, I suggest avoiding the recommended and touristy El Bistro and El Zaguan, although many people raved to us about the steaks at El Zaguan. Both have food that is good but nothing exceptional and you pay American prices for it.
San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is a beach town on the Pacific. It’s both a destination for many Nicaraguan families as well as a town that comes alive on weekend nights (the time when us families with kids are already tucked into the hotel for the night). One of the best things to do is to take a surf lesson for you and your child (kids lessons are given in the shallow surf). There are many places to do this. Other activities include horseback riding, fishing and whale watching.
Don’t miss Playa Hermosa, a hidden beach just north of San Juan del Sur, located down a bumpy dirt road that goes on for miles and passes over rivers before coming to an oasis of a beach with hammocks, bars and a basic restaurant. There are many places around where you and your kids can take surf lessons as well.
If you stay longer in Nicaragua, you can also check out Leon, another colonial town where you can go volcano “surfing”, as well as the laid-back and beautiful island of Ometepe that Jimmy Carter and Bono had just visited before we arrived.
Overall Nicaragua was an affordable, fun and safe family vacation.