Nicaragua - Land of Lakes, Volcanoes AND Beaches!
We've lived in Nicaragua for 4 amazing years now and almost every day at the hotel, our guests ask how I came to be here. In 2012, I discovered this sprawling, ramshackle and amazingly beautiful property we now call Casa Lucia. After almost a year of heavy construction and living in the center of it all, we transformed it to the beautiful small boutique hotel and yoga retreat you see today. Why Nicaragua? I started thinking the other day it was time to chronicle my adventures in the land of lakes and volcanoes!
I came on a whim to surf and explore what I perceived to be the more authentic version of Costa Rica. I didn't want to go back to a 9-5pm corporate existence, and despite the many challenges of running a small hotel in a developing country, I LOVE my life in this gorgeous colonial city I now call home.
Today I want to write a bit about my explorations outside of Granada, as we all know, getting away and taking time away from our digitally connected world is essential. I'll write more about my favorite things to do in Granada, and list some attractions in the area as I have personally discovered them, all to save you time and money - transport costs are expensive in Nicaragua and if you have limited time and a smaller travel budget you'll want to take them into consideration - or get onto the Chicken Bus, our local buses, and be prepared for a ride of a lifetime.
This past week we journeyed to Playa Escameca, a gorgeous strip of coast also home to the Costa Dulce Hotel. Surrounded by nature, pavilions literally tucked into a forest, and a deserted beach, we enjoyed days of quiet relaxation and fresh seafood! When I travel I look for unusual and non-traditional hotels or holiday rentals that give me privacy, space and flexibility, something like Casa Lucia's vacation apartments with kitchens that allow guests extra privacy and independence. We rented a friend's beachside apartment (it was actually up on the hill about 2km away) in a forest but a close walk from the Costa Dulce hotel reception and restaurant.
Here is a photo of me in Warrior 2 on the rocks, one of my favorite yoga poses.
What's your favorite Nicaraguan beach resort? While Playa del Flor, Playa Gigante, Maderas are recommended, Playa Escameca is my new favorite! It was free of trash, music, any kind of development and offers a truly natural Nicaraguan beach experience.
We also got to make friends with the caretaker family that live close to our friend's home and act as staff, cleaning and security guard. Their dog Rambo followed my boyfriend Danilo around digging holes and enjoying eating our lunch.
We recommend if you are going to venture to one of the beaches in the Costa Dulce to hire a 4x4, not a regular taxi, in San Juan del Sur, or driver yourself. Driving in Nicaragua in the day is perfectly safe and gives you freedom and opportunity to venture to other beaches along the coast.
The Costa Dulce Hotel is a new development, and building is underway on many of the seafront villas. I had one of the best massages EVER in my life by a therapist at their spa, the sound of surf in the background was beautiful, all for a reasonable $20. Check out more about their retreat center -https://www.costadulcebeach.com
You can see the green hills of the countryside behind us and a fresh water river, leading to the sea. Hiking around the area gave us gorgeous views of the cobalt blue ocean, green rolling hills and quiet countryside, just minutes from San Juan del Sur.
Let us know your favorite beach escape, share photos or Like us on Facebook! www.casaluciagranada.com. Do you love yoga? Looking for a non-traditional hotel offering peace, privacy, good service and a unique experience. Check out our rooms page, click BOOK Now button. We are a premier boutique hotel in granada, nicaragua.
Blog Post Oct. 24, 2017
What to Bring, Where to Change Money, What to Expect in Nicaragua - Top Travel Tips
What do I need to bring to Nicaragua? Are there anything I should know before I arrive? I often get emails from guests asking me what they should bring, wear, and how to exchange money in Nicaragua. Before the start of the winter travel season, or high season in Nicaragua, I want to give you a list of the pre-arrival travels essentials or important FYIs.
Do not exchange money at the airport
I can help point you to the right location in Granada to exchange money, with a private money changer or the bank for a better rate of exchange. We do not exchange money at the hotel but you are just a few blocks from a money changer or an ATM machine dispensing cordobas and US Dollars.
Bring Small US Dollar bills – it is easier to make small tips and pay drivers exact amounts. Drivers and tour company workers do not carry change. You can withdraw $20s in US Dollars from the local ATM machines but odd denominations and smaller US bills are harder to obtain. Local currency is accepted for small purchases and at some cafes and restaurants, but most hotels, tour companies and upscale restaurants price services in US Dollars.
Learn some basic Spanish
Even if you download an app or carry a dictionary our staff and cab drivers, shopkeepers and waiters will be easier to speak with, and more pleasant. Spanish is the spoken language of this country and the average Nicaraguan does not speak English. Having learnt a little Spanish will go a long way in making you stay in Nicaragua a better experience. It never hurts to learn something new!
Transport – Chicken Bus it!
Within the cities, taxis are very cheap at under $1 US dollar per person. Granada is a walkable city but if you wish a taxi to the grocery store or bank simply flag one down. They work as co-ops without meters and will take you in the direction the other passengers are going. Do not be offended if they drive away. This just means they are going in the opposite direction. For cities and towns outside Granada these are easily accessible by local buses, however to travel comfortably on them you need to be prepared for long-wait times. The chicken buses do not form an official public transport network and the driver will go when the bus is full so the journey is profitable. This also means he could be sitting on the highway waiting for passengers for 20 minutes. Be patient or book private transport. It's good to budget in extra time especially if you are planning to take the ferry to Ometepe or are on a tight schedule. For transport between Granada, San Juan del Sur and Leon, local shuttle companies operate a mid-day schedule to these destinations for $15 US pp. Book 24 hours in advance.
Bring Light Clothing, a Water Bottle, Good Shoes and an Umbrella!
You don’t need much in a tropical climate – a few light weight cotton outfits, good walking shoes especially if you plan to hike a volcano and rain gear are essential. In Granada you’ll need good walking shoes or sneakers – flip flops are not advisable. For drinking water we provide filtered water in the hotel free of charge but you need to bring your own bottle to refill, and help us cut down on trash in the environment.
We also advise smaller suitcases or a rucksack. Traveling with a rucksack makes it easier to get around especially with poor road conditions. They can be put inside local buses, instead of the roof where large traditional cases will go, and possibly items taken out. Nicaragua is a very safe country, but pick-pocketing is rife.
The local health department in Granada controls this and private businesses must fumigate regularly by law. Mosquito illnesses are not unique to Nicaragua, being that they have been in India, Indonesia and South East Asia for decades and with more impact. The best thing to do is keep room doors and windows closed and to wear long pants to protect your legs in the evening. All of our hotel rooms have screens on the windows and air conditioning or ceiling fans. Spray yourself with repellent – natural or chemical – and 99% of the time, bites are just regular mosquito bites. Your chances of contracting Zika are very rare.
Nicaraguans are Generous – Be Generous Also
Nicaraguans are generous with both information about themselves and their family. They will give you a gift if you are going to stay wit them. It’s nice to bring something for them also. They like to see pictures of your family and are naturally curious as they like to know about life outside Central America - international travel is too expensive for an ordinary Nicaraguan. They enjoy music, singing, dancing and poetry. The International Poetry Festival brings people from all over the world to Granada and is a testament to the importance of literacy, art and culture in Nicaraguan society.
Bartering is Acceptable
You are welcome to negotiate prices at local markets. The vendors do price a little higher expecting you will baragain, but they give fair prices in general and are among the fairest market vendors we have ever seen (in comparison to South East Asia). It is considered poor form to barter for food, fruits and vegetables or other food products which are fairly priced. When the vendors have had enough they will let you know.
Take Lots of Photos and Tell Everyone about Nicaragua
We love tourists and this is a country you will remember for years afterwards. Whether it is the lady who sells you papaya every morning or the beautiful sunsets over the colonial buildings, you never forget a vacation in Nicaragua.
You can stay longer – want to live here? Our casa has a beautiful home like-feel and 2 one bedroom apartments with complete kitchens. Contact us for a one or two month discounted rate www.casaluciagranada.com.
After Work Yoga Followed by a Glass of Wine?
I have so many blog post ideas and information to post to the blog, but today it will be our December After Work Yoga & Wine nights. Now that the holidays are coming I thought what about something nice and relaxing that you can do after a long day at the office or with the kids?
We spend most of our day sitting in one position - or standing. This can be at a desk, or hunched over a computer. After work yoga helps you to relax, work out the kinks in your back and take the body's muscles and organs into rejuvenation. Yoga is your go to mechanism to release stress and feel good.
After a long day there's nothing better I like than a 30 min yoga practice on the mat, especially with Legs Up the Wall pose taking blood out of the feet and legs and boosting your overall health and circulatory system. Now this December @ Casa Lucia you enjoy bi-weekly Sunset After Work Yoga with Wine from 6pm-7.15pm, $5pp with a glass of wine and all taxes. Join the class and enjoy a little social in our hotel pool lounge.
Join us every Tue. & Thurs. night for the month of December 2018! Relax, restore, keep the holiday stress under control and most importantly make time for your health and well-being. Open to all Granada, Nicaragua residents and travelers.
Happy Holidays From Casa Lucia
It just felt like fall, and then before we knew it the high season began on November 1. We have had a great month of steady occupancy, especially over the ThanksGiving week with promotions and family specials. December will also be a busy month for us and for all of you as we celebrate the Christmas Holidays. If you are visiting Nicaragua for the first time this December, you can expect to see many customs unique to this country.
One of the aspects we most enjoy is the focus on family and spiritual celebrations like street processions, not commercials, Santa Claus or gifts. While Papa Noel does leave us presents, instead of Santa images you can expect to see processions of the Virgin Mary, hear fireworks, and hear church services into the early hours of the morning as the birth of Jesus is celebrated. Nicaraguans are so generous that you will see in offices and government buildings gift baskets and donations for needy families. The focus on helping others continues when local families give gifts of food and toys to groups who go from door to door singing Christmas Carols. Yesterday, a family friend very generously delivered to us a beautiful basket of fresh fruit and treats. We have also decided this year, in lieu of gift giving to sponsor a local hunger charity with a donation, as there is little we need and we prefer to support a local child or needy family.
The culture of home and family is very strong in Nicaragua, and on the 24th we all sit down for a big meal, before or after Mass. How do you celebrate Christmas at home?
Send us photos of your family traditions or your Christmas Trees, as you know these are hard to find in Nicaragua - Best wishes to you all for a healthy and happy 2018. - Eloisa & Danilo
More Casa Lucia News
Travel Mad Mum & Dad Visit Casa Lucia - they have 93 million Instagram Followers and are the authority on Family Travel
Karen & Shaun Edwards with 3 year old Esme and baby Quinn recently visited Casa Lucia to test out a family stay (they rated us highly) and to show that families can travel comfortably in exotic destinations like Nicaragua. Karen & Shaun have traveled the world on an extended maternity and paternity leave, and dream of making travel blogging/specialization and their marketing skills into a full time business.
You can follow their world travels on Travel Mad Mum. Karen has over 93 million Instgram followers and shared her tips for how to manage the platform - great advice for a small business like ours. They also visited the Butterfly Farm and the Isletas, taking a family boat tour around the beautiful and tiny green islands of Lake Nicaragua. In 2018, we have Long Stay Rates and Customized Tour Packages available for families. Visit our website for more information.
Yoga with Corinne
Yoga Instructor Corinne Dombroski arrived in Nicaragua on December 1st to kick off her month leading classes @ Casa Lucia. She's only taught a few classes and is already receiving so much praise for her fantastic Vinyasa flows. A former IBM marketing specialist, Corinne began practicing yoga to help with shoulder and back injuries caused by long hours at the desk. As part of our schedule we will launch Evening Relax & Unwind After Work Yoga every Tuesday & Thursday at Casa Lucia with Corinne, one of her specialities being Yin Yoga. This class and all of our Yoga Classes are open to the community until May 2018.
Vacation Apartments & Longer Stays
As you know we're not a hotel for a night or two. It feels like you can live at Casa Lucia with our comfortable terraces, open plan kitchen and roof deck. To encourage this, we have launched new long stay package with deep discounts for stays of 7-25 nights. You get between 30- 45% off on rates for 2 persons including breakfast and yoga classes (check our schedule).These are ideal for business travelers, active travelers, volunteers, or those seeking a private and comfortable base for a longer vacation. We provide the swimming pool, kitchen access, yoga classes, and transportation service to make you feel at home and we hope always to exceed your expectations and deliver great customer service. Visit our website for more information on Long Stay Rates.
Read this article about Granada written by 2017 Blogger of the Year Karen Edwards who we hosted for 3 nights with husband Shaun, 3 Year Old Esme and baby Quinn in a boutique family suite. Visit Karen's website to read her blog and other amazing world travel trips - https://travelmadmum.com
THINGS TO DO IN GRANADA, NICARAGUA
I have always loved small colonial towns. The buildings and architecture are so eye catching with bright colours, crumbling paint, pretty town halls and bustling squares. We visited Antigua, Guatemala before visiting Granada, Nicaragua. We absolutely loved Antigua so we weren’t sure if Granada could beat it. My first impressions were the town was beautiful. I was blown away by the variety of colours on the buildings. They are bold and striking, whereas I find, other colonial towns use pastilles. Secondly it is so quiet! My expectation was to see tourists and locals alike filling the streets. I mean, there are so many things to do in Granada, Nicaragua but it seems tourism has dipped.
I heard Nicaragua does not see as many tourists as they would like. Maybe its because of a historic reputation? Or that of its neighbouring countries? Let me tell you it is totally safe! Yes, there is the odd pick pocket that happens but that goes down everywhere in the world. Everyone we met was extremely friendly and heartwarming. We had a couple of situations where we needed the help of the locals and they went above and beyond to help us. I love visiting beautiful places that are not too touristy yet because I know it will soon change.
Granada has such a wide variety of activities and sites alike. Wether you like historical walking tours or something a little more hands on, there is something to suit all tourists. If you visit Nicaragua, you need to ensure to stay in Granada for a minimum of three days. Based on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, it’s not just the town that needs time to be explored. Here is what we got up to on our trip, in the usual play, sleep and eat format.
THINGS TO DO IN GRANADA, NICARAGUA
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Granada is a small town so its easy to explore by foot. Walking through past street doors it looks like there is not much going on until you see it opens up into a terrace. Families usually use the front of the house as their lounge and its very easy to get an idea of how the locals live. Just by wandering around, you will see so much. My favourite part was watching locals sell their product to each other.
They walk along the street with a cart on the back of their bike hollering what they have. ” Leche, Leche, Leche” (milk, milk, milk). The locals don’t buy it from plastic cartons in the shop. It comes straight from the source. That said, there are plenty of supermarkets and shops to buy westernised produce. But I just loved their innocence, think of how much it must reduce waste.
CATHEDRAL OF GRANADA
Wether you like to admire historical buildings or not, you haven’t been to Granada until you’ve climbed the winding stairs of the cathedrals bell tower. The views from atop are stunning. The bustling Central Park below with the backdrop of volcanos are viewed through what feels like a port hole. It’s the perfect frame for top photos. There was a service taking place inside the cathedral when we visited, so we didn’t hang around for long with our two kiddos.
TAKE A BOAT TRIP AROUND THE ARCHIPELAGO ISLANDS
As I mentioned Granada is based on the banks of Lake Nicaragua. Like everywhere in Central America, the geographical area has many volcanoes. Mombacho volcano exploded thousands of years ago and formed more than 300 tiny islands very close to the banks of Granada. We took a day trip with Danni’s Tours. We always like to do private tours with our kids so there is flexibility in the what, where and when of a trip.
It was awesome to have someone tell us about the area in English. We stopped at a number of the islands checking out some of the fortresses, expensive houses on their own islands, and feeding the monkeys that live there. That was our three year olds favourite part. They kept jumping onto the roof of the boat.
TAKE A PICNIC TO THE LAKE
If you love to see how the locals socialise, visiting the lake on the weekend provides the ideal opportunity. The area has undergone some reconstruction making it a family friendly hangout. There are tonnes of brand new playgrounds as well as BBQ areas and it seems many people are enjoying the new space.
TAKE A DAY TRIP TO MASSAYA
Masaya is the next town north west of Granada. Its less beautiful but it has a very interesting historical market full of colourful textiles, locally made garments and gifts. The best thing to do is have a late lunch in Massaya after exploring the markets. At around 4pm hop in a taxi to Massaya Volcano. Its one of the very few places where you can drive up to the top and see the lava in the dark. It gets dark quite early but you need to be there at a reasonable time to pay in. I advise baby carriers for kiddos.
GRANADA BUTTERFLY FARM
We visited Granada Butterfly Farm on a day when it was closed. However the one staff member available felt sorry for us and let us in anyway. So we didn’t get as much from the experience as we did at the butterfly farm in Belize. That said, its always lovely to see hundreds of the incredible blue morpho!EAT
Like I mentioned, everything in Granada seems to be tucked away. Restaurants are not incredibly easy to spot. In true colonial style, there is one door outside and the buzz of punters is in the heart of the buildings courtyard. There is no shortage of incredibly good food in Granada. We were spoilt for choice. I find Nicaraguan dishes heavy, consisting of rice, plantain and beans. It’s ok in small amounts but I couldn’t be eating it all of the time. Eating out is so affordable. We often ate out for no more than 28 USD. Here are some of our favourite places to eat in Granada.
I think Garden Cafe is one of the most popular restaurants in Granada and its easy to see why. Behind a colonial shell is a gorgeous courtyard filled with lush plants and great food! They have breakfast, lunch and dinner menus with avocado and hummus being two of the key features. The community and sustainability are at heart when it comes to ingredients, something we feel very passionate about.
Pacaya Bowl looks like a take away. Once inside it has a tiny swimming pool in a courtyard, hammocks and quirky antique furnishings. It’s not really a dinner place but our toddler was keen to try one of the many smoothie bowls, whilst we had sandwiches and a sangria. The smoothie bowls are made with all fresh and health conscious ingredients. Its probably one of the more expensive places in Granada but it’s definitely a nice treat.
SAN FRANCISCO RESTAURANT
San Francisco Restaurant is another really good one, with the typical feature of an outdoor courtyard. If you visit, make sure to look behind the bar as the awesome map mural. We stared at it the entire time we were there. They serve tapas at San Francisco restaurant, so whether you just want a small bite to eat, or to taste multiple dishes, its great any time of the day. The food is really yummy!
Right across the street from Garden cafe you will find Pitta Pitta. They have a variety of middle eastern and fresh stone baked pizzas. The pizzas are to die for. The base is thin so they do not feel too unhealthy. Its also a great spot to get a takeaway if your kids don’t feel up to eating out. We were very lucky at our beautiful boutique hotel where we had an open air shared kitchen for such situations.
Things to do in Granada, Nicaragua
We stayed at the fabulous Casa Lucia Boutique Hotel. It is in such a great location, just two blocks from the main street. and perfectly suited for a family with young children. When we pulled up outside, it’s literally one door in a long street of colourful houses. Its all gated and safe. Once inside, it winds through landscaped passages and opens up into a beautiful area with a yoga deck, swimming pool, lounge area and a shared kitchen. It has a light and airy feel with luxury whicker furniture and white cushions. We totally fell in love with the place and hoped to stay longer but it was obviously booked up. I was not surprised.
We stayed in the king suite. The glass French doors with white drapes immediately made it feel like a tropical zen. Despite having a massive bed, there was ample room for a cot, an additional single bed, and the usual room furnishings of table and chairs. The bathroom and storage space were all cleverly hidden behind a petition wall that had the most beautiful pattern design.
I love the fact there is no plastic in the hotel. All of the products are locally sourced and organic. They have eco-friendly and sustainability at the heart of the business. There is always a carafe of water in the room and the shampoo and body wash is in reusable dispensers. Casa Lucia won a green leader award in Nicaragua which is such a lovely recognition for their efforts.
Besides from a variety of hotel room sizes, Casa Lucia also have apartments for longer vacation lets. They are absolutely perfect for a digital nomad, writer or young family wanting to park up for a while.
On day one and two, we hardly left the hotel. We were just so comfortable and nicely relaxed, it had that vibe! Maybe its because of the yoga? Every morning at 8am there is a F.O.C yoga class for guests which is set in the tranquil and peaceful pool area. I really enjoyed it. Our kids always have breakfast around 9am so it was an ideal time to be able to make the class.
Breakfast comes as part of the hotel room price. There is traditional Nicaraguan or a healthy start option. I always had the latter. We were spoilt with a freshly pressed juice each morning and a plate of sliced tropical fruits. For the kids they had pancakes with jam. The coffee was really good and I understand it is locally sourced in line with their sustainability ethos. The hotel has everything you need for kids. A comfortable high chair, a pack and play cot, as well as a changing table. We hardly ever come across those kind of things in Central America, but the extra comforts go a long way. We also really loved the design of the swimming pool. It is tiered from very shallow to very deep. It worked so well for us and I think we must have all done a hundred dives in the deep end, it was so much fun.
THE STORY BEHIND CASA LUCIA
Casa Lucia is owned by a very lovely lady Eloisa from Bermuda She arrived in Nicaragua a few years back, not necessarily in search of property. She had originally looked in South East Asia for a yoga business but never came across the right property.