Granada, Nicaragua & Masaya Volcano Tour from Guanacaste Costa Rica

Being in Central America was a turning point in my life.  My goal of visiting 30 countries by the age of 30 was almost met; Costa Rica was my 29th country visited and I had only a few short months before my 30th birthday. My husband and I had planned on renting a car and touring as much of Central America as possible. The restrictions on car rentals and insurance policies put a damper on my life-long goal and I worried that I was going to fall short. The Colonial Granada Nicaragua & Masaya Volcano Tour from Guanacaste, Costa Rica solved my problems and washed my worries away.

We toured the city of Granada, appreciated the beautiful architecture, and admired interesting colonial and historic landmarks. The thing that stood out, however, was not the abundance of churches that proved the influence of religion or the numerous colonial landmarks exhibiting the history and culture of the city; the people are what made Granada interesting and intimidating at the same time. As young children swarmed us begging for money and trying to sell everything, including the shirts off their backs, I was overwhelmed and greatly feared being pick-pocketed. I had heard stories of begging children and I had witnessed, first-hand, the power of numbers when it came to children begging, but for the first time in my life, I actually worried about my surroundings. In my past experiences in other countries, these children would go away if I ignored them long enough or emphatically told them “No”, but the children in Granada became more aggressive and abusive each time I turned them down. My husband was protective, which helped to lessen my anxiety and luckily, our tour guide handled the situation and herded us into a colonial church.  I was grateful for his authority over the children and even more grateful that my husband and I hadn’t made the journey on our own. The power in numbers works both ways and traveling with a tour group limited our exposure to the grabbing hands and wanting eyes.

In the afternoon, we visited Masaya Volcano National Park. We had the opportunity to walk to the very edge of the volcano, bare the excessive heat, and look all the way down to the bottom. Standing on the “other” side of a concrete barrier, I gasped at the sight of a huge hole, big enough to swallow five football fields. The white cloud of hydrogen sulphide billowed up towards me and the wave of heat hit me like a rock. Darren patiently took pictures despite the heat, which allowed me to fully take in the environment. As I stood at one of only two active volcanoes that have a paved road to the top, I marveled at the long fields of ruffled black lava and the stunning, active crater that lay below. What appeared to be a scorpion ran cross the cracked walkway leading to my feet and that was the sharp end to my sightseeing experience at the Masaya Volcano. The high temperatures and steep steps to major viewing areas were all manageable, but I draw the line with poisonous arthropods.

Our day in Nicaragua concluded with some shopping at the Masaya Indian Market. This handcrafts market, the largest in Nicaragua, was overflowing with colorful hand-woven hammocks, embroidered clothing, wood carvings, and hemp weavings such as wall hangings, hats, and floor mats. I haggled with the vendors  and found myself with two beautiful, handmade dresses for $10 each.

Exasperatedly, I headed toward the bus. The cultural aspect of Granada, the visual stimulus of the Masaya Volcano, and the haggling at Masaya Indian Market made my 30th country a worthwhile, memorable journey, but I was ready to put my feet up and relax, an easily accomplishable goal when I returned to my all-inclusive vacation paradise in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

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37 thoughts on “Granada, Nicaragua & Masaya Volcano Tour from Guanacaste Costa Rica

    • Nicaragua was a great day trip, but I’m happy that the rest of the week was spent in Costa Rica. There was so much to see and do and it seemed fairly safe. We weren’t hassled in Costa Rica yet the surroundings were equally beautiful.

      Have you ever traveled to Central America?

      Your comments are appreciated; please keep them coming.


      • Hi Lesley, thank you for having a look at my blog yesterday, and liking it!
        I had never heard of your Bucket List blog before so have just been having a look at the post on Nicaragua – not only have we travelled to Central America, we now live here in Nicaragua, and absolutely love it – it was great to see your pictures of Granada, the Volcano, and Masaya – at one time we too were intimidated by situations here, but with more experience I would heartily recommend Nicaragua as a country well worth visiting. We live in a village about an hour from Granada and our view is the people of Nicaragua are lovely, our neighbours have warmly welcomed us and we are treated like family, – I would say to anyone wanting to see Nicaragua get off the tourist route and meet the ‘real’ people. Best wishes, Tina

  1. Hi there! I was interested and puzzled by your post… I lived in Nicaragua for 2 years, a long time ago (about 20 something years ago), and it is such a fantastic place. At the time it was communist and then moved onto a capitalistic type of economy. Kids could be insistent at the time, but if you spoke the language and were “hard” enough they’d leave you in peace. Having said that, there were no tourists at the time (the civil war was still going on) and maybe it made a difference. I have been back five or six time since, but the last time was a few years ago now and I’d be interested to see if things have become more like what you experienced. I would not be totally surprised, as Nicaragua is the poorest country in America (along Haiti) and with the poorest having become even poorer, the behaviour you experienced may be more common these days. I saw you visited the Masaya volcano. It is often related that at the time of Somoza (the dictator before the Sandinistas took over) the opponents to the government were sometimes dropped into the volcano from a helicopter. Scary! As for Costa Rica…. I love it! Safe travels! Jerome

    • It appears things have really changed since you’ve last been there. I’ve been to a lot of countries in the world, but that type of begging has yet to be matched. I did love the country and the culture though and I don’t regret traveling to Nicaragua at all. I loved the historical feel and the markets. I heard similar volcano stories and it seems believable.

      Do you live in the US now? It seems you’ve done your share of traveling.

      Thanks for the comment; keep ‘em coming :)

  2. I’ve been living in Hong Kong for a year and a half, but am moving to Melbourne next week. I’m form Sydney/Paris, and have visited between 70 and 80 countries (depending on how you’re counting). My weak point is Africa. :-) I’m a bit of an adventure/adrenalin junkie myself…

      • Lesley – Thanks for visiting my site THRIVEfnl.
        There are no accidents.
        In Bootcamp today one of my student had just returned from 3 weeks in Nic.
        Her stories…all seemed very positive…esp’ly for two American girls in their early 20s traveling alone.
        I was inspired to go.
        Then a few hours later I get your LIKE about Lissa Rankin.
        Cool stuff. Your blog will help teach me more. We’re thinking about going this summer …
        Thanks again.
        Be unstoppable!

  3. Hard to say. There are so many I love, and for different reasons. Love Colombia, Brazil, South Africa, Cambodia, Japan, Tibet, and of course Australia. I particularly enjoyed swimming with great white sharks in Africa, white water rafting in Australia, diving in The Red Sea, working in Papua-New Guinea, teaching Deaf kids in China etc… I think the world is a fantastic place. Having said that, the next few months are going to be “tame” with a new job down under…. But we will be diving with whale sharks in the Philippines at Easter… :-) I suppose that you’ll have to take it easy with your “condition”! Take care!

  4. I noticed you visited my blog and liked one of my Family First Missions, which led me to your blog. I’m originally from Nicaragua, which led me to this post! I have not been back there since I moved to the states when I was 9. One of my sisters went back last year and unfortunately, she went through a total culture shock… mainly with the kids begging. She also mentioned experiencing something similar to what you wrote about here. She does speak Spanish, of course, and was able to get “hard” with them. She was told by a friend who lives there, that unfortunately, sometimes you can’t even really give one something because before you know it you are surrounded by a mob wanting you to give them more. This was also more so in certain areas. My sister stayed mainly in Managua (the Capital), but she did travel to Granada and Masaya as well. We still also have family who lives there and traveling with locals I guess also makes a difference, but I guess for someone who came here when she was 7 and grew up in the States, and who had not traveled back outside of the States… well, let’s just say she did not prepare herself for the whole experience. Now that she’s experienced it though, and she is better prepared (emotionally and all…because lets face it, it would be everything from heart breaking to possibly a bit scary to have all the mob of begging kids around you), she says she def. wants to go back. She talks about all the artisans and crafts you find down there, which we are completely deprived of here. The raw Historic and nature sites, etc. I wish to go back some day. I want my husband, who is trying to learn some Spanish, and my daughters to someday see where I’m from. :-) I’ll be following your blog. Your life is just so awesome and inspiring… which means YOU’RE awesome and inspiring since YOU make it what it is. You go girl! :-)

  5. BTW, Congrats on the baby! I can only imagine what a great life he/she will have with such adventurous parents! How great! Blessings!

  6. First of all, congrats on your baby. I am an original Nica. Like Gigi got transplanted to the States in my late teens and have had a hard time making it back. My uncle works here and travels back to Nic. every Christmas. I was not aware of the hassling and I am going to double check him. He has already packed his bag for his trip this year. As for your experience in a Nic., I think it is because as Hilary pointed out Leon and Chinandega are farther from the capital city of Managua and also as I can point out Leon and Chinandega are considered to be where the original colonists settled and the birth of democracy took place. As a result, the background of the citizens of this Departments are more on the line of traditional old Spaniard descent more proud and generally more educated. The original capital city used to be Leon and later it was moved to Managua. Managua, being a more modern and cosmopolitan city draws more people from the other Departments causing the meager resources made available by the authorities to be exhausted before it reaches the most vulnerable. I think if you go to Nic. again you should dress like the locals, speak only Spanish (or do not speak at all) or go with a Spanish speaking friend having a preplanned schedule on hand so to minimize any unnecessary conversation. I am very impressed on your accomplishments in the travel world and share in your adventures vicariously. Good Luck in all your future odysseys.

  7. I went surfing in NIcaragua several years ago and visited all the places you did. I had the same scary experience with begging children in Granada – it was unreal!!! Cheers to you accomplishing such an ambitious goal, and thanks for reading my blog :)

  8. I love Nicaragua! Great article. Sometime, since you have a heart for adventure (!), you might try taking the “chicken bus” and the boat out to the east coast, Bluefields, Pearl Lagoon, and Puerto Cabezas, etc. It’s a grand adventure…and really different from the west side. Peace.

  9. Yeah the children in Granada are a real shame, however there are several local programs that both house and feed the street kids. The real problem stems from the parents. The children make more money begging from gringo tourists than the parents would at a job, so that becomes their life. Since they don’t go to school, they get older and less adorable and are forced to resort to other desperate measures to live. If anyone reading this ever goes to Granada, never give the children anything, even food, it only serves to worsen the problem.
    Everywhere else in the country doesn’t really have the same problem. In Managua there are some children street performers, but they are fairly scarce.
    That being said Nicaragua is a wonderful place and is actually one of the safest Central American countries you can go to. I have been working there for about a year and your greatest danger is getting into a car accident.

    Btw, thanks for liking my blog about Nicaragua!

  10. Hi, nice blog you have here… I was travelling (alone!) in Nicaragua for 2 months in 2008, and then went to Costa Rica and Panama. I fell totally in love with Nicaragua, probably because I got to know some local people, when I stayed 1 month at a small spanish school in a small town in the middle of nowhere.
    All though I must say, when coming to Costa Rica, I felt a relief because there was suddenly less “attention” .. from all the latinos hanging on the streets or whereever… hahaha, okay still a lot of attention but not as much as in Nicaragua :)

  11. I love Nicaragua! I started going when I was twelve and I’ve been back 10 times since then for volunteer work. Volcano Masaya is one of my favorite sites. A few years ago it erupted some boulders and injured a few people so they’ve put up a lot more barriers, but I remember running up to the top where the cross is and feeling like I was on the top of the world! I even saw a porcupine up there once.

  12. It’s wonderful that you find known Granada, Nicaragua and am living near the volcano Masaya. My suggestion is that if you go there take the night tour of the volcano, you will discover a fascinating history in their caves, you will see many bats but the challenge is super exciting to know that you’re down to an unknown world is really a feeling that has no words. Take care much, nice to read you, thanks for sharing

  13. Sorry you had such a hard time with the children beggars in Nicaragua, I have never run into that before, they must have thought you looked “rich”, usually pretending not to speak spanish gets rid of them. I had way more problems in Costa Rica with people trying to sell me drugs but everyone has different experiences when they travel, that is what makes it fun :)

  14. Hello. Now I know why you’ve liked several of my Nica posts! I’ve not been to Granada – it was raining that day and I went along with one of the pastors to drop a couple at the airport and get supplies in Managua. Mt. Masaya! That was wild! I did not make it to the top to the cross, but still, the views were humbling, to say the least. And after seeing pictures others took from the rim of the sister volcano, and realizing how much smaller the first one is.. wow! And if I ever return, I’ll remember not to stand in one spot for more than a minute! (rubber melts!)

    As for the kids, we were warned well ahead of time. And now, several of my favorite young people of all time are the ones in Nica, whom I can’t wait to see in a handful of months!! :)

  15. I just found your blog and I am enjoying reading about your adventures! I went to your Nicaragua page first because my family and I travel there often to do missionary work. I have just started blogging myself, but have a few pictures up of my kids in Nicaragua. We love the country, and seeing your pictures really made me miss it. I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of your blog and dreaming of more countries I would like to visit someday!

  16. Beautiful photos, I’d love to visit the Volcano in Masaya. A friend of mine is tour guide at Cerro Negro, but one volcano surely isn’t ever enough. Happy to see you enjoyed your trip! Now I can’t wait to go back.

  17. I live in Granada it’s the best! Of course I’m biased but Nicaragua does have a lot of lush for not even half the cost of Cost-a-lot-of-Rica. Just kidding. Just glad we made the list! Another place you might like is Dominica (not to be confused with Dominican Republic). It’s small its lush and beautiful. It has some of the most beautiful black sand beaches in the world.

  18. Thank you for liking my blog….I’m sorry that your one day experience of Nicaragua was a little unnerving. We often visit and haven’t found the same problem.
    If you return one day to Masaya go to the town market…up the road from the one the tour took you to….there are acres of it…everything from fish to leather goods. I always buy my shoes there.

    We like the north of Nicaragua, especially Matagalpa…beautiful countryside….but have to say, living as we do in Costa Rica and liking the life there, we have found Nicaraguans much more honest.

    too ancient for adventure sports, but it’s great to read about them!

  19. Thanks for liking my blog about Panama City – “Vertical Living”. We are still in Panama at Coronado Beach and will be heading toward Boquete to stay for a month. I’ll write about that too as its famous for expats and “gringo living”. The forests and streams are calling us. Hope to stay in touch…you have so much to say about such interesting places! I lived in Nicaragua for 4 months, as we started up a bed and breakfast. But I too understand that the children begging can be stressful. I was slapped hard across the face by a mentally deranged old man while sitting in a taxi with the window down! But I was also befriended by a number of lovely people there too.
    Isn’t the volcano something else? The sulphur smells! We were instructed to park our cars facing downhill in case of an eruption occurred. Yeech!

  20. I’ve been to Puerto Cabezas the last three years with a medical mission group (Global Passion). They’ve been going for about 14 years, and stay 10-14 days each trip. There’s a 3 or 4 minute video of my first trip on my blog. (A patient urped up the worm – eww!)

    Although the people are financially poor, they are rich in relationships. I’ve made some dear friends there. It doesn’t take long to figure out that even if I worked five jobs and gave them every penny, it wouldn’t be a drop in the bucket of what they need. What’s a poor musician to do? I hug them, hold them, sing to them.

    I asked a fellow there if they’d rather have the money it costs us to come. His answer surprised me: “No, Senora. When you come it tells us that God has not forgotten us in this place.” Wow!

    On a different note, if you haven’t been to Little Corn Island, off the coast of Nicaragua, you should check it out. There’s great snorkeling, food, hiking, fishing, and not much else. It’s a great place to get away from it all!

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