As an easy day trip from Granada, Masaya has a lot to offer.
The winding alleyways of the bustling Mercado Municipal, the vibrantly coloured handcrafts at the slightly touristy Mercado de Artesanias, and the bubbling soup of active Volcan Masaya just a short bus ride away.
Many visit Masaya as part of an organised tour, either during the day or as part of the famed Masaya volcano night tour, but if you’re travelling independently, here’s how to enjoy both the markets and volcano of Masaya in just one day.
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Many tourists come to shop up a storm at the Mercado de Artesanias which sells just about every type of typical Nicaraguan souvenir you could think of. Hand-made hammocks, colourful woven blankets and small purses and sandals with ‘Nicaragua’ etched into the leather.
We found this place to be rather overpriced, full of tourists and devoid of the usual chaos that we have come to appreciate in Latin American markets.
In the sprawling Mercado Municipal though, we spent a few blissful hours getting lost amongst the small covered alleyways.
Unlike Granada’s market which can feel a little cramped and claustrophobic, Masaya’s is far more spread out and we passed the time wandering between rows of young men sewing shoes by hand with thick leather thread, sampling our way down the line up of fresh passionfruit and pineapple and took in the scents of freshly picked mint.
This market is as much about the concoction of colours, scents and sounds as it is about the people who seemed to enjoy watching us as much as we enjoyed watching them.
We turned a few little old ladies into local celebrities as we asked to take their portraits and were met with bashful smiles and schoolgirl-like giggles before they posed proudly with the bowls of roasted peanuts they were sorting or the chillies they were skillfully bunching. Their neighbours were just as impressed egging them on and excitedly asking to see the photos of their friends.
As one might expect in this part of the world, we also came across some unfortunate items for sale as well. Turtle eggs and a beautiful green iguana, alive and tied up by both sets of legs. Clearly, the ongoing struggle between conservation and cultural beliefs is alive and well in Nicaragua.
This active volcano can feel rather uninviting, but this is precisely its appeal.
Unlike nearby Mombacho’s lush and fertile forests, Masaya is dry and desolate, littered with dark lava rubble and straw-like grass.
Watch the gassy plumes being expelled as you get closer to the crater and lean in to listen to the bubbling pit far below. The old viewpoint marked by the cross is no longer accessible and don’t even try sneaking up here. The guards have whistles and they aren’t afraid to use them.
There are a few walking trails up here which give great views across to Mombacho and Momotombo volcanoes and over Laguna de Masaya.
We visited in the afternoon and took our time exploring the area, but a real highlight is meant to be visiting the volcano as part of a night tour which lets you watch the sunset from the crater, takes you to the lava tubes and bat caves and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse at the glowing magma in the crater.
Tours from Granada cost around $30 or $10 when organised at the park.
For independent visitors, there is a 100 cordoba ($4) entry fee for the national park and from there it’s a slightly uphill 5km walk along the road to the crater.
This is a popular attraction so passing cars are in no short supply and though we had planned to walk, as luck would have it we were able to hitch a ride most of the way up. There is also a shuttle to the crater costing 50 cordobas ($1.80) which leaves just a couple of times each day until early afternoon.
BUS – Chicken buses from Granada leave regularly from the bus terminal one block west of the Pali Supermarket and will drop you at the terminal right next to Masaya’s Mercado Municipal.
COST – 10 cordobas ($0.36)
BUS – When you have finished exploring the markets head west down Calle San Miguel to Parque San Miguel. Microbuses leave for Managua regularly from the small terminal half a block north of the park. Ask to go to Volcan Masaya and they will let you off at the entrance to the park.
COST – 19 cordobas ($0.68)
BUS – For the return trip to Granada simply flag down any Granada bound bus on the highway outside the entrance to Volcan Masaya National Park. A chicken bus will most likely drop you at the bus terminal on highway 4 in the north-west of Granada from where it is a 20-minute walk back to the centre or a 5-minute taxi. A microbus will drop you at Parque Central.
COST – 19 cordobas ($0.68)
Sound like to much hassle? You can also visit Masaya as part of an organised tour that stops at the artisanal market, the volcano and the rural village of Caterina. Check prices and availability here.
If you’re visiting Masaya on a day trip, Granada is certainly the best place to be based, with a number of great accommodation options in town.
Located right next door to Cathedral La Merced, De Boca en Boca is a consistent Granada favourite for its laid-back, social vibe and its abundance of comfy chillout areas that make it easy to make friends and hard to leave. There is an onsite bar and breakfast is included. Search for rates and availability here.
Hostel El Momento is right near the centre of Granada and offers spatial rooms with particularly comfortable beds and a lovely courtyard area to relax. Perfect choice for couples looking for a more peaceful hostel option, or those who appreciate a good night’s sleep. Search for rates and availability here.
Or check out the full range of hostels available in Granada here.
If you’re keen to spend longer than a day exploring the town and getting lost in the markets, there are also a number of decent options popping up around Masaya as well. Search available hostels and guesthouses in Masaya here.