Masaya, Nicaragua: Hotels, Markets and Transportation
A Place to Shop And See A Few Sights
Masaya, Nicaragua, is a town that is just south of Managua and northwest of Granada. It is an economical place to choose for an overnight stay. If you stay for a couple of days, you will have time to go to see the nearby Masaya Volcano, the overlook at Lake Apoyo and you can shop at the two markets they have in town. I have been there several times, and have gone to three different places to spend the night. All of the hotels and bed and breakfasts are cheaper than what you will find in nearby Granada; and in some cases, the quality of the room and services is superior. Thus, you can use it as a point of access to either Managua or Granada, taking either take a taxi (expensive) or a cheap bus.
Below I share some of my pictures of items in the markets of Masaya and some specific information about the markets and hotels that I have visited there. I also mention some cheap transportation tips that you can use to get to Granada and to and from the Costa Rica border when you go and return from Masaya. A link to a Google interactive map is included so you can locate the places that are mentioned in the article.
The Two Markets in Masaya
There is what is call the Mercado Antigua (also known as the Mercado Viejo, or old market) in the central part of town, about 1 block east of the central square. This old stone building was originally built in 1891 and has been renovated after fires which occurred in 1966 and 1978, the later occurring during the civil war that Ortega was leading against Somoza.
This market, designated as map marker # 8, has many independent shops within it, as well as a cultural center where they have traditional dances and music performances. I happened to be there one day when there was a performance that also had some of the participants of the Miss Teenage World Competition as well.
The arts, crafts and leather goods in this market are priced a bit higher that you will find in the Main Market which is a few blocks to the east. But it is more spacious, or less likely to make you feel claustrophobic. You can find boa constrictor and alligator boots, chicken baskets (made from a whole feathered chicken, including the head), gross preserved toads, jewelry, clothes and paintings - all of good quality.
Main Market. This market, map marker # 7, is enormous. There are hundreds of shops there which can overwhelm new visitors. There are also restaurants towards the back. On the west side, you can find cobblers making shoes, purses and belts. Bins of unnamed medicinal herbs are displayed nearby in one tiny section - where you can also find arts and crafts.
A large portion of this market offers clothes and shoes, but you can find tools and electronic accessories here too, including knock-off Casio watches. Last time I was in Masaya, there was even a religious parade through the narrow aisles last time while I was there. However, it was not a friendly one, as bystanders who were in the aisle were literally pushed out of the way by a group of people chanting and carrying an icon of the Virgin Mary.
Below you find more photos of items found in the market, and other things you can see nearby.
A Map of Masaya, Nicaragua Points of Interest
The Volcano and Lake Apoyo Overlook As Places to Visit
If you have never seen Volcan Masaya or the overlook at Caterina, make some time to do so. Both of the sites are breath-taking and you can drive right up to them. Masaya Volcano is just west of town and the road in this national park goes all the way to the crater lip. (Perhaps it is the only handicap-accessible volcano crater in the world?) You can see steam rising all of the time from this crater, and you can hike up to an overlook for a bird's eye view. The photo shown to the left was taken from that point. When I visited, I was told thay during the civil war, some of the Somoza loyalists were taken to this site and thrown into the crater.
South of town, there is a rise in elevation and a cooler climate. Turning left into the town of Caterina, you go up and into a park which overlooks Lake Apoyo. This crater lake is quite beautiful and you can have a restaurant meal there as well. Crafts are also sold by various vendors in shops and on foot. Just say "no, gracias!" if you don't want to be bothered.
Both of these sites are pinned on the interactive map link provided above. Just zoom out.
Recommended Hotels in Masaya
I have stayed in three different places in Masaya, two of which I recommend. For those on a budget, I recommend staying at the Hostal Mirador de los Arcangeles (map point # 4), which is a block and a half north of the Mercado Antigua. It is $25 per night at the time of this writing and $5 more for air conditioning. The rooms are small, but comfortable enough, and I was quite comfortable without the a/c.
If you want to spend your time here in luxury, there is a small bed and breakfast which I highly recommend. You will also find it recommended on TripAdvisor. This converted colonial home, known as Hotel Casa Robleto (map point # 3), is $60 per night and it has a king-size bed in a very large room with a spacious bathroom. There aren't many rooms here, so if you want to go, make sure you contact Frank Robleto to make a reservation beforehand. Click on the link to find his number and email address. Finding the hotel/B&B may be difficult, because when I was there, there was no sign. But, it is across from the Cruz Azul on San Jeronimo Avenue.
Recommended Restaurants in The Area
I have found two restaurants that I am enthusiastic about in the area. One is a Mexican restaurant that is on the same block as the hostal. The food is great and it is spicy, something I miss in normal Costa Rican cuisie. I can't remember the name, but its location is marked on the map.
If you want to take a trip to Granada, you can have a very good meal at the Zauguan, which is behind the central church. The Zauguan has a grill and serves very good steaks. I have also eaten a guapote fish, caught from Lake Nicaragua there. A photo is include of this dish, which was more than enough for two people. The waiters are very attentive and non-intrusive.
Both of these restaurants are reasonably priced and worth the effort to visit. You can also find other restaurants serving Nicaraguan traditional foods, like the nacatamale, which is huge and is filled with pork and chicken. I had one for breakfast and was overwhelmed with its size. As with other Central American tamales, it was wrapped in a banana leaf.
Taxis are good for in-town shuttling around, but the markets and the restaurants I have mentioned are all within a few blocks walking distance. A taxi costs about 15 to 30 cordobas to get to the edge of town, or the Esso service station, where you can take a bus. The cost of the bus is about 10 to 15 cordobas. Currently the exchange rate with dollars is about 23 cordobas per dollar.
You also have the option of a horse-drawn carriage. Sometimes, there are also bicycle taxis, but they are more common in smaller towns like Rivas. The cars, carriages and motorcycles all compete for space on the narrow streets. But they get along for the most part. I have heard tempers flare a couple of times, however.
If you want to take a taxi to either Granada or Managua, it can cost from $25 upwards. If you aren't carrying luggage or gear, the buses are a viable cheaper option. You may have to stand up, however. I have also taken public buses (converted school buses) to the frontier of Costa Rica. These bus trips cost from $5 to $7 per person. Gringos may get charged a bit more, just because.....
Note: Don't leave your bags hanging on luggage racks without losing sight of them. Better yet, keep them in your hand. There are sneaky thieves that can block your line of sight and snatch them before you know what's happening. This is true all throughout Central America. So, go light when you take a bus, carrying your things in your lap.
More Photos of Masaya
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Where is Nicaragua?
Nicaragua is situated between Honduras and Costa Rica in Central America.