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Well, I’ll be honest — when I planned to spend February in Nicaragua, I never dreamed I’d be having the best Valentine’s Day of my life here!
Nope, I didn’t meet a guy. I met two lovely girls instead.
Let’s set our scene in the beautiful city of Granada.
Granada was…interesting. Truthfully, it was the only place in Nicaragua with which I didn’t quite connect. It’s all bright colors and colonial architecture and street food and I even got to experience the famous poetry festival. These are all things that would make it my kind of city, yet somehow there was something about Granada that just didn’t hit the spot for me.
Perhaps it was how tourism-driven it was. I don’t mind tourism, nor touristy places, but in major cities where tourists seem to be the top priority (as opposed to a priority), I find myself losing interest quickly. And yes, I know that I could have made a bigger effort, I could have found local communities, I could have ventured beyond the touristy center more often — but I didn’t. Perhaps Granada will enchant me someday; it didn’t this time around.
That’s okay. Not every destination is a home run, even in a country you love.
But my favorite thing about Granada is that it’s the getaway to the best day trip I’ve done in a long time: Laguna de Apoyo.
In Granada, I met longtime reader Sky of Sky vs. World and her friend Graceann. The three of us bonded instantly at Reilly’s (usually I avoid Irish pubs like the plague, but this one literally has unlimited free rums and Cokes for ladies on Friday nights, no strings attached, 9 PM-12 AM!) before dancing all night at another club, so I invited them to join me at Laguna de Apoyo the next day, which just so happened to be Valentine’s Day.
It was a date! Neither of the girls had plans, so we met at my hostel and ordered a taxi to the lagoon.
(Our taxi ride, by the way? Amazing. Our driver played a CD with the most amazing 80s power ballad mix. He both dropped us off and picked us up while grooving to Spandau Ballet’s “True” at top volume.)
Our destination: The Monkey Hut. It was the only place I had heard of on the lagoon, so it seemed as good a spot as any. I knew it was the sister hostel of the Bearded Monkey (known as Granada’s big party hostel) and that it had a nice dock area. That was it.
Well, we were spellbound by the time we crested around the bend and saw what lay before us.
Endless, bright blue, and deep.
Laguna de Apoyo is a crater lake. In a region with as much geothermal activity as Nicaragua, the water is naturally heated and full of igneous minerals.
Strangely, we ended up at the lagoon on one of the windiest days ever, and waves were high. In most photos of the lagoon that I’ve seen, the water looks like glass. Not on this Valentine’s Day!
At the Monkey Hut, we paid $6 each for a day pass and got into the backyard, finding a sweet beach area with lounge chairs, picnic tables, a small cafe, and hammocks galore.
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The three of us sat on the patio, Grace and I guzzling demitasse cup after demitasse cup of free coffee, Sky politely refusing.
As the wind whipped our hair around, I weighed whether or not to go in or just lie in the sun. Soon, Not Being Lame won out and I tiptoed into the water, gingerly balancing on the sharp stones and slowly getting into the water.
To my great surprise, it was warmer than the air.
I dove straight in.
Swimming in the laguna was such an unusual experience, I have a hard time putting it into words. The water was so warm against the windy air. The waves were so high, and every time water got in my mouth, I kept expecting to taste salt and was momentarily confused. I’d float on one of the docks and my skin would feel gently tightened, an effect of the volcanic minerals.
But mostly this day was about bonding. If you’ve been traveling solo for any amount of time, you begin to crave close relationships. I was in serious need of girl talk, and these garrulous ladies couldn’t have been better companions. We gabbed endlessly about every topic under the sun.
After hours of swimming and sunning on the docks, we made our way out of the lagoon — and soon realized that with the sharp rocks, it was harder getting out of the water than going in! I finally staggered out like Sandra Bullock at the end of Gravity. Pizza was had to celebrate.
It was a day filled with love.
In the end, Valentine’s Day couldn’t have been nicer. I spent the day exploring a gorgeous place with two wonderful new friends. The whole 80s-power-ballad-infused taxi ride back, and for the next few days, we kept raving about how happy we were that we had gone.
No overpriced prix fixe meals. No sky-high expectations and disappointments. No dealing with angry and bitter people, coupled or uncoupled, talking about how Valentine’s Day doesn’t really matter.
Just quality time in a beautiful place with two wonderful people you care about. What more could you ask for?
You might be madly in love with Granada. You might not be. Either way, I highly recommend you spend a day visiting Laguna de Apoyo. Spend as much of the day there as you can — we found the most magical times were early and late.
I don’t think it’s quite necessary to spend the night here (especially considering I spent less for a nice private room in Granada than what it costs for a dorm bed at the Monkey Hut), but as far as day trips go, I can’t think of anywhere better.
Essential Info: The western side of Laguna de Apoyo is about a 25-minute drive from Granada, but the other side is much closer.
The Bearded Monkey hostel runs a daily shuttle to the Monkey Hut. Round-trip transportation departs Granada at 10:00 AM, returns at 4:00 PM, and costs $8. If you have three or more people, it costs the same to get a taxi — we paid 300 cordobas ($12) each way. You can also take the local bus for a cheaper, longer trip.
The Monkey Hut charges $6 for a day pass that includes unlimited coffee, water, and use of the kayaks and inner tubes. They also offer accommodation: dorms start at $16, private rooms start at $45, and the cabin starts at $59 (all prices include taxes). Personal pizzas are $5.
In Granada I stayed at Hostal Entre Amigos, next door to the Bearded Monkey, and loved it. It was the most comfortable bed with the most comfortable pillows that I had in Nicaragua. There is fast in-room wifi (a relief after Ometepe!) and a beautiful gift shop is attached — this is a great spot for souvenirs, especially jewelry. The cold water shower is just a trickle, though, so be prepared for that. Private room with shared bathroom, $12; private room with private bathroom, $18.
You can find the best rates on other hotels in Granada here.
PS — Sky wrote about our day at the lagoon, too! Check out her post here.