Situated in northwest Nicaragua, León is a college town often overlooked by tourists who stay south, near Granada, Ometepe, and the beaches. However, considering that the region has so much to accomplish, I expected a whole lot of tourists but instead found mostly empty hostels and few gringos wandering the streets within my visit.
I’ll let you know: those absent travelers are really missing out.
León, a city filled up with history, delicious food, outdoor activities, volcanoes, and nearby beaches, was among the highlights of my visit to Nicaragua.
The town is known as after León, Spain. After Nicaragua was granted independence in the 1800s from Spain, the elites of León and Granada struggled over which city would end up being the capital (eventually Managua was picked). Through the struggles between your Sandinistas and Somozas in the 20th century, the town changed hands often between your two and was a scene of constant and intense fighting (you can still see bullet marks on some buildings). This lasted completely the 1980s (which saw US involvement in the Iran-Contra affair) until peace was finally established.
Now, León is a well balanced university town with an evergrowing food scene, plenty of markets, growing (however, not overwhelming) tourism, and more colonial churches and cathedrals per capita than any other place in Nicaragua. I spent four days here hiking, eating, overdosing on churches, and sweltering in heat.
I really like the town and found too much to do in Leon. There’s no shortage of methods to spend a few days here as you travel around Nicaragua. Here’s a listing of my favorite things you can do in Leon:
Go to the churches
There are a great number of churches in Léon. I spent a whole day visiting these monuments to God and marveling at their varying degrees of detail. Even if you’re not really a religious person (I’m not), you often will still appreciate the wonder, architecture, and history of the buildings. León has more churches per capita than any other place in Nicaragua!!! My favorites are Iglesia El Calvario, Iglesia La Recolección, and Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Subtiava.
Benefit from the beach
A brief bus ride from the town, you’ll find beautiful beaches, tepid to warm water, and folks in the surf. The surf isn’t as enjoyable as in the southern area of the country (I’m told it’s a bit rough here), but if you’re seeking to relax and cool-down in the dry heat of the spot, these beaches check all of the right boxes. Playa Poneloya may be the most popular beach.
Go to the Museum of the Revolution (Parque Central) This museum in the old mayor’s residence is focused on the Sandinistas and their fight “the person.” It’s only two rooms, but you’ll get your own private guide who explains the annals of the movement (in Spanish or English) and can take you up to the roof once and for all photos of León. The trips could be short, nonetheless it was the best activity in the town, as you’re speaking with a local and obtaining a detailed history filled up with local perspective and context. The museum tour costs $2 USD. Require Fernando; he was a funny and informative guide.
Go volcano boarding down Cerro Negro
Through the entire country, I saw people wearing the favorite “I went volcano boarding” shirt, which activity is what draws most backpackers here. In the end, who wouldn’t want to slide down a dynamic volcano on a bit of wood? (Not me. I skipped this activity. The hike? Sure. Heading down on a plank of wood? No thanks.) Trips leave multiple times each day and last a couple of hours. Bigfoot Tours and Quetzaltrekkers will be the two biggest operators. Cerro Negro is fifty minutes from the town. Prices start around $30.
Wander the markets
León is market town, and its own famous gigantic market located close to the cathedral is hectic, fun, and interesting. You will find everything there: grocers, street food vendors, toys, kitschy souvenirs, and everything among. Moreover, you’ll find delicious soups, BBQ meat sticks, and other local fare.
Ingest the art There exists a big art scene in the town, and numerous galleries are available to take pleasure from, with Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Gurdián ($2 USD) being the largest. Housed in two buildings, it includes a assortment of old religious art together with modern Nicaraguan artists. It requires a couple of hours to explore, and both buildings have lovely courtyard gardens to relax in. The best painting was El Retiro by Mauricio Gomez Jaramillo.
Hike some volcanoes
One of many explanations why people come here’s to hike the nearby volcanoes, as León is close to the country’s volcanic range, a lot of which remain active. You’ll have the ability to select from easy half-day hikes and more intense full 12-hour day hikes. The most famous hikes are: Cerro Negro (volcano boarding), Telica (where you choose sunset hikes – see above photo!), San Cristóbal (the longest and hardest), and Momotombo (second hardest).
Visit “old” León
The ruins of León Viejo date back again to the 16th century and so are a brief trip from León. The website is Nicaragua’s only UNESCO World Heritage listing and is among the oldest Spanish colonial settlements in the Americas. While this isn’t some lavish ruin site, it’s the only real spot to see and find out about the country’s founding colonial past. The ruins of León Viejo were discovered in 1967 and excavations began the next year.
Benefit from the burgeoning food scene León is attracting a growing number of international tourists and expats and therefore includes a growing food scene. When you are never an issue of local gallo pinto, I branched out to consume a whole lot of Western food (there is so much rice and beans you can eat). I was amazed to find a large amount of enjoyable meals.
What I loved about León was its close proximity to so many outdoor markets, cheap food, and decent foodie restaurants. It felt far more “local” compared to the tourist meccas of Granada and Ometepe down south. My visit to León was among the highlights of my visit to Nicaragua, and I’d recommend you make it a spot of visiting here too.
Logistics for visiting Leon
- The nearest airport is in Managua, one hour . 5 drive from León.
- You don’t really need an automobile as the town is super walkable.
- Local buses cost C$ 4 per ride. Taxis are C$ 20 any place in the town.
Photo credits: 1, 3, 4, 5
Book Your Visit to León: Logistical Guidelines
Book Your Flight Look for a cheap flight to León through the use of Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite se’s. Focus on Momondo.
Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel in León with Hostelworld. If you wish to remain elsewhere, use Booking.com because they consistently return the least expensive rates. (Here’s the proof.)
Don’t Forget TRAVEL COVER Travel cover will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never embark on a trip without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for a decade. You should too.
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