10 things TO SEE and do in LEÓN, NICARAGUA
Updated: 12/18/20 | December 18th, 2020
León was one of the highlights of my trip to Nicaragua. filled with history, delicious food, lots of outdoor activities, volcanoes, and nearby beaches, there was much more to do here than I thought.
The city is named after León, Spain. After Nicaragua was given independence from Spain in the 1800s, the elites of León and Granada struggled over which city would become the capital (eventually Managua was picked).
During the struggles between the Sandinistas and Somozas in the 20th century, the city changed hands numerous times between the two and was a scene of constant and intense combating (you can still see bullet marks on some buildings). This lasted all the way through the 1980s (which saw us involvement in the Iran-Contra affair) until peace was finally established.
Now, León is a stable university town with a growing food scene, lots of markets, growing (but not overwhelming) tourism, and much 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 the heat.
Located in northwest Nicaragua, León is a college town typically overlooked by tourists who stick to places like Granada, Ometepe, and the beaches.
When I visited, I expected a lot of tourists. After all, there is a lot to see and do in León. instead I found mostly empty hostels and few gringos wandering the streets during my check out — which made it all the much more enjoyable!
I love the city and found a lot to do here. There’s no shortage of ways to spend a couple of days here as you travel around Nicaragua. Here’s a list of my favorite things to do in León:
1. Take a totally free walking Tour
Whenever I check out a new city I kick things off with a walking tour. They’re the best way to get a feel for the city, see the main sights, and get an introduction to the history and culture. Plus, you’ll be able to ask a local any and all questions that you have.
The original totally free walking trip is your best choice for here. They give you a good summary of the city and its history. (Just make sure to suggestion your guide at the end!)
2. check out the museum of the Revolution
This museum in the old mayor’s residence is dedicated to the Sandinistas and their fight against the country’s oppressive program It’s only two rooms, but you’ll get your own personal guide who discusses the history of the movement (in Spanish or English) and will take you up to the roofing system for good photos of León. The trips may be short, but it was my favorite activity in the city as you’re talking to a local and getting a comprehensive history filled with local perspective and context. many of the guides are former soldiers too.
Parque Central. open daily from 9am-6pm. Admission is $3 USD.
3. check out the Churches
There are a lot of churches in Léon. It has much more churches per capita than any other place in Nicaragua. I spent an entire day going to these monuments to God and marveling at their varying levels of detail. even if you’re not a religious person (I’m not), you can still appreciate the beauty, architecture, and history of these buildings. My favorites were:
Iglesia El Calvario – A neoclassical and baroque church dating back to the 18th century.
Iglesia La Recolección – built in 1786, this is considered the city’s many stunning church.
Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Subtiava – originally built in the 1500s, this is the oldest church in Léon.
4. take in the Art
There is a big art scene in the city, and a number of galleries are available to enjoy. My favorite was the Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Gurdián, which is also the biggest. Housed in two buildings, it features a collection of old religious art as well as modern Nicaraguan artists. There are early pre-Columbian works, Spanish colonial religious artifacts, as well as modern and contemporary pieces.
It takes a few hours to explore, and both buildings have beautiful courtyard gardens to unwind in. My favorite painting was El Retiro by Mauricio Gomez Jaramillo.
Av 3 Pte, +505 2311 7222, fundacionortizgurdian.org. open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-4pm Admission is $3 USD.
5. Hit the Beach
A short bus ride from the city, you’ll find stunning beaches, warm water, and people in the surf. The surf isn’t as pleasurable as in the southern part of the country (I’m told it’s a bit rough here), but if you’re wanting to unwind and amazing off in the dry heat of the region, these beaches check all the best boxes.
Playa Poneloya and Las Peñitas are the most popular beaches. Both are just a 20-minute bus ride from the city center as well.
6. Go Volcano Boarding
Throughout the country, I saw people wearing the popular “I went volcano boarding” shirt, and this activity is what draws many backpackers here. After all, who wouldn’t want to slide down an active volcano on a piece of wood?(Not me. I skipped this activity. The hike? Sure. Going down on a plank of wood? No thanks.)
Trips leave multiple times per day and last a few hours (Cerro Negro, the volcano, is just an hour from the city). Bigfoot trips is the most popular trip operator.
Prices start around $30 USD per person.
7. wander the Market
León is a market town and its well-known enormous central market located near the cathedral is hectic, fun, and interesting. You can find everything there: grocers, street food vendors, toys, kitschy souvenirs, and everything in between. Moreover, you’ll find delicious soups, BBQ meat sticks, and other local fares. Stop by to browse, eat, and take in the local pace of life.
8. check out “Old” León
The ruins of León Viejo date back to the 16th century and are a short trip from León. The site is Nicaragua’s only UNESCO world Heritage noting and is one of the oldest Spanish colonial settlements in the Americas. While this isn’t some luxurious destroy site, it’s really the only place to see and learn about the country’s founding colonial past. The ruins of León Viejo were discovered in 1967 and excavations began the following year. even if you’re not a history buff like me, it’s still worth a visit!
León Viejo, +505 2222 2722. open daily from 9am-5pm (4pm on weekends). Admission is $5 USD.
9. El Fortín de Acosasco
Built in 1889, the fort was used to safeguard the region from attacks by the coast. It fell into disuse from 1930-1960 before becoming a hub for torture and secret executions under dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. When the Sandinistas retook the area, forces faithful to the dictator fell back here before retreating further.
Today, you can check out the fort and experience the uneasy stillness that haunts the hilltop. You can wander the various torture chambers and see just how brutal the conditions would have been when the facility was in use. It’s a grim but eye-opening place to visit.
Take a taxi from the city and check out with others as it’s a long walk and muggings have been known to happen when hikers check out alone.
10. Hike Some Volcanoes
One of the main reasons why people come here is to hike the nearby volcanoes, as León is near the country’s volcanic range, numerous of which are still active. You’ll be able to choose between easy half-day hikes and much more intense full 12-hour day hikes. the most popular hikes are:
Cerro Negro (1-2 hours; popular for volcano boarding)
Telica (a moderate 7-9 hours)
San Cristóbal (11 hours; the longest and hardest)
Momotombo (the second-hardest hike; 6-9 hours)
Expect to pay around $60-80 USD for a guided hike.
What I loved about León was its close proximity to so numerous outdoor markets, low-cost food, and good foodie restaurants. It felt a lot much more “local” than the traveler meccas of Granada and Ometepe down south. My check out there was one of the highlights of my trip to Nicaragua and I highly recommend you make it a point of going to here too!
Book Your trip to Nicaragua: Logistical suggestions and Tricks
Foglalja le a járatát
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a low-cost flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search sites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. start with Skyscanner first though because they have the most significant reach!
Foglalja le szállását
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the most significant inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the most affordable rates for guesthouses and low-cost hotels. My favorite places to stay are:
Ne felejtsd el az utazási biztosítást
Travel insurance will safeguard you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s extensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it numerous times in the past. Kedvenc cégeim, amelyek a legjobb szolgáltatást és értéket nyújtják, a következő:
Safety Wing (for everyone below 70)
Biztosítsa az utazásomat (a 70 év felettiek számára)
Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the best companies to save money With?
Nézze meg az erőforrás -oldalamat, hogy a legjobb vállalatok használják az utazás során. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want much more information on Nicaragua?
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