After Managua, Leon is the second largest city in Nicaragua with a population of around 200,000. Located in the north-west portion of the country, Leon is really close to the Pacific Ocean and only a few hours from the Honduran border.
My second favourite destination in Nicaragua after Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua, Leon has a bit of a gritty feel to it. Not as clean and orderly as Granada, Nicaragua, Leon seems more like an authentic Nicarguan city.
Honking cars dominate the narrow streets and awareness is a necessity while walking in the centre of town.
The major landmark in Leon is the Cathedral, an extremely impressive church built between 1747-1814.
Due to its solid construction, the Cathedral has survived earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and many bombings during civil wars.
The largest cathedral in Central America has a series of tunnels that were used as escape routes, but unfortunately these are currently not open to the public. However, for about $2 USD, it’s possible to go up onto the roof for some awesome views of the city!
As you can see, Leon is surrounded by volcanos in every direction!
As I previously mentioned, Leon is noticeably cheaper than the other main stops in Nicaragua. There are a number of ‘Comedor’ restaurants selling a typical plate of food – meat, rice, salad and a side- for $40-45 cordobas (about $1.5-1.7 USD).
Considering it is also easy to find good hostels for $7-9 USD, it’s possible to get by on less than $15 USD per day!
For an additional (and worthwhile) $50 Cordobas, you should visit la Museo de la Revolución. Former members of the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) will walk you through the history of the resistence movement -albeit in Spanish- where you can learn about the past and ongoing struggle in Nicaragua!
An important aspect of Nicaraguan history, the FSLN is still a prominent group in the countries’ political domain.
The party is named after Augusto César Sandino, who lead Nicaraguan resistance against United States occupation in the 1930s. More recently, the leftist/Marxist FSLN overthrew the governing party in 1979 – beginning an 11 year period of rule. During their time in power, the Sandinista’s instituted widespread programs to improve literacy, put more resources into health care and improved gender equality throughout Nicaragua.
Unsurprisingly, a US-backed group attempted to overthrow the FSLN in 1984, starting a civil war which lasted for 6 years. After losing a democratic election in 1990, the Sandinista’s remained without power for 16 years. Finally re-elected in 2006, the FSLN is still in power to this day!
History lesson aside, by far the most popular activity in Leon is volcano boarding.
There are a number of tour groups throughout the city offering transportation, equipment, food and drink, and a guide. The boarding commences at Cerro Negro, the youngest volcano in Central America, which last erupted in 1999.
It takes about 45-minutes to walk up the volcano…
And about 15 seconds to descend…
Without a doubt one of the cooler things I’ve ever done! Starting at 7am until around 4pm, volcano boarding costs $30 USD and it’s definitely a worthwhile expense in my opinion!
Overall, Leon is an interesting city with quite a bit to do. If you’re looking to get your budget back on track, it’s one of the best places in Central America to do so. Cheap, easy to navigate and awesome to walk around, Leon is an absolute gem that needs to be explored.
Whether you’re heading south from Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras, or you’re coming from other cities in Nicaragua, make sure to stop in Leon for at least 2-3 days. You won’t regret it!
Hasta luego : )