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Leon (Nicaragua)

Photo © rasoafab

Travel Guide Central America Nicaragua Leon



León is the second largest city in Nicaragua, after Managua. It was founded by the Spanish as Santiago de los Caballeros de León and rivals Granada, Nicaragua, in the number of historic Spanish colonial churches, secular buildings, and private residences. The city had an estimated population of about 205,000, which increases sharply during university season with many students coming from other regions of Nicaragua. It is the capital and largest city of León Department. León is located along the Río Chiquito, some 90 kilometres northwest of Managua, and some 18 km east of the Pacific Ocean coast. León has long been the political and intellectual center of the nation and its National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) was founded in 1813, making it the second oldest university in Central America. León is also an important industrial, agricultural, and commercial center for Nicaragua, exporting sugar cane, cattle, peanut, plantain, and sorghum. The city has been home to many of Nicaragua's most noteworthy poets including Rubén Darío, Alfonso Cortés and Salomón de la Selva.



Sights and Activities

  • Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of León, typical colonial baroque building built between 1747 and 1814. Because of its solid, anti-seismic construction its walls have endured earthquakes, volcanic eruptions of Cerro Negro volcano, and bombings during civil wars. Several cannons were placed on the roof both during the siege of the city by conservative forces in 1824 and during the Revolution of 1979 against dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
  • Church of Subtiava was considered the main temple after the cathedral. Its construction began in 1698, during magistrate Diego Rodríguez Menéndez administration and was completed August 24, 1710. In 1844, during the war with El Salvador, the tower dome was destroyed but it was re-built in the early 20th century.
  • Church of San Francisco is part of the convent of San Francisco, one of the oldest in Nicaragua, founded in 1639 by Friar Pedro de Zúñiga. In the interior remain two good examples of plateresque altars. However, its main attraction is the outstanding courtyard. Built in pure, Leonese colonial style, this is a grassy expanse with an ashlar fountain at the center from which four radiating walkways, flanked by manicured lemon trees, lead to the surrounding porticoes where some of the columns are covered in red bougainvilleas. Towards the south, a line of Royal palms shade the roof and complete the peaceful ensemble.
  • Church of la Recolección, construction began on December 5, 1786, by Bishop Juan Félix de Villegas thanks to contributions made by parishioners. Its outstanding Mexican baroque façade is considered one of the most important in the city. The interior also contains one of the best baroque altarpieces in the city highlighted with paintings and silver engravings.
  • Church of la Merced, in 1762 the Mercedarian fathers built the first convent and church but these were demolished later. In the 18th century the present Church of la Merced was erected with drawings attributed to Mercedario Friar Pedro de Ávila and conducted by master builder Pascual Somarriba. Adjacent to the north side of la Merced is the Paraninfo (former Mercedarion convent) built in beautifully delicate Baroque style which is now UNAN's main administrative building.
  • Church of el Calvario, a fantasy of textures and colors of pure Leonese baroque. The façade consists of a central body, painted off-yellow with white trimming supported by white, half columns. The gable contains high reliefs of the passion of Christ. The two flanking bell towers painted Burgundy red and highlighted with white grooving, are made up of righ reliefs representing bricks. The central body contains a central Roman arch door flanked by two smaller, flat ones. They are all separated by columns, topped by a frieze covered in white garlands. The interiors are a pleasant soft white to keep them cool during the long, hot, and dry Leonese summers. The ceiling, also white, is highlighted by red and yellow outlining in the shape of crosses, leaves, and flowers. Built by the illustrious Mayorga family, el Calvario dates from the first half of the 18th century and it is one of Leon's architectural jewels at the east end of calle Real or "Main Street".
  • Ruins of the Church of San Sebastián, built in the late 17th century as a chapel of the Cathedral, San Sebastián's was one of the first religious buildings in the city. Re-built in the late 18th century by Colonel Joaquín Arrechavala, it was bombed during the siege of León by airplanes of the regime's Nicaraguan Air Force (FAN) in 1979. Since it was built with adobe bricks San Sebastián's was easily destroyed, unlike other churches built in brick or stone which endured shootings and bombings.



Events and Festivals


The two similar festivals are parades and processions celebrating the Immaculate Conception in the early weeks of December in the lead up to Christmas. They are held in the cities of Granada and Leon, and provide a true spectacle which most of the townspeople come out to enjoy.




Tropical with hot and humid conditions year-round. Rainy season is from June to October mainly.



Getting There

By Plane

The closest commercial airport is in Managua IATA: MGA. Managua is roughly an hour and a half drive from León.

By Bus

  • From Managua : Take the vans leaving from Mercado Israel Lewites or the microbuses (camionetas) leaving from UCA (Universidad Centro Americana). The vans from Mercado Israel Lewites are fiteen-passenger vans that are fairly crowded, but not excessively uncomfortable, particularly when one sits next to a window. Buses run regularly, leaving from the Mercado every 15-20 minutes. Buses leave from La UCA beginning at 4:30am until approx. 9pm. They leave whenever they are full, usually every 15 minutes. The bus from either terminal costs C$ 46. If you take the bus, make sure to get an expreso - otherwise the bus makes stops to pick up passengers on the side of the road along the way.
  • From Esteli - There's one direct bus daily. If you miss it, you've got to change in San Isidro on the Panamerican Hwy. Mini-van service directly to Leon is also available from Esteli (C$75, 2 hours ) but times and availability are not regular, and they will not leave until full.
  • From Matagalpa - There are 2 direct busses running daily, otherwise take a bus to San Isidro and transfer to Leon.



Getting Around

By Public Transport

Ruletos (trucks) serve as local buses (C$ 4 per ride). They go from the mercado north of town where the buses to Managua and other long distance destinations arrive and leave to the Mercado in Barrio Subtiava where buses to the beaches of las Peñitas and Poneloya leave and arrive. Taxis are C$ 20 per person anywhere in the city before 7pm, C$30 after 7:00pm.

By Foot

The city is very walkable if you can stand the heat. You do not really need a car once there, unlike Managua. The locals get around by bicycle and walking, and if you need to get across town you can take a taxi. However, to go to the places outside the city, such as the beach, a car is convenient.




Definitely have to go to the oldest restaurant in town, located in the heart of Leon, in the opposite corner of the Basilica Cathedral called "El Sesteo", it has diverse menu from typical local food and beverages to fast food. Definitely worth trying.





Bigfoot HostelMedia Cuadra al sur, Banco ProcreditoHostel-
Hostal ColibríIglesia de La Recolección 1/2 cuadra al norteGuesthouse86
Hostal Tortuga Booluda (The Lazy Turtle)Calle Marcoleta 517, 3.5 cuadras al oeste del parq De la Iglesia San Juan de Dios, 1.5 Cuadras OesteHostel-
Hostel El Alberguegasolinera petronic media cuadra abajo, Barrio SanHostel-
Sonati3ra calle noreste 211Hostel-
Surfing Turtle LodgeIsla Los Brasiles, Poneloya LeonHostel-




There are free-of-charge volunteer opportunities with Quetzaltrekkers [1] an organisation raising money for street kids by offering hikes to volcanoes around León. You can volunteer as a hiking guide for a minimum of three months.

Las Tias - the supported organization - also takes volunteers, taking care of the streetkids, with a two months minimum.

Ask around at the cafe run by "Edad de Oro", whether this organisation got some (volunteer) work for you - they're pretty cool too.

Some people find work at the Big Foot Hostel, and for long-term visitors (6 month or so) it's sometimes possible to teach English.




Spanish at one of the schools. Dairiana Spanish School is a good option. It is located in the center of the city and will arrange a homestay if you are interested.

You also can get excellent classes with private teachers, which actually is much cheaper.



Keep Connected


Internet cafes can be found in most larger cities and popular areas, but even in smaller towns you will usually be able to connect somewhere.
Wifi is generally free at most hotels, with the notable exception of larger chain hotels, which generally charge between US$3 and US$8 per day.


See also International Telephone Calls

The international phone code of Nicaragua is 505. The general emergency number is 911, though you can contact police (118), fire (115) and ambulance (128) separately if you want.

Nicaragua's cell phone system utilizes GSM 1900 technology. So, if you have a GSM phone that supports the 1900 band you can either use your phone as is at international rates or if your cell phone is unlocked , you can purchase a SIM card for your phone and you will have a local cell number and be charged local cell rates. Both Claro and Movistar provide cell phone service in the country. Claro is run by the old national phone company (ENITEL) that has now been privatized.

Another option is to buy a cell phone locally. Disposable cell phones are quite inexpensive, usually costing about US$20.

You can also purchase local prepaid phone cards that can be used at pay phone across the country. The different pay phone systems each have their own phone cards, so pay attention to which type you purchase.


Correos de Nicaragua provides postal services. It's fairly cheap but not extremely reliable or fast. Post offices are generally open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 6:00 pm and Saturday from 8:00am to 1:00pm. Airmail postage for a standaard letter or postcard from Nicaragua to North America is US0.60 and US$1 to Europe. Mail takes on average between 7 and 10 days to get to the U.S. and Europe. Though it's fine for sending a postcard, you'd better use companies like TNT, DHL, UPS or FedEx to send parcels internationally.



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This is version 6. Last edited at 17:21 on Nov 12, 15 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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