Leon (Nicaragua)

Travel Guide Central America Nicaragua Leon

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Introduction

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.

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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.

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Events and Festivals

Purisima/Grieria

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.

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Weather

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

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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 Car

The current Nicaraguan government has made roads and car travel a priority to a degree that might be surprising given its claims to be socialist and the overall low car ownership rate. This means that major highways in the west - including most that lead to León - are in an excellent state but congestion in Managua is a constant problem getting worse by the day and affecting all travel that can't avoid the city.

From Managua: The best road to León is the Carretera Nueva a León (new road to León), which is about a 90 minute trip from center to center, although more during the Managua rush hour. At Mirador de Mateare (km 30) you can stop by the shore of Lake Managua for some nice views of the Mombotombo and Mombotombito volcanos across the water. If hungry, stop for quesillo and tiste in Nagarote or La Paz Centro. Alternatively, you can take the newly renovated Carretera Vieja a León (old road to León), which is about the same distance with less traffic, but the road has more hills and turns.

From Granada and Masaya: First drive to Managua, then follow the directions above.

From Rivas, San Juan del Sur and Los Pueblos Blancos: Take the road to Jinotepe and El Crucero and then the Carretera Vieja a León (old road to León).

From Boaco, Juigalpa, Bluefields, San Carlos and other places to the east of Lake Nicaragua: There are two options. You can either drive to Managua, and then follow the directions above. The roads are good but the Managua rush hour traffic can be bad. Alternatively, when you get to the Panamerican highway in San Benito, make a right instead of a left, and after 6.5 km on that highway, take a left to San Fransisco Libre and continue on to El Tamarindo on the highway that connects León with Estelí and Matagalpa. In El Tamarindo make a left, followed by another left when you reach Telica on the Leon to Chinandega highway. This route is about the same distance as the one over Managua, and it has much less traffic, but, while most of the road is in excellent shape, the 26 kilometers between San Francisco Libre and El Tamarindo is a wide and flat gravel road.

From Estelí, Matagalpa and other places up north: Take the Panamerican Highway to Emplame San Isidro León, which is located 3 km southeast of San Isidro. From there, head southwest on highway No. 26 which is in great shape. When you reach Telica and the highway between León and Chinandega, make a left.

By Bus

The León bus terminal is located 1.9 km northeast of the Central Park. If you do not want to make the 20/25 minute walk to the center, take one of the trucks waiting in front of the terminal - which serve as local buses (C$4) - or take a taxi for about C$20 per person.

  • 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 approximately 9:00pm. 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 Granada: Take a minivan to Managua UCA station and transfer to another minivan to León. It takes around 4 hours and costs less than C$90.
  • From Estelí - 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.
  • From Chinandega: Buses for León depart every 15 minutes.

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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 7:00pm, 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.

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Eat

Food is sold by street vendors all across town and they are a popular source of energy among the local student population. Some good places to find them are in the Central Park, outside the La Union supermarket, and by the La Salle School three blocks west of the Central Park.

  • Central Market (Mercado Central) (Behind the cathedral.). Large food court with all sorts of great beans and eggs and rice and fried cheese and cheese-stuffed platanos and thick tortillas. Great for breakfast, you can fill up for a dollar or two. You can also buy fresh-made juices, and gaze in awe at the giant blocks of fried cheese. On the street behind the market is Buen Gusto, where you should grab some Pollo Vino on the cheap.
  • Los Chinitos (One block north from Parque Central across from the basketball court.). An excellent comedor which charges C$45 for main courses.

Buena Cuchara (A few blocks south of the Parque de los Poetas.). The food is delicious-- C$25 for a full lunch, including either fish or chicken (both delicious).

  • Pelo de Chancho (A green house with a porch, on the boulevard out of town toward Chinandega, across from the main police station.). The best Mondongo soup in León, but you have to get there early for lunch or they might run out.
  • Asados Pelibuey (From La Merced church, 1 block west, block north.). A simple buffet style restaurant serving grilled chicken, beef, pork and pelibuey (lamb). Very popular among the locals. The restaurant is named after a type of sheep that does not grow wool, making it suitable for warm climates. C$60.
  • Restaurante Casa Vieja (From San Francisco Church, 1 block north, 20m west.). Small cozy restaurant serving excellent Nicaraguan food. More popular among the Leonéses than the tourists. Try their refreshing house lemonade.
  • Cocinarte (North side of El Laborio church). 12:00 - 22:00. Closed on Tuesdays. Charming restaurant in the oldest extant house in León. Serves mainly international vegetarian food, but there are also a couple of dishes for carnivores. The service tends to be slow and the food has received mixed reviews. They also sell organic chocolates and coffee. Ask for the table by the balcony. US$8 for a meal and a drink.
  • Los Pescaditos (From Sutiava church, 1 block south, 1 1/2 blocks west). Seafood restaurant. Worth the cab ride.
  • ViaVia (From NE corner of cathedral, 1 block east, 1 1/2 blocks north), ✉ leon.nicaragua@viaviacafe.com. 8am - 9.30pm. International and local food, with live music every Friday. In the back there is a hostel with 2 dorm-rooms and 6 well-kept private rooms with bath. Staff at the location speaks little or no English. C$25-145.
  • El Sesteo (Northeast corner of Central Park.). Great location with views of the cathedral. Has a diverse menu from typical local food and beverages to fast food. Ask for the Nicaraguan vegetable soup, which is delicious. Popular among tour groups.
  • Carnivorio (Central Park NE, 2 1/2 blocks north.). Serves excellent meat dishes.
  • Manhattan Restaurant (Across the street from Hotel La Perla.). Fresh hand-rolled tuna and salmon sushi.
  • Montezerino (On the bypass near the Managua intersection). Serves a good fillet mignon or churrasco. It is open on the sides and large and serves as a night club at night

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Drink

If you like sunsets, nice views or just good drinks be sure to check out Bar El Mirador. They have a rooftop Terraza and some really tasty mojitos at a very reasonable price just before sunset.

  • Café La Rosita (From Central Park NE, 2 blocks north.). Cappuccino, espresso, granita, etc.

There is a cluster of bars if you walk around the block just west of the Central Park. Two other options are:

  • Go Bar (From Central Par NW, 2 blocks north, 75m west.), ☏ +505 2311 1400. Alternative place where diversity is the main ingredient. You will find a wide variety of domestic and imported drinks and some dishes to try. US$1.
  • La Olla Quemada (From San Francisco church, 2 blocks west.). Live music on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Salsa night on Thursdays. Serves simple but tasty food.

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Sleep

  • Big Foot Hostel (From cathedral, 1 block east, then 1 1/2 blocks north), ☏ +50589178832. Check-out: 11AM. The most famous hostel in Leon. DVD system, modest swimming pool, bar, and pool table, all set in a garden courtyard, a very social hostel. The hostel organizes a variety of nighttime actives, and trips to their other location at the beach to party. The bar is generally crowded and fun everynight. The kitchen is well-equipped except for good cutting knives, forks or bowls. 5 dorms with 8 beds each with large lockers for each & 5 private rooms. A note for budget travelers: staff on duty to enforce the strict no-outside-alcohol policy. Dorms US$6, privates US$15.
  • Hotelito Casa Vieja. Rumored to be the cheapest accommodation in town, populated by street vendors and down-to-the-ground travelers. C$65 in dorm.
  • Hostal Lazybones (From NW corner of Central Park, 1 block west, 1 1/2 blocks north.), ☏ +505 2311 3472. Check-out: 11 AM. Clean hostel with real beds and pillows. Included in the price are internet access, coffee/tea and a pool table. Check out the mural. No kitchen access. Dorms US$8, privates w/o bath US$20, private w/bath US$30.
  • Hostal Nicarao II (From the West end of Parque San Juan half a block North). One of the cheapest places in town. The beds are not too comfortable. For the price tag the place is very clean though a bit run down. Dorm with fans US$4 ($6 for a couple sharing a bed), private room $12.
  • Sonati (From NW corner of Cathedral, 3 blocks north, ½ block east), ☏ +505 2311 4251. Friendly, peaceful and clean hostel, where you can experience the sound of nature, relaxing in one of the hammocks in the garden where hummingbirds come to feed. Big kitchen, relatively new mattresses, free wi-fi, free use of computer, free coffee and a big garden. Sonati is a not-for-profit organization with several educational and environmental programs. US$3 to sleep in hammocks, dorms $6, privates from $15.

La Tortuga Booluda (from the SW corner of the central park, 3.5 blocks west), ☏ +505 311-4653, ✉ tortugabooluda@yahoo.com. A/C optional, free Internet and Wifi, free pancake breakfast, free organic coffee, book exchange, bike rentals. Dorm: US$7, private: US$12, with private bath: US$20.

  • Posada La Gordita (From NW corner of Central Park, 3 blocks west, 1/2 north.), ☏ +505 8857 3498. Simple but charming accommodations in an old colonial home with two gardens. Geared towards those looking for peace and quiet and perfect for long term visitors such as digital nomads. In season you can pick your own fruit from the huge mango tree. Free use of kitchen and wifi. Room with private bath $20.
  • Hostel D´Oviedo (From SW corner of Central Park, 2 1/2 blocks south.), ☏ +505 2311 3766. More like a bed and breakfast than a hostel. A lovely Nicaraguan couples have converted their home into a hostel. Breakfast and really fast internet are included. Guests are also allowed to use their kitchen. Room with shared bath $17, with private bath $23, with A/C $45.
  • Los Balcones (From cathedral, 1 block east, then 1 block north.). Has A/C, real mattresses, nice views, hot water, and great service. Friendly English-speaking staff. US$50 per night.

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Work

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.

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Learn

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.

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Keep Connected

Internet

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.

Phone

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.

Post

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 14. Last edited at 9:13 on Jul 22, 19 by Utrecht. 4 articles link to this page.

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