I knew I wanted to visit Leon over anywhere else in Nicaragua. It sounded quirky and had a lot of history behind it. And to top it off you could slide down a volcano! What’s not to like?
Leon is arguably more authentic than similar colonial towns such as Antigua or Nicaragua’s very own Grenada. It isn’t as well kept as either, in fact it’s downright crumbling. But it’s charming, and while there are plenty of tourists, it’s still overwhemingly a town where normal people work and live.
Well known for its role in the 1979 revolution where the left wing Sandinistas took over the city, there is street art all around commenting and celebrating the revolutionary history.
There is also a reminder in a shell of a church I stumbled upon which was apparently destroyed during the fierce fighting of the revolution.
The centrepiece of the city is the magnificent cathdreal towering over the Parque Central. It’s Central America’s largest, though it doesn’t immediately look huge – it’s only when you go inside you realise how vast it is.
It’s supposed to be amazing if you take the climb to the roof but despite several visits we could never work out where the entrance was! We were perhaps just unlucky with our timing as it is closed for a few hours each day.
The square is also home to the Revolution Museum, somewhere I wanted to go but sadly the tours are only in Spanish.
The highlight of Leon for us was probably the Museo de Arte Fundacion Ortiz-Guardian. This sprawling modern art museum, spread over 2 sites across the road from each other is an oasis from the baking hot sun with beautiful courtyards.
The collection covers virtually every modern art movement with an emphasis on Latin American artists, although there was an excellent Picasso exhibition on when we visited. What’s more, it was only 53 cordobas (£1.29) per person entrance fee which is a bargain! (Everywhere online says it is 20 cordobas but it wasn’t when we visited)
There are downsides to Leon though, the first being while the food is very affordable except for a few upmarket restaurants, there isn’t a great variety of places to eat. That said, we loved Cafe La Rosita for filling tasty breakfasts, great coffee and nice cakes, all at really good prices.
Secondly, and quite strangely, there are virtually no ‘tiendas’ aka small shops around, which means trying to buy even a bottle of water after 9pm is a very difficult task. There are, as with all of Latin America, an endless supply of pharmacies, but no shops. Bizarre.
It’s also swelteringly hot, we’re talking 35+ during the day, so there was little choice but to head back to our room over lunch every day.
Overall though, we had a great time in this little city and were sad to leave. And as for the volcano boarding? It deserves a post of it’s own!
We ended up at Hostel d Oviedo for our 4 nights in Leon. It is a small family run guesthouse, and we had a twin ensuite room with TV and WiFi for just $20 per night – highly recommended.
We arrived from Somoto via Esteli where we changed buses – it turns out not many run to Leon and after an hour of waiting only a minibus turned up, leading to a mad scramble to get on – luckily we made it. All in all the trip took 7 hours.