Leon, Nicaragua (1/25-1/28)

Welcome to our 3 day tour of Leon, Nicaragua. We hope you enjoy traveling with us and are inspired to take your own trip. This trip was part of our seven month journey around the world which began in Flores, Guatemala. See a summary of the destinations we traveled to over our seven months here: link.

Colonial Leon-The City of Churches

After an 8-10 hour bus ride from Antigua, Guatemala we arrived in Nicaragua, the land of volcanoes, lakes and tropical rainforests. Nicaragua is an underrated country, as there is much to be appreciated and observed. With our newfound love of volcanoes, we insisted on exploring what Nicaragua has to offer. Despite Nicaragua being the poorest country in Central America, it does not deter hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.


Why Travel to Leon, Nicaragua?

Traveling from El Tunco, El Salvador to Leon, Nicaragua via bus took approximately 10 hours.

We initially debated on visiting Leon or Granada, but ultimately decided to devote time to both. In hindsight, if we had to pick one, we would have chosen Granada due to the cleaner environment and more intriguing activities that were available. Stop on by to our post on Granada to see why. However, we were happy we visited Leon.

Leon has a certain edge to it with its tarnished buildings and deeply rooted history. Leon is a good example of a city being built up around a 16th-century colonial city. It is clear efforts have been made to maintain and repair some of the old structures, while other buildings have been left untouched. You don’t come here for glitz and glamour, you come here for authenticity and simplicity. What you see is what you get with Leon.


How Long to Stay In Leon, nicaragua?

We found two days to be ample time to get what we thought was an all-around feel of Nicaragua’s second-biggest city, Leon. Both days were filled with walking along the streets and viewing historic churches (including Central America’s largest church), and street art graffiti.


Top Things To Do In Leon, nicaragua

1) Walk the Streets

Draw up a map, hit the streets, and marvel at all the churches within walking distance of one-another.

Basílica de la Asunción (the largest Cathedral in Central America

*Be prepared- you must walk the sun-scorched roof shoeless in order to preserve the tarnished historical rooftop*

No trip to Leon is complete without seeing the Basílica de la Asunción, also known as the Catedral de Leon. The rooftop of the Basilica de la Asunción offers the best vantage point of the surrounding city and volcanoes that stretch to the horizon, all for just $2 USD! Walking atop the white Cathedral, you will notice 34 white domes, several bells, and four chiseled stone men. This church has been rebuilt four times and you can see the physical wear and tear on the structure. Beneath the chipped and stained surface, there is much history housed within this 17th-century building.

Hours of Operation Monday – Saturday 8:00 am – 12:00 pm and 2:00pm – 4:00 pm

San Francisco Church

Founded in the 17th century, this church has a classical eclectic façade with a nice courtyard. This is one of the oldest churches in the city.

La Iglesia de la Recolección (Church the Recollection)

A 17th-century church with a striking dark yellow façade.

Iglesia El Calvario

An 18th-century eye-catching church with a richly hued façade.

Stumble upon Street Art Graffiti
Aside from the churches and cathedrals, keep an eye out for murals and other art displayed on the colorful buildings

Check out some of the much talked about side art painted on buildings throughout the town. The paintings depict the country’s historical revolution.

2) Museums of Traditions and Legends

A VERY interesting museum, if not the most unique we have visited. This museum building was once an infamous prison throughout the 1920’s to the 1970’s. The prison has since been converted into a museum that both depicts various Nicaraguan traditions and legends through puppet illustration while at the same time the art on the prison walls depict the torture the prisoners suffered through in the past.

The legends themselves are bizarre and in some instances macabre as shown below:

The Chariot of Death
There are various life size papier-mâché figures of Leonese history and folklore on display, this one depicting one of the many torture methods used on prisoners; dunking them upside down in this well
“Toma Tu Teta” – meaning “Grab your Tit”. Now, this strange legend is one that stuck with us to this day. It was once said there was an ugly woman, who would walk the streets looking for a suitor, and when she found one she liked she would yell “Toma Tu Teta” as she forced her breast in his mouth suffocating him to death.


Other Recommendations of Things to Do

These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:

Unfortunately, we did not like the city of Leon as much as we would have hoped. The city was dirty and more run down than expected, we had a couple bad meals, and some unfriendly vibes. We only had a couple days here so we do think some of this was bad luck rather than the normal, as we have heard several people having great experiences and locals being friendly. There were also several other experiences that we could have tried that would have made the trip better. On our list for next time:

  • Nightlife – We unfortunately did not make time to go out in the evening for salsa/bachata dancing. We hear Leon has some great places for this.
  • History tour – This can be a good idea in any city, but we feel that having a guided tour who could share more insight on the history of the city would have added a lot.
  • Leon is not just a city of churches (although that’s pretty much all that we visited), it’s also a place where you can unwind by the sea. Head west to Leon’s coast and visit one of it’s beaches for a beautiful sunset. A couple local favorite beaches you can visit are Las Peñitas and Playa Poneloya. Keep in mind, Leon is one of the hottest cities in Central America, you will learn that quickly as you stroll the streets.
  • Take a surf lesson at one the beaches along the western coast of Leon.
  • Volcano boarding on Volcano Cerro, an active volcano where tourists can board down it’s volcanic sandy steep slopes. Because where there is no snow, you grab a board and slide down volcanic ash.


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