Leon Nicaragua Travel Guide
Introduction to Leon
One of two colonial cities in Nicaragua, Leon is a city that is home to plenty of left-wing thinkers. As such, it is natural that this city was home to many of the resistance fighters during the Civil War in Nicaragua, which pitted the elite against the left wing Sandinistas.
While Leon Nicaragua is not as polished and clean as Granada, its old world charm and its proximity to volcanoes and surfing beaches will make it a great first destination during your trip to Nicaragua.
Cultural Attractions to Leon
Start your time in Leon by checking out Leon Cathedral. Ranking as one of the largest cathedrals in Central America, and one of the biggest in the Americas, Leon Cathedral is a masterpiece of Neoclassical architecture.
The measurements submitted to the Spanish colonial authorities actually had it being smaller than it is now, as planners thought they would be rejected by financiers back in the Old World. The spectacular art pieces including the altar (designed by a Flemish artist), the 14 Stations of the Way of the Cross, and the crypts beneath the church are the things that you should check out while here.
Another secret that Leon holds is the fact that it is home to Museo de Arte Fundacion Ortiz-Gurdian, which is regarded by many art experts as one of the finest museums for visual art in all of Central America.
Located within a Creole style home with Arabic style tiles, the building in which the museum is located is a work of art in itself, but be sure to check out works by the likes of Diego Rivera and Roberto Matta, as they are artists that have attracted significant acclaim within the creative community in Latin America over the years.
In addition to works from all over Nicaragua, you can expect to find fine works of art that have been imported from Cuba, Peru, and other Latin American countries.
It might not be apparent on your first visit here, but the volcanoes that are located throughout Nicaragua and other Central American countries are incredibly active. As such, the city of Leon has been moved in the past, as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have made it necessary.
You can observe the consequences of locating a settlement in the wrong place by checking out the ruins of Leon Viejo. Though well-planned by city architects, the first location of the city of Leon simply could not stand up to the forces of nature, and as such, you will find little more here these days than the foundations of what used to be a bustling city in colonial Nicaragua.
Other Attractions to Leon
Soon after arriving in Leon, one activity that you will hear and read about at your place of accommodation will be volcano boarding. In order to try this adrenaline activity out, you will want to head to Cerro Negro.
This volcano is one of the youngest mountains in all of Central America, as it was formed in the mid-nineteenth century. The slopes of this volcano are covered in black shale, which makes for a great surface for those wishing to slide down the side of this conical mountain. Just be careful when you do head out on this activity, as a wipeout will likely result in abrasion injuries, or worse.
If you would rather try your hand at surfing on actual water (note: watch out for the riptide, as it is unforgiving) rather than on volcanic rock, then heading to Playa Las Penitas will give you a chance to do just that in a town that still very much beneath the tourist radar compared to other places, like San Juan Del Sur.
Part of the reason for this is because of its lack of development, which is both good and bad, depending on the type of traveler that you are. If you like places that are authentic (that is, built mostly for locals and not foreign tourists), then Las Penitas will be an excellent place to chill out for a few days.
However, if you like a beach destination with thriving nightlife, plenty of restaurants, and lots of traveler services, then you would be better served to give this place a miss, and head down the coastline to San Juan Del Sur for an experience that will be more to your liking.
Once you get back in town, and you are looking for one more place to kill time before heading back to Managua, then checking out Museo de la Revolucion will help you do that in a very educational and informative way.
Guided tours are available if anybody in your party understands Spanish, but even if you don’t, there are plenty of exhibits from the days of the Sandinistas that will bring this former stronghold of the resistance to life in your mind.