Leon is historically one of the most intriguing places in Nicaragua, and there’s a lot to talk about. Its full name is ‘Santiago de los Caballeros de León,’ and this former capital was at the heart of the revolution that began in the late 1970s. You can still see many of the political murals scattered throughout the city that reflect this history. Additionally, the city is an intellectual hub and the birthplace of Central America’s first university. Besides all of this, you’ll find an active volcano nearby where you can slide down at high speed on a board. So, there’s plenty to do and discover in Leon! I’ll share my best tips with you.
How to Get to Leon?
Most people travel to Leon from Granada or Managua. Below, you’ll find how to travel from these destinations to Leon.
From Granada to Leon
By Local Bus: For this route, you’ll need to transfer to the capital, Managua. Take the bus from Granada to Managua from Terminal de Buses Granada – Managua (UCA) and then switch to the bus to Leon. The entire journey takes about 4 hours.
From Managua to Leon
By Local Bus: Take a taxi to Terminal UCA (pronounced ooka) and let the driver know you’re going to Leon to ensure they take you to the correct bus station. Here, it’s best to look for a minivan rather than opting for the chicken bus. The price difference is minimal, but you’ll spend much less time. With the minivan, you’ll reach Leon in about 2 hours, while the chicken bus takes around 3 hours.
What to Do in Leon?
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a foodie, or an adventurer, Leon has something for everyone. Explore the streets of this colorful colonial city, meet friendly locals, and immerse yourself in Nicaragua’s rich culture and traditions.
Learn More About Nicaragua with the Free Walking Tour
The best tip I can give you in Leon is to participate in the Leon Free Walking Tour. This two-hour tour was the most interesting and interactive walking tour I’ve ever done. It’s recommended to do this at the beginning of your stay in Leon because you’ll learn a lot, making it easier to navigate the city afterward. The guides are incredibly enthusiastic and engage you in the story. The English tours are conducted daily at 9 AM and 4 PM. I suggest choosing the morning tour because it includes a fun part where you’ll taste some local treats at the market, and it’s better to do this in the morning as they start cleaning up in the late afternoon. You can reserve the tour for free via the link above.
Tip: It’s a free tour, but it’s highly appreciated to give the guide a tip if you enjoyed the tour. Also, bring some extra small change to sample a few things at the market with the group.
Walk on the Roof of the Cathedral of Leon
The impressive Cathedral of León is another highlight you shouldn’t miss! This grand piece of architecture is the largest cathedral in all of Central America and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bright white cathedral is well-maintained and regularly repainted to maintain its beautiful appearance. Be sure to purchase a ticket that allows you to go up to the roof. After removing your shoes, you can walk on the roof, which is itself quite photogenic and offers a great view of Leon.
Tip: The roof of the Cathedral of Leon is the perfect place to watch the sunset. Check the current opening hours and the time of the sunset when you’re there, as it may vary slightly depending on the season.
Volcano Boarding on Cerro Negro Volcano
In between all the cultural highlights, you can experience one of the most unique sports on Earth from Leon: volcano boarding! The name pretty much says it all. You slide down the 700-meter (2297-feet) high Cerro Negro volcano on a board, reaching speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph)! Of course, you can control your speed, so don’t worry, this activity is suitable even if you’re not the bravest. For many travelers, this is the reason to visit Leon. Read all the tips for volcano boarding in advance to know what to expect and which organization is recommended.
Alternative to Volcano Boarding: Climb Telica Volcano
If volcano boarding doesn’t appeal to you but you still want to climb a volcano and watch the sunset, consider a 4 to 5-hour hike to the Telica volcano, located 1.5 hours from Leon. This hike takes you to the crater rim of the volcano, where you can watch the sunset and even see lava bubbling in the crater afterward. I didn’t do this hike myself because it’s a bit redundant if you’re also going volcano boarding, but the view is said to be spectacular. You can book the Telica tour here.
Feed the Pigeons at the Central Park in Leon
Now, pigeons may not be exotic animals for most of us, and we probably see them every day. However, I found it quite a spectacle to watch them at the square in front of the Cathedral of Leon! At times, they swarm around the square and the cathedral, and then they all settle down on the square. With the beautiful cathedral in the background, it’s like a living painting. The best part is that you can buy a bag of birdseed from someone on the square to feed the pigeons. The pigeons will catch on quickly, and be warned; they will all flock to you!
Learn About Nicaragua’s History at the Museum of the Revolution
A must during your stay in Leon is the Museum of the Revolution. This is a fascinating museum that takes you on a journey through Nicaragua’s turbulent history. Here, you’ll learn about the Nicaraguan revolution and the struggle for independence. Upon entry, a veteran takes you through the exhibition with photos and historical objects, telling you all about that time. The building where the exhibition is held also played an important role during this period. During this tour, you’ll also go up to the roof, where, from a somewhat rickety corrugated metal path, you’ll be treated to a nice view of the city.
Visit Iglesia de La Recolección
Iglesia de La Recolección is a beautiful historic church that’s definitely worth a visit. The facade is richly decorated with statues and reliefs. The construction of this bright yellow church began in the 18th century and is considered one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Nicaragua.
Best Restaurants in Leon
After a morning of sightseeing in Leon, it’s time to treat your taste buds. Here are my favorite restaurants in town.
Mañana Mañana Café – Here you can enjoy delicious coffee, breakfast, and sandwiches all day long.
Pan y Paz – This bakery with both French and Dutch roots serves tasty sandwiches, pastries, and good coffee. You can grab a delicious pastry to go or enjoy a delightful meal in the cozy garden. It’s known for its great breakfast and lunch dishes, desserts, and traditional Nicaraguan cuisine.
Batidos Pitaya – For delicious and healthy smoothies and smoothie bowls.
El Bodegon – This is a super nice place where you can sit in a cozy patio and enjoy tasty local dishes and refreshing cocktails.
Coco Calala – Here, you can dine in a beautiful green garden at one of the best vegan restaurants in Nicaragua.
Kiss Me – The best ice cream parlor in Leon.
Our Favorite Places to Stay in Leon
The best tip we can give you is to book a hostel or hotel with a pool. Leon is a very hot city, and there’s nothing better than taking a refreshing dip in the pool after exploring the city. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, Hostal La Tortuga Booluda is a cool place to stay. The pool is small but big enough to chill in. It has a great atmosphere and offers many fun extras like a pool table and foosball. Leon’s city center is just a 10-minute walk away. Also, Hostal Casa Abierta is a convenient base for exploring Leon because it’s centrally located in the city. It has a beautiful garden with a large pool and a tranquil and friendly atmosphere. The only downside is that the rooms don’t have air conditioning. If you have a bit more to spend, Flor De Sarta, a small-scale hotel, is a great place to stay. You can enjoy a nice pool, spacious air-conditioned rooms, and comfortable beds.
|Hostal La Tortuga Booluda
||Hostal Casa Abierta
||Flor De Sarta