My top 5 things to do in Leon, Nicaragua
Amber – how would you describe Leon, Nicaragua in one word? I’d describe Leon, Nicaragua as absolutely schvitzing hot.
You’re probably wondering why I’ve chosen “schvitzing”. LEON. WAS. FLAMING. SCHVITZING. I HAVE NEVER VISITED ANYWHERE SO HOT IN MY LIFE!!!!!!
You know when you’ve got a pizza in the oven? That hot blast of air that hits your face as you open the door to check it? That was how it felt leaving the air-conditioned shuttle bus to get out at Leon.
Complaints aside Leon was such a cool town – it is a surprise that so many people skip Leon in favour of Granada.
Here are my top 5 things to do in Leon to cool down from the heat (although as they say – if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. Or if you can’t take the heat go to Scotland for a vacation).
Take a Leon city tour and climb the Cathedral
Sounds obvious, right? But one thing I have learned from travelling is sometimes staying hungover in the hostel room > going out and taking photos of the city. In Leon you can join free walking tours operated by the Cooperativa De Tourismo (they leave either at 9am or 5pm daily) and pay whatever you feel at the end. You’ll get a good view of all the fantastic street art León has to offer and history buffs can brush up on their Nicaraguan knowledge.
You also MUST climb the Cathedral!
Sadly time and communication is not a strong point of the cathedral (or Nicaragua in general) and opening times seemed to be inconsistent in all of the travel guides. After trying to get into the closed cathedral various times (and being told different opening times) we gave up – I only got up there popping out to buy cheap cigarettes and happened to pass it whilst open.
For the record apparently it’s open to climb from 8am till 12pm and again from 4pm till 5pm. But don’t take my word for it (or the Nicaraguans).
Leon is also home to a lot of street art:
Volcano board down Leon’s Cerro Negro
I actually didn’t do this because my amiga is a MASSIVE P***Y (hi Sara if you’re reading this 👋🏼) and I didn’t want to bail and go alone. Because I am a kind friend.
Eat in a Comedor
After spending almost $7 or $8 dollars a night on a meal on Little Corn, I was SO EXCITED to finally find cheap food. The word ‘comedor’ literally means dining room and is where locals go to grab a cheap meal. You can find plenty in Leon’s backpacker alley (Comedor Lucia and Comedor San Benito were our favourites).
Think Subway but for Nicaraguan food (which is pants as a whole, but $2 is $2 and we’d been paying much more than that for the same beans and rice rubbish) – you arrive at a counter, point at the food you’d like on your plate and you pay at the till.
Expect to pay between 40-50 Cordoba (about $2) for a plate of gallo pinto (rice and beans), maduros (sweet softened plantain), salad and some Nicaraguan guacamole (egg and avocado). When you’re vegetarian or vegan I’m afraid that is as exciting as Nicaraguan food gets.
See the beach! Go surfing in Las Peñitas
Las Peñitas is a dreamy little surfer town about 30 minutes drive from León; it makes a good day trip although we opted to stay the night. We travelled by chicken bus which leaves from ‘El Mercandito’ (Sutiava Market) which is located in the western part of the city. The bus is 12 Cordoba and should leave every hour on the hour but remember folks – this is Nicaragua, not Germany. Bring a book, or practice your Spanish with a local whilst you’re waiting. I had a wonderful conversation with a bloke called Pepe (and by wonderful I mean Pepe talked at me for 25 minutes whilst I nodded furiously, pretending my Spanish was much better than it really is).
The beaches are made from volcanic ash (hence why they are black) and the sea is extremely rough; we went for more of a ‘wade’ than a swim.
If you go I recommend that you stay at The Bigfoot Hostel (it is nice, and trust me we stayed in some DODGY places). The party there doesn’t end till about 3am so if you stay elsewhere you’ll be kept up by blaring dance music anyway. As they say if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! Casa Perla is also pretty sweet if you don’t fancy a party hostel and have some decent earplugs. They have a kitchen and a dog, which is always important.
Honestly? I regretted going to Las Peñitas a little as we had such limited time in Leon. If your time in Leon is limited UNLESS you’re a big fan of surfing I’d skip Las Peñitas or I’d do a day trip only.
Wander around Leon’s Markets
Leon is a market town, and its famous gigantic market located near the cathedral is hectic, fun, and interesting. You can find everything there: grocers, street food vendors, toys, kitschy souvenirs, and everything in between. Moreover, you’ll find delicious soups, BBQ meat sticks, and other local fare.
I purchased an oil painting of the cathedral from a bloke called Hector whilst at the market. I paid about $8, and it is signed. They say that one should invest in art and I’m hoping that Hector of Leon, Nicaragua will soon be discovered for his fantastic talents (and make me a millionaire in the process).
Been to Leon? Let me know your thoughts and comment below!
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