It’s easy to see why Granada is the jewel in Nicaragua’s tourism crown, but it was its less obvious colonial sibling León that struck me as a place I wouldn’t mind living for a while.
The houses are colourful, the streets are busy with friendly locals and the bars are lively with visitors and residents happily rubbing shoulders.
As well as Nicaraguans the residents include many who are studying at the inexpensive Spanish schools and staying in one of the hostels which looked to be of a very high standard. I’m not usually a hostel person but I saw some that I’d definitely consider for a longer stay.
Even for a shorter visit León has plenty to write home about. It was Nicaragua’s colonial capital, a key centre for religion and the heartland of the revolution, the combination of which has left it with lots of wonderful buildings, churches and some striking murals around the town.
The 18th century cathedral in León is the largest in Central America and while not especially pretty to look at, it has some interesting features inside including the tomb of the famous poet Ruben Dario. There’s also a rooftop tour that provides fab views of the town.
For that same reason I’d recommend Hotel Real where I stayed. The rooms were pretty good and air conditioned which is very much needed in Nicaragua, but the real bonus is the rooftop terrace. It’s the perfect spot to catch some sun during the day and then drink a cold beer or glass of wine while watching it go down. The sunsets are really quite spectacular.
Back in the town there are other churches worth seeking out and several galleries and museums, including one dedicated to Ruben Dario. The Mercado Central is a good spot to meader through and sample some of the local delicacies, as are the stalls that appear in the town centre in the early evening to sell fast food like chicken tacos, rice and beans and various types of plantain.
For a special night out the restaurant at Hotel El Convento is in a very pretty garden setting and is part of a converted 17th century San Francisco convent. While for a cheaper option I’d recommend La Terraza M in Parque Ruben Dario, which also has plenty of outside tables in a shaded courtyard garden.
Outside of the town there are (of course) volcanoes close by and I heard tell of volcano boarding on Cerro Negro. Its one of the more lively active volcanoes in the area, so I can’t imagine why anyone would want to hurl themselves down its black slopes, but then adventure sports is not really my thing.
What is my thing is spending time somewhere which is entirely different to the place I call home and yet feels like it could be exactly that, for a while at least. I suspect many visitors to Nicaragua miss León off the itinerary, but I think to do that is to miss an opportunity to get a real flavour for what this country is really about.
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