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León is one of the oldest cities in Nicaragua.
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Points of Interest in Leon
- León Cathedral - this is the biggest cathedral in Central America. The story goes that the construction plans sent back to Spain for approval showed smaller dimensions, because they were afraid the Church wouldn't approve such a large cathedral, although this story has been debunked. The cathedral is also the final resting place of Ruben Dario, as well as many other notable Nicaraguans. You can pay a small fee to climb the stairs up to the roof, where you can get a nice view of all of León's churches and the surrounding volcanoes, and you can go into the cellars beneath the cathedral. On the roof you can see close up the giant sculptures holding up the cathedral bells, just don't ring them.
- Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Subtiava - one of the oldest colonial churches in Leon, the church has served a traditionally indigenous community. The rustic wood interior is a pleasant deviance from the often ornate styles that are more typical of the period.
- Fundacion Ortiz - is an artistic treasure trove. It has a collection of European masters and a stunning collection of Latin American art.
- Centro de Arte Fundación Ortiz Gurdián (3 blocks west of the cathedral on the avenue). This privately supported centre is perhaps the finest art museum in Nicaragua. Showcases both international and Central American artists of various periods and media. Admission proceeds go the Breast Cancer Programme for Low Income Women. C$20 general, C$10 student (with ID).
There are murals all over the city. One of the more unsettling commemorates a massacre of protesting local students by the militia.
León is named after León, Spain. After independence, the elites of León and Granada struggled over which city would be the capital. León was dominated by the liberals and Granada by the conservatives. The fighting ended when Managua became the capital.
After Granada, which is better preserved, León has the best colonial architecture in Nicaragua. It is a university town that stubbornly remains somewhat pro-Sandinista. During the 1979 revolution, the Sandinistas took over León in violent street by street fighting. Somoza then had the city bombed, an unforgivable move considering he was bombing his own people. The National Guard took León back over, again in street by street fighting, but this time less intense since the Sandinistas melted away. Finally, the Sandinistas took León back over and held it until the Somoza government fell. You can still see bullet marks on some buildings. Also, there is a shell of a church on the road out of town that was destroyed during the bombing. Across the street from this church is the Museo de las Mytos y Leyendas Tradiciones (Museum of Myths and Legends), which prominently displays a statute of a Sandinista guerrilla holding a handmade bomb. Some sarcastically call it the Museo de las Traiciones (Museum of the Treasons) as a reference to how the Sandinista rank and file has been cheated by Daniel Ortega and the rest of the Sandinista elite.
León used to be the hub of cotton growing but that has declined. The economy is relatively depressed. Tourists are typically not a large, visible presence in León, though it is popular among backpackers and as of late, tour groups. (In comparison to Granada, there are fewer tourists) León still is a university town, filled with students. Backpackers, volunteers and other extranjeros usually meld with local students.
León has more colonial churches and cathedrals per capita than any other place in Nicaragua. If you are still on the church tour, there are thirteen to check out in town.
- SONATI is an environmental-education non-profit organization, which also offers volcano treks to the nearby Maribios volcanic chain (incl. treks to Telica, San Cristobal, Cerro Negro, Cosiguina, Las Pilas/El Hoyo volcanoes [and others, depending on demand]). They also offer volcano boarding trips to Cerro Negro and mangrove forest swimming/kayaking tours, and in August/September turtle nesting/hatching trips. SONATI also organizes several environmental education activities every week catered to local Nicaraguan children, and many travelers join them. They are located 3 blocks north, 1/2 block east of the cathedral. There are several volunteer positions available if you're keen on spending some time in Leon.
- Quetzaltrekkers Nicaragua offers non-profit volcano Treks. They are located just around the corner from ViaVia and Big Foot. Same as Quetzaltrekkers Bigfoot offers excellent value Volcano Boarding trips with an English speaking guide. Rumor has it that they will be commencing climbing Nicaraguas Tallest volcano, San Cristobal.
- Poneloya and Penitas beaches. Be careful once there though, not of the people, who are just as friendly as in León, but of the surf. The waves are large and quite fun, but watch out for the currents. The surf claims a victim or two every year, including the young and fit. There are accommodations from hotel Lacayo, old and historic, all wood structure, to Hotel Poneloya, recently refurbished rooms w/ a/c across the street. They have upgraded the beds, famous for uncomfortable before. Still, the rooms have no real windows. Rooms were $25 dollars a night (they built some new rooms which I did not look at. There are better hotels in Penitas. Try the Hotel Suyapa Beach (885-8345). Rooms are a bit more expensive but well worth it if you have the money (still less than $60). They have a pool and a popular beachside restaurant. Besides hanging out at the beach, there's a billiard hall popular with locals at the end of the paved road in Poneloya (though at night it gets a little rowdy as locals get drunk on Lijon - cheap sugar cane liquor), rustic restaurants past the billiard hall, and lots of Flor de Caña rum. There is also a Catholic Church in Poneloya in case you need to make atonement for what Flor made you do. Buses depart from the road to Poneloya on the outskirts of town (by Subtiava), they are quite affordable. Splurging on a taxi is also an option (C$150 to $250 depending). The beaches are less than 20 kilometers away.
- Catch a baseball game if you are there during the season. The Leónes won the championship in 2004 and are perpetual contenders. For fifty cordobas you can sit right behind home plate, or pay less for 3rd base side where the lively crowd sits with the unofficial band. Order some vigoron, get a Victoria and enjoy. If Chinandega is visiting, it can get quite rowdy and tickets sell out. The stadium is in the northern part of the city.
- Museo Ruben Dario. Pick up some of his poetry (Azul is a good beginning). There is an art museum that has a good collection, including contemporary art. It occupies two houses. The main part on a southeast corner of the street that runs from Parque Ruben Dario to the Cathedral (Avenida Central).
- El Fortin For the best view over the city and the volcanoes, go to this old Somoza stronghold southwest of León, best reached from Subtiava. It's a 20 minute walk, ask locals for directions.
- NicAsi Tours. At Asi tours you can do social cultural activities, for example the cooking workshop, which proceeds from buying the ingredients at the local market to creating your own tortillas at the local tortilleria and then going to a local household to cook your Nicaraguan dish. Other tours include a history tour, cowboy for a day and other workshops. Animal lovers may want to avoid this company as they also promote rooster fights.
Definitely have to go to the oldest restaurant in town, located in the heart of Leon, in the opposite corner of the Basilica Cathedral called "El Sesteo", it has diverse menu from typical local food and beverages to fast food. Definitely worth trying.
Great food at the local market, behind the main cathedral. Large food court with all sorts of great beans and eggs and rice and fried cheese and cheese-stuffed platanos and thick tortillas. Great for breakfast, you can fill up for a dollar or two. You can also buy fresh-made juices, and gaze in awe at the giant blocks of fried cheese.
On the street behind the market is Buen Gusto, where you should grab some Pollo Vino on the cheap.
A few blocks south of the Parque de los Poetas is Buena Cuchara, where the food is delicious-- 25 cordobas for a full lunch, including either fish or chicken (both delicious).
On the boulevard out of town toward Chinandega, across from the main police station, there's a green house with a porch. This 'Pelo de chancho', where you get the best Mondongo soup in León, but you have to get there early for lunch or they might run out.
Located two houses from the Nord West corner of the Central Park in front of the big Enitel building is Café La Rosita that offers an excellent environment (beautifully restored colonial house with large central patio), premium Nicaraguan coffees, a short but complete menu of panini sandwiches, salads, desserts, and even ice-cold beers.And free wireless internet access.
- Pure Earth Cafe (Adjacent to BigFoot Hostel). This place serves vegetarian options at about C$65 a plate for lunch and $80 for dinner. Juices are C$35 but are fresh and tasty. Offer: spicy bean burger on bagel, roasted mushrooms and red peppers on bagel, panini with delicious fillings, and sometimes some baked goodies.
- Cocin Arte (North side of El Laborio church). A great vegetarian restaurant. Most vegetarians would not mind setting up camp at this restaurant during their stay in Leon while there are also a couple dishes offered for carnivores. Take about 4 dollar for a meal and a drink. The service tends to be slow but the food is worth the wait. They also sell organic chocolates and coffee.
- Los Pescaditos (In Subtiava). Worth the cab ride (less than 10 minutes from Cathedral).
- ViaVia. 8am - 9.30pm. . International and local food. 25C$ - 145C$.
Montezerino is on the bypass near the Managua intersection. They serve a good fillet mignon or churrasco for under $10 US. The restaurant serves as a night club at night. It is open on the sides and large.
Manhattan Restaurant has fresh hand-rolled tuna and salmon sushi. It's across the street from Hotel La Perla.
Don Senor's has a restaurant downstairs to eat, drink and watch tv. Upstairs is a club that charges a 30 cordoba cover.
Dilectus is fancier and larger then the other discos. Its on the edge of town and requires a taxi to get there and back. The cover is about c$50.
Salon Estrella is about 20 cordobas to get in, has slot machines in front, a small dance floor in the back, loud music and usually gets pretty full.
La Calabiza at night.
ViaVia has live music every Friday.
El Divino Castigo (3 blocks north of parque central) got live music every Tuesday. La Esquina del Movimiento (one block east of the above) got Spanish alternative movies almost every Thursday, and often live music on Saturdays.
Cappuccino, espresso, granita etc.: Café La Rosita, located on Calle Real in front of Enitel, diagonal from the NW corner of Central Park.
- GO BAR, León Nicaragua. Parque de los poetas 2 cuadras al norte, 25 varas al este., ☎ 2311 1400. Go Bar, is an alternative place where diversity is the main ingredient, here you can express yourself freely in a comfortable environment created just for fun. The letter will find a wide variety of domestic and imported drinks and some dishes to try. http://www.facebook.com/go.bar.leon us$1.
- Meson Real, Parque Ruben Dario 220 vrs al Norte. Seafood tapas restaurant wi meat as well.
The quality of the food is excellent.
Queso quemado (hard, salty, white cheese that goes great with tortillas or bean soup).
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article León (Nicaragua) on Wikivoyage.