Once the capital of Nicaragua, today León is still the cultural and artistic centre of the country, buzzing with students from the many universities and wearing its revolutionary past with pride...
Because León largely escaped the pirate battering that befell Granada, many of its historic buildings are still in a very good state of repair. Intricately designed colonial buildings line the bustling streets, while wrought iron gates provide glimpses of lush interior gardens.
The city is less visited and less polished than its southern colonial counterpart. But it arguably retains a stronger sense of identity - that’s why we love sharing it and pairing you up with the right guide to help you pick your way through it all.
Central America’s biggest cathedral León has 16 churches, including the Catedral de Leon, the largest church in Central America. The structure took 113 years to complete and is the pride of both the city and of Nicaragua. Finally finished in 1860, it has managed to withstand countless earthquakes and tremors - locals like to claim that this is due to the use of turtle eggs in its construction, a handy substitute when the mortar ran out. On a clear day the view from the cathedral’s bell tower is superb, with red rooftops stretching away to the green slopes of the Maribios volcano.
Volcanoes to the east... León’s setting is impressive. The city is bordered to the north-east by the Maribios volcanic range, where the fertile soil provides perfect growing conditions for crops in a landscape strewn with banana, peanut and sugar cane plantations.
The most famous volcano in this range is the Cerro Negro, that of the ash boarding fame. It’s a tough climb up, but the effort is worth it, as the views from the top are truly spectacular. On a clear day you can see where the blackened trail of the last lava flow stops and the lush forest suddenly begins, stretching towards the chain of volcanoes on the horizon. For the return leg, you are supplied with full protective clothing, and while it is possible to stand, most find it easier and more fun just to sit.
At the southern end of the range, Momotombo Volcano towers over León Viejo, Nicaragua’s first capital and one of the oldest colonial settlements in the Americas. It was destroyed by a series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the late 1500s and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site which we recommend visiting.
… the sea and mangroves to the west The warm surf and relaxed fishing villages of the Pacific lie just a short distance to the west, as does the coastal Isla Juan Venado Wildlife Reserve, whose varied ecology makes an ideal home for over 100 species of bird on the island as well as caiman, iguana and sea turtles. It is also a major nesting site for the Olive Ridley sea turtle, which come at night to lay their eggs on the beaches between August-February.
How to visit León with Pura Aventura As the above shows, there’s much to do and see both in and around León. Typically we’d have you stay here for three nights, giving you ample time to settle and relax, have a proper walking tour with our guide, do some independent wandering and then get out to the nature reserve or Cerro Negro volcano. Most also take the opportunity to visit León Viejo on the way into the city. But it’s your holiday, so however we play it has to work for you and give the city the time it deserves. That goes for the rest of Nicaragua too, so once you’ve got to grips with it all, or if we can help you narrow down your options or provide more details, please do get in touch.