León – a travel guide to a volcano town in Nicaragua
Our journey to León was very long, as we took the bus all the way from San José. We have found that flying from Mexico to Costa Rica and then taking a bus to Nicaragua is much cheaper than flying directly from Mexico to Nicaragua. More information on how to cross the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua can be found in this article.
Best activities and things to do in León
León was a very important city during the colonial period, but in 1610 it was destroyed by the eruption of the Momotombo volcano. Now its area is referred to as León Viejo, the so-called Old León. In “New” León, the oldest university in Central America was built in the 19th century, and until 1858 the cities of León and Granada alternated over who would be the capital. In the end, however, a compromise was chosen and the city of Managua won.
Popular activities in León include its historic center and trips to the nearby volcanoes. Unfortunately, Tom had fevers and digestive problems after arriving here, so we only had a limited time here. But we accomplished the main thing we came for 🙂
1. León Cathedral
It is the oldest and largest cathedral in Central America, which has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2011. From the cathedral’s rooftop, there is an amazing view of the city and the surrounding volcanoes. If you have time, come here to watch the sunset, it was beautiful. The entrance fee to the roof of the cathedral costs approx. 3 USD (November/2022).
2. Cerro Negro volcano boarding
This was one of the best experiences in all of Nicaragua. We went with Volcano Day and it was great. The price per person was approx. 37 USD and included transport, protective clothing, a board, a souvenir T-shirt, and snacks. And how did it all go?
First, we drove the back of a truck to the Cerro Negro volcano, which is about an hour away from León. Along the way, we saw a huge contrast between the relatively wealthy city and the poverty in the countryside. Upon arrival, we took a board and had to carry it on the top of the volcano ourselves. You can also pay for a local porter to carry it, but none of our group ended up needing one. But it was not easy to bring the board up, at least for me. The board was heavy so it hurt my hands and the strong wind blew it away. But the feeling that I managed it alone was worth it 😀
On the top, we went to see the crater of the volcano, and then we had an informative lecture about how to ride a board down the volcano. You could brake with your feet, so it was entirely up to us how fast we decided to go. Tom was not afraid of it and went very quickly. I slowed down more because I had respect for it. From the top, the descent looked very steep! In the end, we all made it and a reward of rum and coke awaited us. We had black stones up to our ears, but it was great. After all, who is lucky enough to ride a volcano on a board, right? 😀
3. Walk around the historical part of the city
The main square with the cathedral is called Parque Central de León and it is also the starting point for the surrounding streets with colorful houses, markets, and other monuments. In the city, it is also possible to take a “Free Walking Tour” in which you will learn more about the history of the city and you will be guided through the markets with a possible food tasting 🙂
4. Hike the nearby volcanoes
Popular activities include hiking up Nicaragua’s highest volcano, San Cristobal, or watching the sunset at Telica Volcano. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to either of those due to the mentioned health problems. There are many agencies in the city that offer this type of trip, including Volcano Day. Just ask 🙂
How to get to León by bus
Bus from Costa Rica to León, Nicaragua
We took the bus company Nicabus from San José, Costa Rica to León for $35 per person. The bus dropped us off about 3 km from the center, here. However, there were local tuk-tuks waiting around the bus stop so we waved at one and the tuk-tuk arrived immediately.
Other companies that go here include, for example, Ticabus and NicaExpreso.
Bus from Granada to León
There is no direct bus from Granada to León, so you need to change in Managua. We honestly do not recommend staying in Managua. The town is not very safe and there is nothing interesting to see. So first get on the so-called Chicken bus (this type of bus reminds us school buses in the US) from Granada to Managua (the bus stop in Granada is here). The ticket cost 37 NIO (1 USD) and the trip took about 2 hours because we kept stopping and picking up someone.
In Managua, transfer to a minibus (minivan) that will take you directly to the bus station in León. In Managua, you need to walk about 100 meters through the market, so we recommend bracing yourself against the vendors and the little chaos. But we had no problem and the locals even willingly advised us where to find the minibus. The ticket cost 78 NIO (2 USD).
Tip for accommodation in León
There are plenty of hotels and hostels in the center of León, so it depends on what your requirements are. We stayed in Hostal Fachente which had a good central location, breakfast included and the possibility to use the kitchen.
Tips for the best restaurants in León
- El Bodegón – international cuisine – Mexican, burgers, wings, salads. It belongs to the more expensive ones
- Restaurante La Mexicana – Mexican, pretty cheap
- Coco Calala – delicious vegetarian restaurant
- Al rinconcito mexicano – stall with mexican food
- Manana Manana Café – good coffee, fast wifi
- Libelula coffee – good coffee, nice interior