Nicaragua is definitely a country worth visiting. One of the cities you cannot miss, is León. This bubbly city has an atmosphere which makes you feel right at home. There’s lots to do and see, and it’s a perfect starting point for day trips to other nearby highlights. So I’ll give you a complete León city guide with all the to-do’s, to-eats, to sleeps and more.
Things to do in León
The highlight of León is definitely the big white Cathedral which can be found in the city centre. This cathedral is one of the biggest of its kind in Central America.
On the outside you’ll find some pretty decorations, but the fact that it’s completely white definitely makes it a must see. They paint the Cathedral of León on a regular basis to keep it nice and crisp.
The cool thing about this Cathedral? You can walk around on the roof of the building, and you’ll be treated with a beautiful view over León. Definitely a must-do, and very cheap! It’ll cost you only 3$ for a ticket.
After walking up some stairs you’ll set foot on the rood and BAM: a dazzling view. The roof is completely white, so when it’s sunny you have to wear sunglasses. You can walk around freely, as long as you don’t climb the domes. You wouldn’t expect it, but you can actually spend between half an hour to an hour on the roof. It’s big! And beautiful too: there are many domes, ornaments and decorative ridges.
And don’t forget the amazing view.
From the Cathedral you can of course see the city of León, but also the surrounding fields and nature. Gorgeous!
Wander around the city
Something I enjoy doing everywhere I travel: just step outside and start walking. León is a colonial city. The houses are brightly colored and you’ll see a piece of beautiful architecture on practically every street corner.
It’s nice to wander around and take photos, drop by some food stalls for a meal or snack, and just enjoy the surroundings.
Free walking tour
It’s also possible to do a free walking tour. A local guide will take you to the highlights of León and he or she will tell you everything about the history of some of the buildings, as well as the history of the city.
For example: did you know the City of León was first located around 30 miles east from where it’s currently built? It’s because a volcanic eruption destroyed the city in 1610. The surviving residents moved and established the new city of León where it is today.
Although it is a free walking tour, you are expected to pay something at the end of the tour. There’s no set amount: you just pay whatever you consider convenient.
A unique activity which is a definite must do! For this activity you have to travel out of the city, but no worries, there are many tour companies to be found around town with whom you can book a Volcano Boarding tour.
So what is Volcano Boarding exactly? You’ll climb to the top of an active volcano (Cerro Negro) and then slide down FAST with a board. More like a sledding actually.
Like I experienced it, it was up in 45 minutes and down in 45 seconds. But it’s fun!
Yes, you’ll end up with half a volcano in your pants and yes you’ll be dirty. But it’s so awesome.
Telica Volcano tour
Another volcano? Yep. In Central America there are lots of active volcanoes, so when you visit Nicaragua you’ll notice that it’s the main focus of many tour companies. I’m not complaining though: how often do you get the chance to see actual lava?
Although Cerro Negro (the one from the Volcano Boarding) is also an active volcano, it looks like a mountain. There’s no crater and no lava. Telica Volcano is an active volcano with a crater AND lava.
There are several different tours you can take. I did the day tour which includes a hike up the volcano, the most beautiful sunset, seeing lava, and then hiking back down via a bat cave. There’s also an overnight tour in which you will spend the night in a tent on the volcano.
Las Peñitas beach
After these volcano tours and wandering around the city of León, it’s time for some relaxation. You can do so at the beach. Las Peñitas beach to be exact. To be honest: this is not the most beautiful beach in the world. Not even in Nicaragua. But it’s a relaxing break from the city.
And, since the temperatures in León can be fairly high, it’s nice to take a dip in the ocean and enjoy a fresh breeze of air. There’s not a whole lot you can do at the beach, so just surrender to the calmness of the ocean washing ashore while reading a book or listening to some music.
How to get there? Many tour companies have daily trips to Las Peñitas, so you can just join in. The tour company with which we booked the previously mentioned volcano tours, offers a free ride to Las Peñitas as a special promotion.
Where to stay / sleep in León?
The whole city is filled with hotels and hostels, from very basic to fancy. So it really depends on what you are looking for.
I stayed at Poco A Poco, a great value for money hostel in the city centre of León. The dorms are huge, every bed has a personal fan and the hostel is nice and clean. And OMG they have a dog (named Poco). I mean: relaxing in a hammock while petting a dog… could it get any better?
Breakfast is included (alternating pancakes and eggs on toast). You can easily arrange transportation and tours at the desk and the staff is very helpful and nice. Also: there’s a beautiful garden, they have movie nights and you can chillax in a hammock. I felt right at home. Poco a Poco is not a party hostel, which I personally very much liked. Are you a party person? No worries, there are hostels for you too. The most famous one? Bigfoot.
There’s a huge bar for partying, dancing and drinking every night. The rooms are quite small and crowded, but you probably won’t spend much time there anyway. The hostel has a swimming pool, so pool party all day. You won’t be bored in this hostel for sure.
Other than that I don’t have any experience with hostels and hotels in León. However, I’ve heard that Hotel Leyendas has great value for money. They are a relatively small hotel with just a few rooms, about a 15 minute walk from the city centre. Apparently the breakfast is very tasty and the rooms are comfy.
So you can always check it out.
Food & Drinks in León
León is a city with lots of nice places to eat and drink. You can get local dishes like gallo pinto, but there are lots of Mexican places as well: tacos, quesedillas, burritos: you won’t be disappointed. I’ll take you through some of the places I personally liked.
This is place is a must-go if you like a nice and cold beer. I don’t know why, but most places you go in León, the beer just isn’t that cold. Luckily the Sports Bar does serve cold ones. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why this place is popular with locals as well?
They also have some nice snacks to eat, like nachos and such. It’s a fun place to go and have drinks. There’s always music on (Reggaeton of course) with music videos playing on a large screen.
Would you like to eat a delish meal with the big white Cathedral as your view? When you are standing in front of the Cathedral and you’ll look to your left, there’s this nice little restaurant called El Sesteo. They have a number of varied dishes, western as well as local / Mexican on the menu.
I went there with a girl from the hostel, and we shared a quesadilla and a club sandwich. Both very tasty, especially with a Toña beer (or a fresh watermelon juice) on the side! At night you can go here for drinks as well.
Pan y Paz sandwiches and pastries
If you are looking for a place to get a sandwich, Pan & Paz is the place to go. This French bakery is a popular place in León, and definitely worth a visit. They have some sublime sandwiches. High quality and super fresh. From lovely little pastries to croissants with salmon and veggies: their varied menu will satisfy every traveller. A big plus: the place as a beautiful courtyard where you can sit and relax.
How many days should you spend in León?
Are you in Nicaragua for about 3 weeks? Then you should spend at least 3 to 4 nights in León. That gives you one full day to explore the city, one day to go volcano boarding in the morning and visit the beach in the afternoon, and one or two days to do a Telica Volcano tour. If you have time for one extra day, you have extra time to wander around León. In my opinion, 4 to max. 5 days is enough.
Only have 2 nights / 3 days? Then go for the volcanoboarding, the Telica tour and one day in León.