León is one of two beautiful, colonial cities in Nicaragua. León means lion, which seems appropriate for this city, full of energy and pride. 😀
Personally, I only had two full days to discover what I loved about León, but really, it wasn’t that hard. 😛
Three things stood out the most in this gorgeous city: the lovely architecture, the lively markets, and the liberal attitude. ❤
What to Love About León: The Lovely Architecture
León has the largest church in Central America, Our Lady of Grace Cathedral.Not only does the building have a stunning white facade, it’s actually an architectural wonder, since its robust walls have suffered through numerous volcanic eruptions.It’s also one of the oldest dioceses in America, and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.For 3 USD, visitors can climb to the top of the cathedral, to marvel at the pristine domes and admire the city from above.
Side note: No shoes are allowed on the roof, so probably don’t go during the strong sunny hours like I did, or you’ll have to hop across the ground like they’re hot coals! Hah! 😛You’ll also have to crouch through this waist-high door in the back of the church to buy your ticket.
Anyway, the lovely architecture doesn’t stop there either. León has over 15 churches, including the colorful Calvario Church. Wow!
What to Love About León: The Lively Markets
León is a bustling university town, where there are tons of young people, and even the old appear young at heart. One of my favorite things to do was to walk through the market place in the city. All the vendors wanted to chat, while they tried to sell their ridiculously cheap and delicious produce.
Two avocados for a dollar? Yes, please! 😀
Speaking of food, they also sell lots of street foods and cheap eats here.
Comedores are popular for cheap eats, since they include hearty main entrees and a drink for only 2 USD.
One unique dish to try here is called vigorón. This dish consists of boiled yucca topped with stewed pork, crispy pork rinds, and fermented cabbage, all placed inside a banana leaf.
The staple though is most definitely rice and beans. I mean, it’s the first thing you see when you walk into the grocery store. 😛
Heck, it’s even on the McDonalds menu! Here, they prepare gallo pinto, which is fried rice mixed with red beans, onion, and garlic.
Now back to the lively part. One thing I noticed about León is that it loves noise! Aside from the lively markets, I heard fireworks multiple times each day, among other noises, like whistles and cars blasting loud music. They also have a siren that goes off each day at 7a.m. and noon, which is supposed to remind people of the time, but it actually sounds more like an air raid alert! Take cover! Hah! 😛
What to Love About León: The Liberal Attitude
León has a rebellious, liberal spirit, which can be noted ever since the country’s independence from Spain in 1821, when this city fought for power over its conservative counterpart, Granada. I learned even more about important events in this city by taking a free walking tour, courtesy of the tourist office. Our tour began at a large wall mural near the central park, which provides an artistic timeline of the city’s history. What our guide explained from the murals is that León is considered the birthplace of the Sandanista Revolution. The revolution is named in honor of General Sandino, a national hero and rebel, who fought for democracy and against the totalitarian ruler, Somoza. When Somoza had Sandino executed in the 30s, someone in León assassinated Somoza, which was an obvious act of rebellion. Sadly, Somoza’s heirs remained in power for another 40 years, where the people continued to suffer from inequality. Finally, an uprising occurred, by a group called the FSLN, or Sandinista Liberation Front, named in honor of General Sandino. The violent revolution lasted over 10 years, and the scars of war can still be seen today. There are bullet holes in the city walls and dilapidated buildings lining the streets. That being said, even though the revolution has ended, this city still boasts pro-Sandanista pride by displaying political street art all over the city. Love! ❤
Well, there you have it! These are only three things to love about León; however, there are many more museums and historical sites yet to be explored. Overall, I truly enjoyed this small taste of the city, and look forward to exploring Nicaragua’s second colonial city, Granada. Stay tuned to hear all about it! Until then! 🙂
Where to Stay:
I stayed at Poco a Poco Hostel, which had clean facilities and fun weekly activities, like family dinner night. They also had outdoor showers and misters, which was great to cool off during the day. 😀
Cost: 9 USD/night
To get from Tegucigalpa, Honduras to León, Nicaragua, I took Tica Bus, which cost 26 USD and took 9 hours. To enter Nicaragua, I had to pay a 15 USD entry fee as well.