León is a beautiful city north of the capital Managua. It is home to a whole host of gorgeous architecture, beautiful parks and plazas, and interesting museums. It’s also home to the only active volcano in the world that you can “surf” down. Its mixture of culture, architecture, and thrill-seeking offers travellers a variety of fun and enjoyable ways to spend their time during their visit. In this article I will talk through my top five fun ways to spend your time in León.
- Go Volcano Surfing
Volcan Cerro Negro is the only active volcano in the world that people are able to go “volcano boarding” down – zipping down the side of a volcano sitting on a purpose-built toboggan. For $30 you are driven to the volcano, guided up to the top and are given the essential equipment for the boarding; the board, a jumpsuit, gloves, and goggles. I would HIGHLY advise bringing a buff scarf or something to cover your mouth with, otherwise you will end up with a mouth full of ash and pieces of volcanic rock. You have to first hike up to the crater rim of the volcano, which is a thrill-seeking activity in itself; you can carry the board either in your arms or on your back while you scramble up the side of the volcano battling fierce winds and loose stones. The higher up you go the worse the wind is, so be prepared to dig your heels in at times. At the top you can take a look at the crater before getting ready to board down.
Boarding down the volcano was easily one of the most enjoyable yet terrifying activities I’ve ever done; despite digging my heels in to the ground I kept getting faster and faster, and by the time I neared the bottom I could barely keep myself on the board and ended up taking a tumble when I went over a bumpy patch of ground, which was kind of fun in and of itself. I would definitely recommend this activity to anyone who enjoys getting their adrenaline going!
- Visit the Museo de la Revolution
Nicaragua’s past is clouded by violence from being under the rule of the Somoza family, and the Sandanista Revolution which fought to take them out of power, was only successful in 1979. León was at the heart of the revolution, and was the first city in Nicaragua to be liberated. The building of the former Somoza government, which was taken by the rebels and used as their base of operations has been converted into a museum that chronicles Nicaragua’s history as a country and a part of central America, how the revolutions played out and the people that were involved in it. Entrance to the museum is C$100 and includes a guided tour around the museum – fair warning though, it is all in Spanish. The guides are all men who were involved in the fighting during the revolution; our guide had been nineteen at the time and showed us pictures of him that were taken at the time.
I had very little knowledge of Nicaragua’s and Central America’s fight for independence, and really enjoyed learning about it from someone who had been involved at the time. It’s a fascinating and brutal history and the people who work in the museum are doing a fantastic job of preserving it for tourists and future generations.
- Visit the Museo de Rubén Dario
Rubén Dario is one of Nicaragua’s most famous poets, and is known for initiating the Spanish-American modernism literary movement. The museum in León is the house in which he spent the first fourteen years of his life, and is where he wrote his first sonnet which is preserved inside. The museum hosts an eclectic collection of his handwritten manuscripts, everyday items, bible, bed, and the suit he wore as ambassador to Spain. It’s free to enter and provides a fascinating look into the life and work of this man. The only downside is that there’s no information in English and you’re not allowed to take photos.
- Wander the Streets, Visit the Parks and Plazas
León itself is a beautiful city, and there are many delightful and interesting things to see purely walking the streets; the parks and plazas contain a mixture of open green spaces to relax in with beautiful sculptures and fountains, and the colonial architecture and bright colours of the buildings are a visual gem amongst the less appealing parts of the city. Some of my favourite things that I found while walking around León were:
The Parque Central within which is a beautiful fountain, a huge statue of La Gigantonia, and a rock from the last eruption of Cerro Negro in remembrance of how the people of León worked together to support the city when dealing with natural disasters.
The Cathedral, which at the time of our visit (February 2017), was in the middle of being repainted; the contrast between the new and old façade was remarkable, and it was clear to see that when it’s complete the building will look absolutely stunning.
Iglesia El Calvario, which was closed when we visited it so we couldn’t go inside, but the exterior more than made up for that. The colours, sculptures, and architecture all work harmoniously together to produce a gorgeous building that is a sight to behold.
- Visit the food stands near the Parque de la Merced
At night a number of food trucks set up shop beside Iglesia la Merced and Parque de la Merced. There’s a good variety of food to try out, all of which is cheap and cheerful, and delicious. My personal favourite was the Mexican food truck; we tried the tacos and burritos and were really happy with what we had. My only disappointment was that I couldn’t stay longer to go back again!
León is a beautiful city with a variety of activities to suit all types of travellers, from those interested in history or architectures, to those who enjoy getting their heart racing. There are still parts of it that are rough around the edges however they add to the overall charm of a city that deserves a lot more recognition from travellers.