There are many different things to do in Leon.
Whether your interest is historical, cultural, geological or adventure, Leon is one of the most diverse destinations in Central America. Following are some of the most outstanding things to do in Leon:
Tours in Leon
Leon City Tour
Most of the interesting buildings in Leon are within the old colonial town centre. Any walking tour of the city must start at the outstanding and unique Cathedral of Leon. Construction of the building began in 1747, and the temple was consecrated in 1860. It has withstood several earthquakes, and it was modified early in the XXth century under the direction of Bishop Pereira y Castellon. At that time both the giants holding the huge bells on their shoulders and the lions that guard the entrances to the temple were added.
The building is open daily from 8:00 a.m.till noon and 1:00 till 6:00 p.m. If you want a tour of this magnificent church, purchase your ticket at the tour office of the Cathedral. You will find the ticket office on the street behind the altars, across from the Leon Municipal Market. Here you will find a small unmarked door leading towards the cellars under the building.
You can purchase 3 different tours, the most outstanding of which is the belfry and the church roof. Not only will you be able to see the lovely historic bells, you will enjoy magnificent views of the city, the volcanoes and on a clear day the Pacific Ocean. I thoroughly recommend this tour. The other options are a tour to the basements, which does not really have much to offer, and a tour to the quarters that where reserved to the bishops and priests, also known as the patio of prince. The cost for all three tours is 135 Cordobas per person. There is a special price for Nica citizens.
Three blocks north of the backside of the Cathedral you will find the church of La Recoleccion, considered by many as the most elaborate artistic building from colonial times. Its construction dates back to 1786 and it is one of the best examples of gothic art in Nicaragua. The church is usually open, so you will easily access it to enjoy its art and architectural beauty. The building is actually almost across the street from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), which is another interesting landmark.
Two blocks West of this church you will find the Church of La Merced, another fine example of colonial times in Nicaragua. This building dates back to the XVIIIth century and its style is definitely baroque. If you continue 2 more blocks due West, and then walk two blocks towards the South, you will come to the Church of San Francisco. Architecturally speaking, this building is really quite simple, but is always interesting.
Across the street from this church is the Ortiz Gurdian Art Gallery, an extensive art exhibit that features world class art with the best of Nicaraguan and Central American Artists. The exhibit is in a lovely old colonial house that was a presidential office in 1840. Back during early Republican days of Nicaragua. Nearby, one block West and half a block South of the Church of San Francisco you will find the Ruben Dario Museum, dedicated to one of the Nicaragua’s most distinguished sons, poet Ruben Dario.
The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 A.M. till 5:00 P.M. and Sundays from 9:00 A.M. 4:00 P.M. the entrance fee is approximately $2.00 US. Finally, a three block walk back to the East will bring you to Central Park. Here, on the Southeast corner, you will find the Museum of the Revolution. This Museum is open from 8:30 A.M till 5:30 P.M. and has a cost of a little over $1.20 US. The museum is staffed by ex Sandinista fighters and exhibits a collection of printed matter and memorabilia regarding the revolution and its heroes. The tours are basically done in Spanish, but if you do understand the language, the tour and stories about the revolution will provide insights that will help you understand Nicaragua and its people.
Last, but not least, the church at Sutiava is well worth a visit. This is actually the second largest colonial church in town, and is located in what used to be the neighbouring town of Sutiava, where the local indigenous people were established. I would recommend taking a taxi to Sutiava, as it is a fairly long walk from downtown.
Perhaps the most unique and popular of things to do in Leon. To my understanding, there is no other place on earth that has tours to a volcano with the option to do what they have called “volcano boarding”. The trip is basically a 45 minute ride from Leon to the Cerro Negro Volcano, one of the youngest volcanoes on Earth.
Reputedly born on the 13th of April, 1850, this volcano is now over 730 metres above sea level and growing. It is the second youngest volcano in America and the most active in Nicaragua, having had a total of 20 eruptions after the initial burst into life. The last event was in 1999. Because of its young age and high level of activity, Cerro Negro is precisely, as its name states, a black mountain. There is absolutely no vegetation on it, and it is completely black due to the volcanic rocks and ash on its slopes.
The trip to the site is through a dirt road that will allow you to see rural villages, plantations of corn, yucca, beans and other crops that are in this valley with very rich soil. You will need to pay the $5US entrance fee at the Los Maribios Visitors Centre. From here, you are very close to the trail that will bring you to the top of Cerro Negro. If you are with a tour operator, they will provide you with the equipment needed for the tour, if you are on your own; there is equipment for rent at the visitor’s centre. The hike, which is over a 400 meter climb from the base, will take about one hour.
Keep in mind that there is no forest cover, and you will be climbing under the inclement tropical sun and, because of this, it is imperative that you bring at least one litre of water per person as well as plenty of sunblock and a good hat.
The trail which begins quite steep will eventually reach the craters ridge and flatten out. On your hike, you will be able to see fumaroles spewing out of the crater. The views from the top are unique. They offer a perspective of the volcanic axis that boasts 10 different volcanoes. These include San Cristobal, which at 1745 meters above sea level is the highest volcano in Nicaragua. Momotombo the iconic landmark on the shores of Lake Xolotlan is also clearly visible! You can see most of these volcanoes from the top of Cerro Negro.
The trip back down is quite more expeditious than the hike up. The board that you personally brought up to the top with you will serve as your transportation back down. After some brief instructions, you will be ready for what will without doubt be a once in a lifetime experience! Glide down the slope towards the base of the volcano on a board! It will take you less than 5 minutes to reach the base of the volcano. There your transportation will be waiting for you.
Although the hike up is strenuous, the adrenaline rush on your way down will help you get your energy back! The trip, which was originally put together by Bigfoot tours. Today it offered by a variety of tour operators out of Leon, including Bigfoot Tours, Quetzaltrekkers, Va Pues Tours and Tierra Tours. The cost of the tour is between $23 and $30 US dollars per person. Once again, if you have your own transportation, you can go to the Los Maribios Visitors Center and rent the equipment there. However, I strongly suggest you buy the tour with one of the specialized tour operators.
Things to Do in Leon
See the Leon Viejo Ruins
The original city of Leon, on the shores of Lake Xolotlan, dates to 1524. It was abandoned in 1610, after an eruption of the massive Momotombo Volcano close by. The ruins of this lost city were rediscovered in 1967. The site is now on the list of the World Heritage Sites as one of the two sites within Nicaragua. (The other one is the Leon Cathedral).
Leon Viejo is easily accessible from the main Managua to Leon Highway. A detour at approximately on Km 54 is clearly marked and leads towards Leon Viejo and Momotombo. From here there is a 12 km paved road that will bring you to Leon Viejo and the town of Port Momotombo on the shores of Lake Xolotlan. If you are hungry or arriving at around lunch time, stop at La Paz Centro, located only 2 km. from the detour in direction towards Leon and have a quesillo, a local cheese served with tortillas and onions that have made this town famous.
The entrance fee to the ruins of Leon Viejo is worth under $2.00 US per person. The site is open daily from 8:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. There are guides available at the entrance, and you must pay a fee to use your camera on the site. The tour of Leon Viejo will take approximately 1 ½ hours. There is also a small museum, across the street from the entrance to the site. It is open under the same time schedule and has a few exhibits regarding pre-Columbian artefacts. The museum is named Imabite, after the old pre-Colombian village that existed here when the Spaniards arrived. You must pay an additional entrance fee to have access to the museum.
A short 18 Km. (11 miles) from Leon on a good paved highway, these are the two favourite beaches of the people in Leon. Both beaches are adjacent to each other, and offer access to a nice beach that can have fairly rough surf with outstanding waves for surfing. Poneloya is more of a town. It offers several different options for restaurants, but fewer hotels. Las Peñitas has more options for hotels and also has several different restaurants. Other than during Easter Week, there is not much activity on the beaches during the week. Limited night life activities available. The beaches are so close that you can come and go to Leon and enjoy the different night life options there.
Leon has a total of 10 volcanoes within 40 miles of its town center. This makes it the Volcano capital of the world! There are volcanoes of all sizes and types; this is a outstanding location for anyone truly interested in this unique geological feature. You can choose to hike up to Momotombo, San Cristobal, Telica, Cosiguina and Cerro Negro, among others; however, it is not a good idea to do so without a guide who has experience. Having someone who knows the routes and knows how to deal with an emergency can be very valuable!
There are several outfitters in Leon that provide this service, probably the most experienced of which is Quetzaltrekkers. They have years of experience and have specific dates already scheduled for their volcano trekking tours. They can also set up a special trip for you, as long as you have a group of at least 4 persons. Keep in mind that the tropical sun in Nicaragua can be grueling, and that when hiking uphill you will need water. Whatever you do, make sure you pack water and sunscreen for your trekking experience.