Posted by: Alex MacGregor | July 22, 2012

I Think I’m Turning Leonese

Ah, Leon. Nicaragua’s second most famous colonial city (Granada, in the south of the country, has always been a bigger nexus on the tourist circuit).

Leon is famous for having churches…


…and more churches.

But its most famous church, the Leon Cathedral, is the real gem that puts Leon on the map. It’s the biggest cathedral in Central America, despite the fact that Leon doesn’t even crack the top 10 largest cities in the region today.

The cathedral was supposedly planned to be built in Lima, Peru, but a powerful politician was able to get the project moved to Leon.

You can climb on top to get a great view of the city…

…complete with volcanoes and, yes, more churches.

We also stopped by the Museum of Traditions and Legends, which has two very different purposes:

First, it explains a bunch of Nicaraguan legends, such as the Cegua, a witch who kidnaps unfaithful men.

(Yes, Nicaraguans still take these legends seriously, as this internet cafe demonstrates.)

The museum is housed in an old prison that contained everyone from political opponents to the mentally ill, so there are also displays with all the grisly details of what used to go on here.

Our friends Adam and Amy, who recently got married and are now setting off to travel the world for the foreseeable future, joined us in Leon. It’s the first time Caroline and I had met up with friends on our travels, and it was a lot of fun to explore a place with friends from home. You can read about their adventures here.

We stopped for coffee at the nicest hotel in town, set in a gorgeous colonial convent. Caroline and Amy were out in the garden when a storm came through.

The 100 year celebration of the patron saint of Leon happened to be going on. Which meant lots of parades and marches through town (with the obligatory balloon animal vendors making the rounds), as well as insanely loud fireworks going off at 4AM right above our room.

Leon is a university city and famously left-wing in its politics. “Hugo (Chavez), Daniel (Ortega), and Fidel (Castro), all of Leon is with you.”

Leon is also famous for its street food. Some of the best in Latin America.

Caroline and I took a detour to Las Peñitas, a beach town half an hour from Leon along the Pacific coast. We viewed it as an activity more than a getaway, and were well aware that violent waves and black sand make it less than ideal for a carefree day on the beach.

Pretty nice surfing, though!

No shortage of watermelons at the mercadito (tiny market).

Sadly, it eventually became time for us to part ways: Caroline and I heading to Managua and back home, and Adam and Amy to the highlands. After saying goodbye in Leon’s chaotic bus terminal, we set off on our last bus ride of the trip.

(Disclosure: this is our second trip to Leon. A couple of the pictures shown here are from the first trip, when lighting and weather was a bit more favorable.)


  1. […] who fought to end the US occupation of the country in the 1920s, looms downtown. Like the museum in Leon, this monument is also built on a former political […]

  2. […] area also has a thriving street food scene–among the best I’ve ever seen. Comparable to Leon, except in China a lot more stuff falls into the “extremely weird” category. (For the […]

  3. […] it’s the most beautiful small colonial city we have been to–and we’ve seen our fair […]

  4. […] offers an impressive historic district, which, with a little TLC, could rival some of the famous colonial cities throughout Latin America, except with a New Orleans […]

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