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12 Brilliant Things To Do In Leon (Nicaragua): Complete 2019 Guide

Written by:
Cazzy Magennis
/
Last updated:
July 31, 2019
Travel stories
If you're visiting the amazing Leon in Nicaragua, then check out my list of 12 brilliant things to do in Leon alongside when to go, and where to stay...
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Leon Nicaragua
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Leon, Nicaragua is one of my favourite places! It’s usually either the first or last stop on a backpacking Nicaragua itinerary, due to its location. It’s a small town that is filled with personality, wonderful people and great things to do!

If you want to find out more about the great things to do in Leon (Nicaragua), then keep reading!

When is the best time to visit Leon Nicaragua?

December is a popular month in Nicaragua, but Bradley and I visited during the month of March and I feel it was perfect. You often find a lot of backpackers and travellers visit during the months of January to April.

The weather was super super hot, but everything was open and beautiful!

How long should I stay in Leon Nicaragua?

We stayed in Leon, Nicaragua for 2 nights, but we could have easily stayed longer if we were going to explore nearby beaches etc.

I would recommend around 3-4 nights, but I know travelers who have been a week or more!

But if it’s just to complete the list of brilliant things to do in Leon, then 3 nights is perfecto!

buildings in leon

How to get to Leon

Getting to Leon is super easy, and there are a variety of ways to get there. The cheapest option is to get the bus.

Bus: So, if you’re coming from the Costa Rica direction, you can catch a bus with Tica Bus, which of the most well known bus companies that offers buses up and down Central America.

It’s convenient because you can book online!

If you are coming from the Guatemala/El salvador direction, you can also get the Tica Bus, or a shuttle. The Tica bus stops in Leon, as does the shuttle.

Flying: Managua airport is the closest airport to Leon and you can get direct flights there from Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala, (probably Honduras too), but I warn you, they aren’t cheap.

I’m talking around £300, but you can of course check SkyScanner in case the price goes down (or you’re happy to pay that!)

Car: Some people decide to rent a car for their time in Nicaragua. They roads are decent on the highways and generic roads, so it’s not a bad way to get around.

The Top Things To Do In Leon Nicaragua

Okay, so now for the good part, the top things to do in Leon, Nicaragua. This is based on the things that Bradley and I did, but a few of the things friends of ours did that we missed out on (because we didn’t read a post like this before we arrived!)

1. Street art of the revolution

Leon is home to the revolution that has shaped Nicaragua into what we know it as today, so it’s very significant. You can experience a little of this by checking out the famous street art of the revolution.

This is one of the most iconic things to do in Leon.

2. Take a free walking tour and explore the town

A great way to learn about the revolution of Nicaragua and see some of the great sights is to take a free walking tour (also a good option if you are on a tight budget). Some tours guides will be multilingual, others not.

If you don’t speak Spanish, you can also take a walking tour organised by a tour company too!

Walking tours provide a good chance to ask all the questions you’ve been wondering about Leon and Nicaragua in general.

city walking tour leon

3. Visit the largest cathedral in Central America

The largest cathedral in Central America is located in Leon, it’s pure white and quite beautiful! It’s situated in the central plaza and is a wonderful focal point.

It’s proper name is Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You can actually climb to the top and see surroundings views for $2.

If you want to get some cool pics, you can get them here as it’s not usually busy.

Inside of the cathedral is also beautiful!

After you’ve visited the cathedral, dine at the restaurant in the plaza which offers great food and drinks (and nice cheap wine!)

Opening hours of the cathedral are 8 am to 12 pm monday to sat and 2pm to 4pm on Sunday.

leon cathederal
leon cathederal roof

4. Telica sunset volcano hike

Another day, another volcano! Nicaragua has lots of wonderful volcanoes, and this is another popular choice.

You can do this sunset hike in one day, where you leave at 3pm and return at 8pm, or you can camp overnight. I think camping is more exciting!

You head up there it’s a steep 1 hour accent, you stop at the top for lunch and you check for lava (it’s only visible if it’s clear).

It’s 1000m (3,481 feet).

Then you will be greeted with a stunning sunset followed by a jet black sky with thousands of twinkling stars!

After some dinner and marshmallow roasting, it’s time to sleep.

You arise at 5 am to catch the sunrise and it’s again a memorable experience,unlike anything you will ever see before with the various volcanoes peaking up in front of you.

You will probably smell a lot of sulphur (which smells like eggs), since it’s active.

It’s also important to do this hike with a guide, since it is a pretty active volcano. They monitor it and will know if it’s going to start spurting rocks out or not (oh yeah, she does that instead of lava!)

**Just a quick note-- this hike can be done in combination with the sand boarding at Cerro Negro, you’ll be camping!**

It’s about $50 for the overnight trip and about $40 for the basic sunset hike.

5. Dine at El Mirador

I’ve included this below too in the party section, but it deserves it’s own place on the list of things to do in Leon. This restaurant/bar offers a viewpoint and a great sunset spot.

The food is cheap and delicious, I had a burger and a sharing platter. The cocktail, wine and beer are all cheap and great!

They play loud music and it’s always busy (which is a good sign!) It’s open late too, which is rare for some restaurants in the area.

It’s a great place to go with friends for a few drinks, or with your partner for a sunset dinner and to play some cards.

6. Head to the beach

If you fancy escaping the streets of Leon, then you can easily head to the coast in just 30 minutes.

There are various spots up and down the coast that have lots of great restaurants, places to relax, and places to surf if you wish!

Lots of tour companies also offer day trips and shuttles to and from the beach, but the chicken buses are also a decent and cheap (safe too- at least for me) way to get around.

cerro negro volcano

7. Party, party, party!

Leon isn't party central, but there a lot of great bars to have a few too many drinks, and do a little dance.

Via Via is the place to be on a Friday as they play live music and serve cheap drinks and good food (I can vouch for great wine)

El Mirador: This is one of the best places to eat in Leon too btw. Great food at great prices and it’s filled with uni students just wanting to have a good time!

Bigfoot Hostel: If you’ve been speaking to any backpackers who have been to Leon before, then you’ll probably have heard of this hostel. It’s reputation is well known.

They do lots of party drinking games like beer pong, and some form of lava shot challenge (good luck!) A good place to meet other backpackers. (Unfortunately not my scene anymore!)

8. Visit the contemporary art museum

Leon is a city famed for its poets and artists, so it makes perfect sense to visit the museum of contemporary art.

Plus, it’s a way to hide from the searing heat (Leon is the second hottest city in Nicaragua), and it’s only $2 so won’t break the bank.

9. Take a Nicaraguan cooking class

Nicaraguan cuisines is very BBQ, rice and bean based, but it’s got lots of flavour. Why not learn a new skill and new cuisine whilst in Leon.

You can then cook for your family and friends back home and recreate your favourite dishes when you’re missing Nicaragua (which you will!)

main plaza leon

10. Visit the museum of the revolution

After you’ve checked out the murals and street art of the Revolution, you can find out more from locals who have experienced.

It’s $2 entrance to the museum and you will see and be given lots of amazing and fascinating information.

This is one of the important things to do in Leon!  

11. Volcano boarding down Cerro Negro

Seriously the BEST thing to do in Leon, Nicaragua. How many people can stay they have “surfed” down a volcano!? No, not many, and you can be one of them. Here is all you need to know:

  • Book through a tour agency, we used Nica Time as they were cheapest at $21 (plus park entrance fee) and it included video footage and photos of us boarding, and a drink at a bar afterwards! Plus the tour guide is amazing and informative.
  • You head to the park in the morning, and you begin to climb. It takes about 1 hour because it’s REALLY steep.
  • You have to carry your own board up, and this is harder than it sounds.
  • You can get help carrying your board by a local guy for about $4. I ended up paying this half way up because I am not ashamed to say I was struggling in the heat and my blood sugars!
  • Most tours simply ascend and descend, but our tour guide did something extra and took us into the crater which was awesome because we got to see the steam coming out, feel how hot it was and learn more about the volcano!
  • Cerro Negro is an active volcano and it’s the second youngest volcano in the world
  • It’s EXTREMELY windy once you reach the top, so be careful
  • It’s safe, and it looks much worse (steep wise) than it is
  • You change into the right clothes, you get gloves, goggles and you should bring an extra t-shirt to cover your face as ash hits up.
  • You can control the speed, and stop it mid-way (don’t panic)
  • You dig your feet into the ground and lean forward to go slow, and lean back to go fast. If you want to hit 70 mph, then put your feet up, but do NOT put them back down.
  • It’s so much fun and when you’re doing it, you’ll be thinking to yourself “Am I actually sliding down an active volcano?” yes you are.
  • Don’t forget to pose for your action photo!
  • You can wear a gopro too for even more fun.
  • There are only 2 places in the world you can volcano board: Nicaragua and Chile!

So, definitely do volcano boarding! It’s one of the best things to do in Leon and you’d be silly not too.

Ps, you will be finding volcano ash in your hair, body, clothes, everything for days, not matter how much you wash! Haha

You can book a volcano boarding tour online here.

voolcano boarding in leon
At the bottom! Look at the ash!
entrance to the volcano nationl park

12. Climb the highest volcano in Nicaragua

Okay, last volcano thing, but I can’t help it, Nicaragua has a lot of volcanoes!

Leon is home to the highest volcano in the country: San Cristobal

Coming in at a height of 1,745 m (5,725 ft), it’s a steep climb and one you should probably have a basic fitness level for.

It takes about 4 hours to hike up and you’ll be greeted with stunning views. It’s also an active volcano, so expect smelly sulphur again!

We didn’t hike this volcano, because well, I had no desire and I’ve pretty much completed my volcano bucket list: climbing volcano for sunrise, see a crater lake, climbing volcano for volcano boarding, seeing magma. I’m all good!

It’s about $60 for the tour.

volcano trekking leon

Day trips from Leon Nicaragua

If you’re simply on holiday in Leon and don’t have the time (or just don’t want to) explore the rest of the country, then there are a couples of great day trips you can take from Leon!

The Coast of Las Penitas: Want to relax by the beach and swim in the sea? Then make your way to Las Penitas. It’s only 30 minutes from Leon, so you can get a taxi, shuttle, or get the chicken bus to the coast!

It’s easy to head here in the morning and chill by the sea, dine at the restaurants and have a few cocktails.

There is accommodation down there too if you decide you want to spend the night.

Colonial Granada: When you think of Nicaragua, you often think of Granada and it’s beautiful colonial buildings, bright colours and volcanoes!

A day trip to Granada is a great choice.

Leave early in the morning (it takes 2.5 hours to get there) and you can explore the town, grab some lunch, enjoy cocktails that cost 70 pence each (I’m not joking), then in the evening you can head up to the Masaya volcano an see REAL LIFE LAVA.

A day trip to remember!

Tour agencies in Leon offer many day trips to Granada. Negotiate a good price.

Getting around Leon

Nicaragua doesn't have Uber, or ride sharing apps (actually, there is one in Managua the capital), so that means you’ll be using bikes, legs and taxis to get around Leon.

Thankfully most of the sights in Leon are within walking distance, and if you’re heading somewhere outside of Leon, you’ll be most likely on a tour that will have your transport provided.

They use little bikes with seats...like a rickshaw, type of device and they’re very cheap to use and get around. (Tip) if you are getting the Tica bus to Leon, the point where they drop you off is about 10 minutes outside the tourist area, and a rickshaw will cost you around $3 for 2 people.

Taxis will try to rip you off, so negotiate hard.

leoon nicaragua

Is Nicaragua safe?

Yes. We are all aware of the political protests and political situation that has been going on in Nicaragua since 2018. However, these protests (Even when they were happening), did not affect tourists.

So it’s kind of like me saying, don’t go to England because of protests against Brexit. However, the government in Brexit don’t kill people for protesting, so yano.

But, the protests are not happening (as they have been declared illegal) and Nicaragua continues to be the safest country in Central America.

They people are super friendly, you can use buses, hang around at night and not feel unsafe.

Don’t get involved in protests, handle drugs, flash your expensive items, or walk around alone at night (or drunk) and you will be fine!

We didn’t have a single issue in Nicaragua, and it’s a fantastic country that holds a special place in my heart. It’s truly one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited, and if you decide not to go, then you are seriously missing out!

Where to stay in Leon Nicaragua

Leon has lots of choice when it comes to hotels and hostels. Below I’ve listed my top 4 hotels in Leon based on quality and location!

The list also includes where we stayed, which was actually excellent!

  1. Via Via: We stayed here and it’s probably the most buzzing place in the area. Great rooms, great food, drinks and staff and it’s cheap!
  2. Hotel El Convento: A more luxury option and perfect for couples or families. Good location, beautiful rooms, swimming pool and breakfast.
  3. Poco A Poco Hostel: This one is great for backpackers! Great building, great vibe, good place to meet other people and aircon in the dorms.
  4. Guesthouse El Nancite:  This beautiful guest house is in a great location, highly rated and beautifully decorated.

You can find all hotels in Leon here.

My Leon, Nicaragua packing list

To help ensure you’re fully prepared for your trip to Leon, I’ve provided a little packing list!

Shorts: It gets super warm in Leon, like super warm, so you will want to stay cool.

Suncream: Again the sun is powerful, so stay protected!

Bug Spray: Bugs come out at night (mosquitoes I am looking at you) and they bite….they bite you even more if you have pale Irish skin like me…

Lonely Planet Guide to Nicaragua: In case you want more tips and information for the rest of your trip.

Decent shoes: You will be walking on cobbled streets and you don’t want to fall. I wear sketchers go walk shoes on all my travels.

A tripod: for when you want solo pics and couples pics

A good camera: I use a Canon G7X Mark II if you’re interested. It’s a decent point and shoot (if you don’t want to carry lots of lenses with you) and it’s a great vlogging and video recording camera.

Go Pro: For volcano boarding of course, also useful for surfing in Leon too! 

Memory cards: Always carry more than you need! 

volcano boarding in leon

Where to after Leon Nicaragua?  

If Leon is your first stop: Then you can either head to Granada or San Juan Del Sur. We visited San Juan Del Sur and worked our way backwards as a loop in the country, because we were going back to El Salvador.

But if you’re planning on heading through to Costa Rica, then head to Granada first and work your way around from there.

You can add the Corn islands in half way through!

If Leon is your last stop: If Leon is your final stop on your Nicaragua itinerary, then you can head into El Salvador.

El Salvador is often skipped due to “danger”, but it’s just as safe as Nicaragua and there are so many amazing things to do in El Salvador. You can read about them here.

But, if not, you can also get transport into Guatemala easy!

So there you have it, I hope you’ve enjoyed my list of the 12 brilliant things to do in Leon. It kind of turned into a bit of a Leon travel guide, but sure, the more information the better!

If you think there is anything I should add the list, or you want to tell me about your experience in beautiful Leon, then drop me a comment below :)

Happy travelling!

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