Leon, Nicaragua is one of my favourite places!
It's the second largest city in the country, and is full of personality, charm, and wonderful people.
Whether you're looking to learn about the revolution or visit the largest cathedral in Central America, there's something for everyone!
Leon is usually either the first or last stop on a backpacking Nicaragua itinerary, due to its location. Whatever way you decide to visit, just make sure you spend plenty of time here!
If you want to find out more about the great things to do in Leon (Nicaragua), then keep reading!
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 is one of the most well known bus companies in the region. They offer buses up and down Central America, so it's likely you've already heard of them.
It’s convenient because you can book online!
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 conditions are decent on the highways and generic roads, so it’s not a bad way to get around!
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 most likely be 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.
Read Also: Where To Stay In Leon
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 excellent!
You can find a full rundown of the best hotels in Leon here.
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 and a few things that friends of ours did, as unfortunately we missed out on a couple of the attractions.
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.
As you wander through the city you'll get to see art depicting the repression of the 1950s and the period of unrest that came after the assassination of the president in 1956!
This continued until 1979 when the country was finally liberated.
Marvelling at this street art is one of the most iconic things to do in Leon, and isn't something you want to miss.
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 won't be so just keep this in mind when you book.
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.
One of the BEST options is the 'Original Free Walking Tour' which attracts tourists from all over the world. The tour leader speaks very good English and is great at showing you Leon's hidden gems.
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 the surroundings views for $2- this is easily one of the best things to do in Leon.
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 Saturday and 2pm to 4pm on Sundays.
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!
It's a steep 1 hour accent to the top, and then you'll stop for lunch before checking for lava (it’s only visible if it’s clear). At a height of 1000m (3,481 feet) -it's quite the challenge.
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 again it's 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 too (which smells like eggs), since it’s active.
It’s also important to do this hike with a guide, since it's 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!**
If you're looking to add this experience to your itinerary then take a look at this fantastic Telica sunset tour! It includes your entrance fees, transport to and from the volcano, and a guide.
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 budget-friendly too 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.
So make sure you head to El Mirador!
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.
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.
Leon isn't party central, but there a lot of great bars to have a few too many drinks, and do a little dance.
Leon is a city famed for its poets and artists, so it makes perfect sense to visit the museum of contemporary art (or the Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Gurdián as it's often known).
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.
This museum houses artwork from a variety of eras including Baroque, contemporary, and the Renaissance so there's a lot to see.
There are four houses in total here, and each one was built between the 18th and 19th century. Today however, they're used to house the museum's impressive collection.
If you've only got a limited amount of time in Leon then I'd still recommend popping in here!
Nicaraguan cuisine 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!)
There are plenty of cooking classes to choose from in the city so just make sure you shop around and look for the best deal.
You'll find that many tour operators in Leon also offer this experience, although they may charge more than a local business.
Either way, this is one of the top things to do in Leon and isn't an activity you should miss!
After you’ve checked out the murals and street art of the Revolution, you can find out more from the locals who experienced this turbulent time.
It’s $2 to enter the Museum of the Revolution so won't break the bank and you'll be given lots of fascinating information.
This museum will take you on a journey of the revolutions most important figures, and you'll get to learn about how the people fought for their country.
With books, memorabilia, and photographs, you'll get to see a firsthand account of the revolution and how it affected the local people.
This is one of the most important things to do in Leon!
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:
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, no matter how much you wash! Haha
You can book a volcano boarding tour online here.
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.
Although there are endless things to do in Leon, sometimes it's a good idea to just take a step back and simply wander around.
You can do this by exploring the local markets as there are plenty of them!
However, the most popular market to visit is Mercado Central which has been recently renovated. You'll find it just across the street from the cathedral so it's easy to spot.
This market is the perfect place to grab fresh produce including fruit and vegetables, although you'll find plenty of other tasty treats too.
During your time exploring the market I'd recommend grabbing a coconut water to cool down, and then head to the sweet vendors. Trust me - you won't regret it!
If you've got some spare time in Leon and you're a fan of rum, then I've got the perfect activity for you!
Flore de Cana Rum Factory is located just before the city of Chinandega and tours run straight from Leon.
Nicaragua as a whole is known for its rum, but this factory offers something special.
The rum here is sustainably produced and is distilled using 100% renewable energy. So not only will you be drinking delicious rum, but you won't be harming the planet either - what a combination!
This is one of the more unique things to do in Nicaragua so I'd definitely recommend including it in your itinerary.
If you're a keen dancer or you're looking for a bit of fun then I recommend learning how to salsa!
Although it can be difficult to learn, you'll find plenty of classes and dance schools throughout the city.
The teaches are all authorised and offer an enjoyable teaching environment where you can truly let loose!
Whether you're a complete beginner or you have experience salsa dancing, this dance school offers lessons for every level.
Chinandega is just a 50-minute drive from Leon and although it's not the most popular of destinations in Nicaragua, it's definitely worth the visit.
This is where the iconic Flor de Cana Rum Factory is located that I just mentioned which is worth a visit on its own!
However, during your time in Chinandega you should also visit the Chorotega-Nicarao Museum, Parroquia Santa Ana, and Plaza Santa Ana.
The best way to travel between the two cities is by bus as it's incredibly cheap. You can opt for a private transfer or taxi but you'll be paying a lot more.
Or, if you're heading out on a tour of Flor de Cana Rum Factory your transport there will be included and then it's just a short journey to Chinandega.
Managua is the capital of Nicaragua and has so much to offer!
It's just a 1.5 journey from Leon so you can easily visit on a day trip if you're itinerary is already jam-packed.
Managua is one of the largest cities in Central America so naturally, you'll find plenty of fantastic places to visit here.
This includes the scenic waterfront, Managua Cathedral, and Revolution Square.
The city is located on the beautiful Lake Managua so you'll want to allow some time to simply relax and enjoy the scenic views.
Here's some more information on the best things to do in Managua if you're planning a trip there!
When you think of Nicaragua, you often think of Granada and it’s beautiful colonial buildings, bright colours and volcanoes!
I'd 100% recommend taking a day trip out to Granada if you don't think that you're going to have time to stay there.
For the best experience you'll want to leave early in the morning as it takes 2.5 hours to get there.
Once, you've arrived you can explore the town, grab some lunch, and enjoy cocktails that cost 70 pence each (I’m not joking)!
You'll find plenty of awesome things to do in Granada like taking a walking tour, exploring Parque Central de Granada, and visiting Granada Cathedral.
Then in the evening you can head up to the Masaya volcano and see REAL LIFE LAVA, to end this epic day!
Tour agencies in Leon offer many day trips to Granada, but you'll need to negotiate a good price.
Read Also: How To Plan The Perfect Trip
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!
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.
Like many other cities in Nicaragua, Leon is extremely cheap. You'll find plenty of fantastic hostels in the city and lots of cheap food options too.
You won't have to break the bank when visiting attractions or heading out on tours either.
For the best experience, you'll want to allow yourself a budget of at least $30-40 a day. This allows you enough for a cheap dorm bed, food, and activities.
You'll find plenty of fantastic tours in Leon if you'd prefer to have a guided experience. One of the best options is this private walking tour which will dive into the city's culture and history. You'll have an awesome guide with you at all times and they'll take you to some of the best spots in Leon!
You'll also find plenty of tour operators in Leon who will offer excursions to popular destinations outside of the city.
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!
Useful video: Check out our backpacking Central America travel video
To help ensure you’re fully prepared for your trip to Leon, I’ve provided a little packing list!
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.
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 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 :)