With a population of around 200, 000 people León is Nicaragua’s second largest city. For most travellers this colonial city is a stop over or can be base camp for day trips.
Volcano boarding is an adventure but don’t expect an amazing thrill. Honestly, it’s more of a volcano hike, a few seconds sliding down the side of Cerro Negro, an active volcano then a week of washing volcanic ash and rocks from your hair. However, this is the one place in the world that offers it. It’s worth it for those that want to check it off their ‘random crazy things I did in Central America’ list. Bigfoot hostel makes it worth your $31 + $5 park entrance as they provide you with free snacks and alcohol after the trip. The guides are funny and eager to take pictures of you even if your sweaty ass is slowing up the climb for the rest of the crew.
Cathedrals, churches, and chapels
Aside from volcano boarding, León is rich in both monuments and historical places. Some architectural monuments include: Cathedrals, churches, and chapels. Also in León, are more churches, cathedrals and chapels. I recommend going to the top of the main cathedral, the view is worth the $1 entrance fee. Actually, its very beautiful and a must do if you’re there. Plus, you’ll get to pass the churches and chapels on your way there. You can’t miss it, it’s the largest building in the middle of town.
The nightlife in León is fairly exciting. Hostel crowds are their usual drunk, sloppy, and a little bit whoo-hoo crazy. Unless there is a band in town, you won’t be walking over knocked out drunks as you would in San Juan Del Sur. The party here depends mostly on your crowd and friends. A lot of hostels have cheap drinks, drinking games.
Beaches: Las Peñitas & Poneloya
Las Peñitas & Poneloya are both about a half hour drive from León, while Poneloya is a little more out of the way and less touristy, there is however, a very popular hostel right on the beach. Surfing turtle lodge offers volleyball, a turtle hatchery and bar and restuarant. Las Peñitas on the other hand has a beach hostel as part of the Bigfoot hostel chain. Here you can surf, drink copious amounts of alcohol, meet great people, wake up and do it all again. Every few nights there is a big party where tourists staying in León (usually at the Bigfoot there) come to the beach to get very drunk. The music is loud and if you have an early morning or don’t want to party, it’s not the place to be. Other options in Las Piñatas include hotels which start at around $25 per night.
Like a lot of traditional Nicaraguan towns, León locals are big fans of cockfighting. Every Sunday, cockfights are organised for locals, by locals. Now, I don’t agree with or want to recommend this, but it is a huge part of local culture, tradition and bonding here which you won’t find in a lot of the tourist hubs of León.
If you’re lucky, you’ll visit León during a festival. I arrived in time for the Celebration of San Jeronimo. Groups of people with drums and fireworks filled the streets in front of the Cathedral. Each group would have an El Toro Guaco, or Huaco, which is a wooden bull mask and body. Rallied by his team, the bull would charge at people who would then charge back or run away. At first glance it is confusing and intimidating, but once you realise that the mobs of people waving sticks in the air are only intoxicated by the lively atmosphere you’ll want to join the fun. The fun extends all the way into the Cathedral where they bring out a statue of San Jeronimo, the parade then continues down the street. If you’re not there on September 29th or 30th, and you’ve grow tired of ever changing prices of the ‘cheap’ street food that is more expensive than the restaurants, consider a trip to amazing Salinas Grande. A hidden surfing beach just 40 minutes out of León.
León's cathedrals, beaches, festivals and volcanos with a good group of friends in a cool hostel made this city a special place. León's rich culture and history permeates the buildings, streets and people. Local life is bustling but with a Western twist.