We decided to spend two nights in Leon en route to Jiquilillo and I’m so glad we did! It is a beautiful city with heaps of gorgeous buildings and good food to boot. There are lots of activities both inside and outside of the city, but since we only had one full day we focused our efforts on exploring what was close by. Here are a few of our highlights.
I won’t dwell on this, since I wrote a pretty comprehensive post on our travels from Utila to Leon via Lake Yojoa. That post will give you a good idea of how to arrive if you’re coming from Honduras. If you’re coming from within Nicaragua, there will be chicken buses galore ready to take you 😉
Where to Stay in Leon
We didn’t book anything in advance, but knew we wanted to stay close to the bus terminal – we were anticipating being dropped at the Ticabus terminal shown below, and knew all roads out of Leon were from the other bus terminal shown below. For this reason, we were hoping to stay at Blue Hat. It looked really nice, but as it turns out they didn’t have any private rooms and so we wandered down to another hostel I had starred – El Albergue – which ended up being a fine choice. And at $48 US for two nights, we weren’t complaining.
Leon is pretty small, so even though we opted to stay a bit north everything was still in walking distance.
What to Do in Leon
You can easily spend a whole afternoon wandering around Leon, snapping pictures of the beautiful buildings and eating great food. Though we didn’t do any excursions, this is also a popular destination for volcano boarding which can easily be arranged through any hostel for around $30 US.
Visit Our Lady of Grace Cathedral
The highest thing on my list was to visit this gorgeous cathedral. Beyond its beauty, it is the largest in all of Central America and one of the most famous due to its unique architecture – it has withstood many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which is quite a feat. The thing I loved most about this cathedral is its white facade; so different from the colourful buildings all around it.
We arrived at 8:00am, as we had read you can access the roof at that time. We walked around and through the church for some time before trying to ask someone (sidenote: knowing a little Spanish goes a long way in Central America!). We learned that you can access the roof beginning at 8:40am, and we had to buy tickets from a small office around the back of the church so we walked around the market and grabbed a coffee while we waited.
Sure enough, at 8:40am (a strange time, if you ask me), we saw two tourists outside a small door at the back of the church along with several men working there (and wearing yellow t-shirts). We bought our tickets ($2.90 US each) and were instructed to walk around the side of the building to enter – the walkup to the bell tower.
We were given a quick briefing (you must carry your shoes, don’t stand on the domes, do not sit or lean on the domes, etc.) and were on our way. You have a half hour to explore, though I’m not sure how strongly this would be enforced.
The roof is nothing short of stunning – the bright white contrasting against the blue sky. We couldn’t believe that it was only us and one other couple walking around! I’m not sure how well it is advertised that you can see the roof so perhaps it is still a hidden gem in Leon? Either way, I insisted we have a full-on photoshoot.
Can you blame me? 😉
Eat at Kiss Me Ice Cream
Ok, ok – shouldn’t this go in the ‘What to Eat?’ section of this post? Yes, perhaps. But going to this Kiss Me was an experience in itself (a very basic thing to say, yes) and if you only had a few hours in Leon going here, along with the roof of the cathedral, would be my top recommendations.
We came here around lunchtime and it basically did us in for the rest of the day – which is probably a good thing because we pretty much blew both our lunch and dinner budget in one quick hit! Nah, maybe not that crazy but also not cheap for Central America. Two double scoops with the homemade waffle cone ran us $11 US. But look how happy I am about it!
Where to Eat in Leon
Though going to Kiss Me killed our lunch and dinner plans for the rest of the day, we did manage to get in a breakfast and dinner on our first night.
We arrived to Leon pretty much starving, since it had been a full day of travelling with just a banana as breakfast/lunch. I was getting hangry and James was immediately tasked with where to find dinner – the fast the better! He settled on El Bodegón which was less than 10 minutes from our hostel (as was the case with most places).
The way the menu works is that you pick a protein, and then how you would like it served. I chose fish tostadas and James chose pork quesadilla. The food was good, the portions were enormous (we could have easily split one meal) and it tasted fresh.
With two cocktails, our dinner ran about $20 US.
Breakfast at El Desayunazo
El Desayunazo is one of the top spots to grab breakfast in the city. If you’re looking for a relatively cheap and typical Nica breakfast it’s a great option.
One of these is bound to leave you feeling full for hours! Eggs, plantain, gallo pinto (rice and beans), queso and a tortilla all for $5 US including a drink.
Though I cannot attest to it, we had planned to try BBQ behind the cathedral for dinner the day we went to Kiss Me. It is meant to be delicious and reasonably priced but we were still too stuffed to even consider it! Next time we visit, it will definitely be on my list.
Have you visited Leon? What were your highlights? Let me know in the comments below.