León is the former capital of Nicaragua, and is situated in the most volcanic region in Central America – a chain of ten volcanoes stretching all the way to the border with El Salvador.
León was founded in 1524 by Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba, and was capital from the colonial period until Managua took over in 1857. Despite no longer being the administrative capital, León remains the artistic, intellectual and revolutionary capital of Nicaragua.
During the Nicaraguan revolution virtually the entire town fought against the corrupt, US-supported dictator Somoza – and the murals around town bear witness to the city’s revolutionary leanings.
León’s cathedral is the largest in Central America – and well worth a visit. There’s also a decent collection of galleries and museums, including the incredibly impressive Fundacion Ortiz containing a great selection of both European masters and Latin American art, as well as some very interesting pre-Columbian ceramics.
León captivated me. It’s hard to explain quite how, but the place felt immensely rich culturally, and the people passionate and strong.
On my second day in León I headed to the beach – about 20kms away, or an hour by bus. I had almost the entire beach to myself, but thanks to the fiery hot sand and midday sun (this place was HOT!), I hid away in a restaurant just watching the sea, before returning to town for another dinner of the traditional Gallo Pinto (rice and bean mix) for dinner.
Map of Leon and Nicaragua