We were quite excited about exploring the city of León, Nicaragua. León has long been considered the political and intellectual center of the nation. Laying claim to some of the countries most important poets and musicians as well as some of Nicaragua’s most beautiful historical buildings, it is also home to the revolution that shaped the Nicaragua we know today.
So what should you do with one day in León, Nicaragua? Take a city tour of course!
We headed out with Danny from Tierra Tours to explore this exciting historical city. Danny, all of 23 years of age had a knowledge of this city akin to someone much older than his years, he also showed the same passion for his countries past and more importantly, it’s future that we had seen throughout Nicaragua.
First stop Barrio Sutiava. The Sutiava tribe were the first people to settle León long before the Spanish conquered the area. The Sutiava neighborhood is still recognised for its large indigenous population, it’s cultural and historical significance and is also home to León’s oldest church, San Juan Bautista Sutiava. This is the only remaining church, although now rendered on the outside, built entirely from timber.
Large murals painted by young teenagers as part of a local initiative depict the neighborhoods history, traditions, beliefs and its future. It’s hard to believe these murals were painted by children averaging 12 years old.
Leaving Sutiva we head to one of the less known sites in León, a fort that overlooks the city. Constructed around the late 30’s, early 40’s the site was instrumental in the civil war. Left to neglect and used as a garbage dump, it has recently been cleared and work is being done to restore the site to acknowledge its importance to the city’s history and the heroes that fought for the revolution.
The part of the city tour we had been waiting for, the iconic Cathedral of León, or the Basilica Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This important and historic landmark of Nicaragua has been awarded UNESCO status and rightly so. Built over a period of 67 years, ending in 1814 and consecrated by Pope Pius IX in 1860 this magnificent building still maintains the status of being the largest cathedral in Central America. Our first impressions of this imposing structure was when we went to purchase our tickets to climb to the roof. An incredible room at the back of the cathedral filled with religious statues and church relics in various states of repair.
Then climbing onto the roof where restoration is taking place, we got a whole new perspective on this rain stained historical monolith. 34 domes cover the cathedral creating a whole different perspective from above.
León is known as being the second hottest city in Central America, in complete contrast to the street below, the roof was so cool, clean and quiet. Imagine an oasis above you in the hustle of a busy city.
Like the Granada Cathedral, you will also find tunnels leading to other churches in the region, with 5 known access points and 2 secret (well, to the public at least). One of the known tunnels runs a distance of 15 km. These tunnels also house crypts, designed to serve as earthquake shelters, they now hold the remains of 27 people including Bishops and some of Nicaragua’s most celebrated poets and musicians. Many of the churches most precious commodities were also funnelled out through these tunnels when Nicaragua was under threat from pirates. At certain times you may find some of the tunnels open to the public, unfortunately, they were closed while we were there.
Every aspect of this cathedral, whether standing on the roof or admiring the facade, you will be overwhelmed with how intricately beautiful and historically intriguing this building is.
Across the plaza though you will find the real heroes of Nicaragua. At the Museum of the Revolution, there are tours led by a group of men who fought to bring peace and opportunity to this amazing country.
The museum is still being put together, a work in progress by the men who fought. For a small fee, one of those men will walk you through the history saved and tell you the story of the civil war and revolution as they lived it.
Unlike most countries, these men receive no pension or compensation for the contribution they made to their country. Some had guns handed to them at the age of 16 and can show you photos of their younger selves in the museum. They now only have one of the most important stories of their country to tell.
As you walk around León you will notice murals all over the city that depict the civil war and the revolution, it is testament to the importance of what took place both here in Nicaragua and León.
If you want to get a true appreciation and understanding of León, a city tour is the way to get it. To understand León is to have a greater understanding of Nicaragua. So much of the cities history was pivotal in the shaping of the beautiful country Nicaragua is today.
Want the facts on backpacking in Nicaragua? Check out this great Nicaragua Travel Guide
Tierra Tours in León run the León City Tours twice daily at 9.00am & 2.00pm. Cost is $20 – $25 USD pp depending on numbers. Duration 3 hrs.
Tours include transportation, entrance fees and bilingual guide.
Tierra Tours operate tours all through Nicaragua offering a wide range of high quality tourism experiences.
We would like to thank Tierra Tours for assisting us while in Nicaragua, as always, all opinions expressed in this review are our own and have not been influenced in any way.