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Leon Viejo, Nicaragua’s accursed first capital, was destroyed by forces of nature and haunted by its notorious past. Fortunately, Leon was rebuilt and today survives as one of Central America’s finest colonial cities. The spiritual home of Nicaragua’s greatest poets, Leon is the artistic and intellectual heart of the country – and since 1979, a hotbed of Sandinista activity. A wealth of satirical murals, commemorative sites, bombed-out ruins and bullet-marked buildings are evidence of Leon’s turbulent revolutionary past.Read more
Today, the city’s student population lends it a youthful edge and a vibrant nightlife. After a day pounding the streets, you can relax in one of the city’s many bars, drink a beer, chat politics with the locals and take in a rousing live music performance.
The crumbling old Spanish city of Leon is full of intellectual vitality and artistic tradition; a place to unravel Nicaragua’s past and glimpse its future. The colonial capital has fine examples of old Spanish architecture and it is full to the brim with students from all over the country who come to study in its fine secondary schools and universities. With a dozen colonial churches and Central America’s largest cathedral, this fervently Catholic city is home to some of Nicaragua’s most beautiful religious celebrations and traditions. Despite the sweltering year-round heat of the Leon valley, the city enjoys an advantageous position set between the ruggedly majestic Maribios Volcanoes to the east and the crashing surf of the warm Pacific Ocean to the west.
The simplest and richest pleasure in the city is walking its historic streets, noting the infinite variety of colonial doors, ceiling work and window irons as well as sneaking peeks inside the grand houses to see their lush interior gardens. Though damaged in 1685, 1844 and 1979, Leon has retained much more of its colonial Spanish structural and design flavour than the oft-burned Granada. Reason enough to visit Leon are its many curious and beautiful churches: the city has more than a dozen of them, including the cathedral, Central America’s grandest church.
Beyond the city, the departments of Leon and Chinandega enjoy miles of Pacific coastline accented by beaches, barrier islands and coastal lagoons.