It didn’t happen. It’s not that I didn’t like León — I just didn’t love it. It might have been that I had just a few days left in my month in Nicaragua, and so I didn’t give myself enough time to suss out its hidden gems. It might have been that I was stressed about work and rushing to get everything complete before going offline for ten days in El Salvador. It might have been the night that I was walking home alone and a man followed me on a bicycle and grabbed me, not once but twice, after circling the block to come back a second time, terrifying me and causing me to lose my beloved Clearly Filtered Water Bottle in the ensuing scuffle.
Or it might have just not been my favorite place ever. All are distinct possibilities. However, I can’t deny it was pretty.
Detractors of Granada tend to tout León as the more “real” city, and it certainly does have a heavy dose of urban grit.
But it also had the most refined dose of culture I found in all of Nicaragua, in the form of the Museo de Arte Ortiz Gurdián Foundation. Hailed by Lonely Planet as the “finest contemporary art museum in all of Central America,” I wondered if anywhere could live up to such hype.
It could. After paying my whopping $1 admission fee, I realized that I was stumbling into a tastefully curated Picasso exhibit. Picasso! In an empty Nicaraguan museum where a docent follows you around flipping the lights on and off as you enter and exit, I had a Picasso exhibit all to myself.
Art museums always make me nostalgic for my Pratt days, which is kind of ironic because there are times when I would have personally set fire to the Mona Lisa if it meant I never had to look at another Renaissance painting on a flash card ever again. Yet years later, in León, wandering this museum was the most memorable part of my stay.
On my final afternoon in León, I made my way to the city’s most famous attraction, the Basílica de la Asunción. Like so many other churches in León, it has a beautiful facade and an impressive interior. But the real highlight of this cathedral is, literally, up high.
Stepping onto the roof of the cathedral, I was suddenly transported to Santorini. Though the sun was low in the sky, I actually had to throw on my shades — it was literally blindingly white up there! I lingered for ages, snapping dozens of photos, soaking up the views, and reveling in the unique beauty of the architecture.
I spent four nights in León, and I was ready to go when that was up, mostly because I had run out of dining options that interested me and was craving the coast again. Had I not been working, I would have loved to spend my days there taking a cooking class, touring the nearby Ron de Caña factory, or heading to the nearby beach. Alas, I had time for just one activity, and I went for the classic — volcano boarding (you’ll read more about that soon!)
León may not have won me over, but I certainly don’t regret my days there — especially the side trips to Spain and Greece.
Have you been to Nicaragua?
Were you more of a Granada or a León lover?
Where I stayed: I stayed in a dorm at Lazy Bones for $8 a night. I loved the pool and the many sitting areas but I didn’t like that there was no kitchen available to guests or that all common area lights were non-negotiably shut off at 10pm, leaving me to work late in the pitch black. That said, I was able to sweet talk the staff into letting me keep yogurt in the refrigerator and I managed to sneakily make oatmeal every morning using the hot water put out for tea.
Where I ate: Honestly, I wasn’t crazy about anywhere I ate in León. I trekked across town on a steaming hot day following a rumor of healthy meals on offer at CocinArte, but when I arrived there was a tour bus sitting down to a meal and they refused to serve me. Not impressed.
How I got there: There are $25 shuttles available from San Juan del Sur, taking about four hours.