León [dead link] is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. It was founded in 1524 on a different site and moved here in 1610. With colonial splendor, it is the intellectual center of Nicaragua, renowned for its university, old churches, fine museums, revolutionary history and student life. It is also the home town of two of the finest poets in the Spanish language, Rubén Darío and Alfonso Cortés.
The core of León is its Central Park (Parque Central) with the adjoining cathedral, and most important sights can be found within a 10-minute walk from there. From the perspective of the Central Park, the city’s lively commercial area is in the northeastern quadrant, where you will find the banks, most stores, the two municipal markets behind the cathedral and the San Juan church respectively, as well as many hotels and restaurants. This is also where the main bus station is located, serving all destinations except the Pacific Ocean beaches. The more quiet cultural part of the city is in the northwestern and southwestern quadrants, and here you will find the university, the municipal theater, the cultural center, the park of the poets, the old monastery and the majority of the museums. The southeastern quadrant is home to the hospital, and it is the least interesting quadrant from a tourist perspective. The major exception to this general outline is a cluster of bars and restaurants one block west of the Central Park.
Fourteen blocks west of the cathedral is the center of Sutiava, which is older than Leon, and which used to be an independent town populated by indigenous Americans. It still has its own cultural flavor and traditions. Here you will find the Suitava church and central square, a couple of museums, some old church ruins, a small municipal market and the bus station for the Pacific Ocean beaches.
León is named after León, Spain. The original León was closer to Lake Managua (also known under its indigenous name Xolotlán) but evacuated after volcanic activity rendered it uninhabitable. Although the city (including some of the dead in the cemeteries and some of the saints in the churches) was moved almost entirely some ruins can still be seen of León viejo. After independence, the elites of León and Granada struggled over which city would be the capital, ultimately leading to civil war and Granada being burned down by liberal aligned filibuster William Walker late in 1856. León was dominated by the liberal faction and Granada by the conservatives. The fighting ended when Managua became capital, but Granada conservatives held onto the presidency until the rise of liberal general José Santos Zelaya in 1896.
After Granada, which is better preserved, León has the most colonial architecture in Nicaragua. It is a university town that stubbornly remains somewhat pro-Sandinista. During the 1979 revolution, the Sandinistas took over León in violent street by street fighting. Somoza then had the city bombed, after he lost it, which cost him a lot of sympathies because the bombs hit civilians and fighters alike. The National Guard took León back over, again in street by street fighting, but this time less intense since the Sandinistas melted away. Finally, the Sandinistas took León back over and held it until the Somoza government fell. You can still see bullet marks on some buildings. Also, there is a shell of a church on the road out of town that was destroyed during the bombing. Across the street from this church is the Museo de los Mitos y Leyendas Tradiciones (Museum of Myths and Legends), which prominently displays a statute of a Sandinista guerrilla holding a handmade bomb. Some sarcastically call it the Museo de las Traiciones (Museum of the Treasons) as a reference to how the Sandinista rank and file has been cheated by Daniel Ortega and the rest of the Sandinista elite.
León used to be the hub of cotton growing but that has declined. The economy is relatively depressed. Tourists have not been a large, visible presence in León, though it is popular among backpackers and as of late, tour groups. Still León sees many fewer tourists than Granada. León still is a university town, filled with students. Backpackers, volunteers and other extranjeros usually meld with local students. During semana santa (Easter week) León and the surrounding beaches of Las Peñitas and Poneloya get packed with Nicas and foreigners alike.
León has more colonial churches and cathedrals than any other place in Nicaragua. If you are still on the church tour, there are thirteen to check out in town.
The current Nicaraguan government has made roads and car travel a priority to a degree that might be surprising given its claims to be socialist and the overall low car ownership rate. This means that major highways in the west - including most that lead to León - are in an excellent state but congestion in Managua is a constant problem getting worse by the day and affecting all travel that can't avoid the city.
From Managua: The best road to León is the Carretera Nueva a León (new road to León), which is about a 90 minute trip from center to center, although more during the Managua rush hour. At Mirador de Mateare (km 30) you can stop by the shore of Lake Managua for some nice views of the Mombotombo and Mombotombito volcanos across the water. If hungry, stop for quesillo and tiste in Nagarote or La Paz Centro. Alternatively, you can take the newly renovated Carretera Vieja a León (old road to León), which is about the same distance with less traffic, but the road has more hills and turns.
From Boaco, Juigalpa, Bluefields, San Carlos and other places to the east of Lake Nicaragua: There are two options. You can either drive to Managua, and then follow the directions above. The roads are good but the Managua rush hour traffic can be bad. Alternatively, when you get to the Panamerican highway in San Benito, make a right instead of a left, and after 6.5 km on that highway, take a left to San Fransisco Libre and continue on to El Tamarindo on the highway that connects León with Estelí and Matagalpa. In El Tamarindo make a left, followed by another left when you reach Telica on the Leon to Chinandega highway. This route is about the same distance as the one over Managua, and it has much less traffic, but, while most of the road is in excellent shape, the 26 kilometers between San Francisco Libre and El Tamarindo is a wide and flat gravel road.
From Estelí, Matagalpa and other places up north: Take the Panamerican Highway to Emplame San Isidro León, which is located 3 km southeast of San Isidro. From there, head southwest on highway No. 26 which is in great shape. When you reach Telica and the highway between León and Chinandega, make a left.
- From Managua: Take the vans leaving from Mercado Israel Lewites or the microbuses (camionetas) leaving from UCA (Universidad Centro Americana). The vans from Mercado Israel Lewites are fifteen-passenger vans that are fairly crowded, but not excessively uncomfortable, particularly when one sits next to a window. Buses run regularly, leaving from the Mercado every 15-20 minutes. Buses leave from La UCA beginning at 4:30am until approx. 9pm. They leave whenever they are full, usually every 15 minutes. The bus from either terminal costs C$46. If you take the bus, make sure to get an expreso - otherwise the bus makes stops to pick up passengers on the side of the road along the way. Direct transportation is available directly from the Managua airport via private van service, up to US$60-$70 one-way.
- From Granada: Take a minivan to Managua UCA station and transfer to another minivan to León. It takes around 4 hours and costs less than C$90.
- From Esteli: There is one direct bus daily. If you miss it, you've got to change in San Isidro on the Panamerican Highway. Mini-van service directly to Leon is also available from Esteli (C$75, 2 hours) but times and availability are not regular, and they will not leave until full.
- From Matagalpa: There are two direct buses running daily, otherwise take a bus to San Isidro and transfer to León.
- From Chinandega: Buses for León depart every 15 minutes.
The León bus terminal is located 1.9 km northeast of the Central Park. If you do not want to make the 20/25 minute walk to the center, take one of the trucks waiting in front of the terminal - which serve as local buses (C$4) - or take a taxi for about C$20 per person.
The city is a great place to walk, and by foot you can easily reach every major tourist attraction except those in Sutiava, which is a bit more of a hike but still doable.
Bicycling is very popular among the locals. Many hotels and hostels offer bike rental around USD10 per day.
Ruletos (trucks) serve as local buses (C$4 per ride). They go from the inter-city bus station in the northeastern part of the town and the municipal market behind the San Juan church, to the center of León. They also go to the municipal market in Sutiava, where buses leave for the beach towns of Las Peñitas and Poneloya.
Taxis are C$20 anywhere in the city before 7pm, C$30 after 7pm. Within the city, you always pay per person and you may share the taxi with other passengers heading in the same direction.
The main attraction in León is the city itself, with its colonial houses and churches, and its vibrant student life. The two specific sights not to miss are the cathedral, with a side visit onto its roof, and the beautiful Ortiz-Gurdián Art Museum.
- 1 León Cathedral (Catedral de León). The biggest cathedral in Central America and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cathedral is the final resting place of the poet Rubén Darío, as well as many other notable Nicaraguans. For a small fee you can climb the stairs up to the roof, where you get a great view of all of León's churches and the surrounding volcanoes. You also get a close-up view of the giant sculptures holding up the cathedral bells; just don't ring them. You can also go into the cellars beneath the cathedral.
- 2 Central Park (Parque Central). A beautiful park with a fountain and lots of shady trees opposite the main cathedral. The park is a great place to people watch as it is packed with families and youth chatting, kids riding their bikes and vendors selling candy and drinks. On the weekends street performers, dancers and musicians may add to the atmosphere.
- 3 Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolucion), Parque Central, Leon (Western side of Central Park.). The museum consists of a room with some displays and artifacts, none of which offer any explanations in English. The most unique aspect of this museum are the old guides, who provide an animated commentary on the beatings, arrests, street fights and assassinations of the revolutionary period, much of which are based on their own experiences. They will be sure to point out a picture of their younger self, rifle and all. NIO50.
- 4 [dead link] Park of the Poets (Parque de los Poetas) (From Central Park NW, 1 block west.). Newly renovated park honoring the major poets of León, including Rubén Darío, Alfonso Cortes, Salomón de la Selva, Azarías Pallais and Antenor Sandino Hernández.
- 5 Ortiz-Gurdián Art Museum (Centro de Arte Fundación Ortiz Gurdián) (From northwest corner of Central Park, two blocks west and 20 meters south). Arguably the finest art museum in Central America, located in four inter-connected colonial houses. Excellent collection of 20th century Nicaraguan and Latin American art, but there is also indigenous, colonial and contemporary Latin American art. The museum also has some European art, including work by Picasso, Chagall and Miró. Even if you hate art, make a visit to enjoy the museums beautiful colonial architecture. C$20 general, C$10 student (with ID).
- 6 Rubén Darío Museum (Museo Archivo Rubén Darío) (From Central Park, three blocks west on Calle de Rubén Darío.). The colonial home of writer and poet Rubén Darío, founder of the modernismo movement in Spanish literature. Pick up some of his poetry; Azul is probably his most famous work.
- 7 San Francisco Church (From Central Park, two blocks west.). Built in 1639, this is one of the oldest churches in Leon, located adjacent to the former Franciscan convent. It has a nice bell tower and a couple of beautiful altarpieces.
- 8 [dead link] Centro Cultural y Museo Rigoberto López Pérez (Casa del Obrero) (From La Merced church, one block west, 1/2 block north.). A beautifully restored colonial building honoring the poet Rigoberto López Pérez. In 1956, in this building, he assassinated the dictator Anastasio Somoza García (father of the other two dictators, Luis and Anastasio Somoza Debayle), after which he himself was killed in a hail of bullets. The building has some nice art work including a mural by painter Ricardo Morales.
- Street Murals. As you’re wandering around the streets, keep a lookout for large and small street murals, located in various places around the city. The murals usually have a political message or commemorate historical events such as the 1959 massacre of protesting students by the military.
- 9 [dead link] Center for Initative on the Environment (Centro de Iniciativa Medio Ambiental) (From the Martinez bridge, 1 block south, 1 block east and 1 block north.), ☎ . 8-12,2-5:30. An educational center about animals, plants, biodiversity and the environment. C$20.
- 10 Sutiava Church (Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Sutiava). One of the oldest colonial churches in Leon, serving a traditionally indigenous community. The rustic wood interior is a pleasant deviance from the often ornate styles that are more typical of the period.
- 11 El Fortín de Acosasco (From Plaza Sutiava, two blocks east and 2 km south.). For the best view over the city and the volcanoes, go to this old Somoza stronghold southwest of León, best reached from Sutiava.
Leon is nearby the Cordillera de Los Maribios, a mountain range with multiple volcanoes, and it is possible to hike most of them. The most popular volcano is Cerro Negro, a young, small volcano that offers incredible views and slopes to practice sandboarding. Nearby there are two atypical volcanoes; Las Pilas and El Hoyo, which can be hiked together. Telica, the most active volcano in the region, is climbable but only when it is calm so be prepared to give this one a miss. Hikers interested in a demanding climb should head to Momotombo, which is also an active volcano. It is the most difficult volcano to hike but has the most spectacular views in Nicaragua, and it is worth the effort. Below Momotombo there are two volcanic lagoons: Asososca and Monte Galan, and these are great for cooling off after a long day or two of hiking.
While it is possible to climb the volcanoes on your own, it is recommended to go with a guide or an organized tour, as hiking the volcanoes can be dangerous (easy to get lost, run out of water, volcanic activity, etc.) Here is a list of tour companies:
- SONATI Leon (From NE corner of Cathedral, 3 blocks Northward and 1/2 block Westward), ☎ . Social enterprise that provides accommodation and tour services with all proceeds going to a number of environmental initiatives and environmental education activities.
- Quetzaltrekkers Leon, 1/2 blocks west of the Mercantíl (next to the restaurant La Mexicana), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Provides treks with all profits going to the street kids of Leon. They offer a full suite of 1- 2- and 3-day hikes to most volcanoes.
- Tierra Tours (1.5 blocks N of La Merced church). Fun guides and air conditioned transport.
It is almost a rite of passage for every traveller that visits Leon to board down the side of Cerro Negro. Even for those not so interested in boarding, the 45-minute hike up and the view from the top are spectacular. The actual boarding down is fairly fun and generally involves sitting down on the board, leaning back and controlling the speed with your feet in the sand. If you dare, you can reach speeds of up to 95km/h on the steepest sections of the hill. All tour companies provide equipment, transport and usually a beverage after the ride. No tour organizations offer stand up style boarding so if you want to do this you will need to find your own gear. All tour companies listed above in 'Volcano Climbing' also offer volcano boarding.
The hot springs at Hervidores San Jacinto, at the foot of the Telica volvano, makes for a great daytrip. Catch a bus at the terminal or take a taxi, round trip for C$300. Entrance is C$20 and you'll be hooked up with one of the local kids/guides. They are really nice and a must. Pay careful attention to where they walk, and take the same path, as you will be walking just above thermal activity. As someone said, "It's like a mini Yellowstone, without the fences."
Catch a baseball game if you are there during the season. For C$50 you can sit right behind home plate, or pay less for 3rd base side where the lively crowd sits with the unofficial band. Order some vigoron, get a Victoria and enjoy. The stadium is in the northern part of the city.
Go for a day trip to the beach, to either swim or surf. About half an hour by bus from Sutiava or 15 minutes by taxi (C$150-200 per person) lies two of Nicaragua's nicest beaches. Choose between Las Peñitas, which is known for its surfing and mellow vibe, or Poneloya, which is less touristic. The last bus leaves the coast at 6:30pm which gives you enough time to watch the spectacular sunsets over the beach.
- NicAsi Tours. Learn how to cook Nicaraguan food. The cooking class involves buying local ingredients from the market, creating your own tortillas at the local tortilleria and then going to a local household to cook the dish. US$25.
There are a number of Spanish schools in León, but you can also get excellent classes with private teachers, which is cheaper.
- 1 Dairiana Spanish School (San Francisco Church, 3 1/2 blocks west). Owned and operated by Nicaraguans. Will arrange a home stay if you are interested. US$140/20h.
- 2 La Isla Foundation (Fundación La Isla) (La Perla Hotel, 50 m North, 30 m West), ☎ . M-F 9 am - 5pm. The La Isla Foundation is an NGO created to find a solution to the Chronic Kidney Disease epidemic affecting families and communities outside of Leon. The funds from the Spanish school, local tours, and adventure tours are used to help fund their projects.
- 3 León Spanish School (From San Francisco church, 1 block north, 20 m east.), ☎ . Morning or afternoon one-on-one classes given at the Casa de Cultura. Home stay available. US$150/20h.
Volunteer work: There are free-of-charge volunteer opportunities with Quetzaltrekkers  [dead link] an organization raising money for street kids by offering hikes to volcanoes around León. You can volunteer as a hiking guide for a minimum of three months. Las Tias - the supported organization - also takes volunteers, taking care of the streetkids, with a two months minimum. Ask around at the cafe run by "Edad de Oro", whether this organization got some (volunteer) work for you - they're pretty cool too.
Work for pay: Some people find work at the Big Foot Hostel, and for long-term visitors (6 month or so) it's sometimes possible to teach English.
Groceries and household items
All across the city you will find small pulperias that sell food, drinks, phone cards and common household items. Most of these operate out of the owners home.
- 1 Mercado Central (Behind the cathedral.). Lots of vegetables, fruits, grains, meats and fish.
- 2 Marcado La Estación (Behind the San Juan Bautista church.). Larger and cheaper than the Mercado Central.
- 3 La Colonia (From San Fransisco church, 1 block west and 1 block north.). Upscale supermarket. Expensive, but they have some international foods that you cannot get elsewhere. The best wine selection in town.
- 4 La Unión (From Central Park NE, 1 block north and 1 1/2 blocks east.). The most centrally located supermarket, owned by Walmart. More expensive than the municipal markets.
- 5 Pan y Paz French Bakery (From Central Park NE, 1 block north and 2 1/2 blocks east.), ☎ . 7am-9m, Monday-Saturday. Sells wonderful bread, excellent cheeses and good wine.
Clothing and apparel
- 6 Centro de Compras Metropolitano (Just north of the Central Market.). A market place for clothes in a colonial architectural setting.
- 7 JBernhard Designs. Designer leather products including shirts, belts, holsters, handbags, backpacks and computer cases. Locally made.
Books, magazines and office supplies
- 8 Buho Books (From San Francisco church, 2 1/2 blocks west.). Small independent bookstore. Has books in Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish, and maybe other languages as well.
- 9 Librería Universitaria (From La Recolección church, 1/2 block west.). The university book store with a good collection of academic literature.
- 10 Librería y Variedades la Bendición (From San Francisco church, 1 block west, 1/2 block north). Small store selling school and office supplies. Friendly personal service.
Food is sold by street vendors all across town and they are a popular source of energy among the local student population. Some good places to find them are in the Central Park, outside the La Union supermarket, and by the La Salle School three blocks west of the Central Park.
- 1 Central Market (Mercado Central) (Behind the cathedral.). Large food court with all sorts of great beans and eggs and rice and fried cheese and cheese-stuffed platanos and thick tortillas. Great for breakfast, you can fill up for a dollar or two. You can also buy fresh-made juices, and gaze in awe at the giant blocks of fried cheese. On the street behind the market is Buen Gusto, where you should grab some Pollo Vino on the cheap.
- Los Chinitos (One block north from Parque Central across from the basketball court.). An excellent comedor which charges C$45 for main courses.
- Buena Cuchara (A few blocks south of the Parque de los Poetas.). The food is delicious-- C$25 for a full lunch, including either fish or chicken (both delicious).
- 2 Pelo de Chancho (A green house with a porch, on the boulevard out of town toward Chinandega, across from the main police station.). The best Mondongo soup in León, but you have to get there early for lunch or they might run out.
- 3 Asados Pelibuey (From La Merced church, 1 block west, block north.). A simple buffet style restaurant serving grilled chicken, beef, pork and pelibuey (lamb). Very popular among the locals. The restaurant is named after a type of sheep that does not grow wool, making it suitable for warm climates. C$60.
- 4 Restaurante Casa Vieja (From San Francisco Church, 1 block north, 20m west.). Small cozy restaurant serving excellent Nicaraguan food. More popular among the Leonéses than the tourists. Try their refreshing house lemonade.
- 5 [dead link] Cocinarte (North side of El Laborio church). 12:00 - 22:00. Closed on Tuesdays. Charming restaurant in the oldest extant house in León. Serves mainly international vegetarian food, but there are also a couple of dishes for carnivores. The service tends to be slow and the food has received mixed reviews. They also sell organic chocolates and coffee. Ask for the table by the balcony. US$8 for a meal and a drink.
- 6 Los Pescaditos (From Sutiava church, 1 block south, 1 1/2 blocks west). Seafood restaurant. Worth the cab ride.
- 7 ViaVia (From NE corner of cathedral, 1 block east, 1 1/2 blocks north), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 8am - 9.30pm. International and local food, with live music every Friday. In the back there is a hostel with 2 dorm-rooms and 6 well-kept private rooms with bath. Staff at the location speaks little or no English. C$25-145.
- 8 El Sesteo (Northeast corner of Central Park.). Great location with views of the cathedral. Has a diverse menu from typical local food and beverages to fast food. Ask for the Nicaraguan vegetable soup, which is delicious. Popular among tour groups.
- 9 Carnivorio (Central Park NE, 2 1/2 blocks north.). Serves excellent meat dishes.
- 10 Manhattan Restaurant (Across the street from Hotel La Perla.). Fresh hand-rolled tuna and salmon sushi.
- 11 Montezerino (On the bypass near the Managua intersection). Serves a good fillet mignon or churrasco. It is open on the sides and large and serves as a night club at night.
Coffee, tea and juices
- 1 Café La Rosita (From Central Park NE, 2 blocks north.). Cappuccino, espresso, granita, etc.
Bars and dancing
There is a cluster of bars if you walk around the block just west of the Central Park. Two other options are:
- 2 Go Bar (From Central Par NW, 2 blocks north, 75m west.), ☎ . Alternative place where diversity is the main ingredient. You will find a wide variety of domestic and imported drinks and some dishes to try. US$1.
- 3 La Olla Quemada (From San Francisco church, 2 blocks west.). Live music on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Salsa night on Thursdays. Serves simple but tasty food.
Dormitories (many with private rooms as well)
- 1 Big Foot Hostel (From cathedral, 1 block east, then 1 1/2 blocks north), ☎ . Check-out: 11AM. The most famous hostel in Leon. DVD system, modest swimming pool, bar, and pool table, all set in a garden courtyard, a very social hostel. The hostel organizes a variety of nighttime actives, and trips to their other location at the beach to party. The bar is generally crowded and fun everynight. The kitchen is well-equipped except for good cutting knives, forks or bowls. 5 dorms with 8 beds each with large lockers for each & 5 private rooms. A note for budget travelers: staff on duty to enforce the strict no-outside-alcohol policy. Dorms US$6, privates US$15.
- 2 Hotelito Casa Vieja. Rumored to be the cheapest accommodation in town, populated by street vendors and down-to-the-ground travelers. C$65 in dorm.
- 3 Hostal Lazybones (From NW corner of Central Park, 1 block west, 1 1/2 blocks north.), ☎ . Check-out: 11 AM. Clean hostel with real beds and pillows. Included in the price are internet access, coffee/tea and a pool table. Check out the mural. No kitchen access. Dorms US$8, privates w/o bath US$20, private w/bath US$30.
- Hostal Nicarao II (From the West end of Parque San Juan half a block North). One of the cheapest places in town. The beds are not too comfortable. For the price tag the place is very clean though a bit run down. Dorm with fans US$4 ($6 for a couple sharing a bed), private room $12.
- 4 Sonati (From NW corner of Cathedral, 3 blocks north, ½ block east), ☎ . Friendly, peaceful and clean hostel, where you can experience the sound of nature, relaxing in one of the hammocks in the garden where hummingbirds come to feed. Big kitchen, relatively new mattresses, free wi-fi, free use of computer, free coffee and a big garden. Sonati is a not-for-profit organization with several educational and environmental programs. US$3 to sleep in hammocks, dorms $6, privates from $15.
- La Tortuga Booluda (from the SW corner of the central park, 3.5 blocks west), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A/C optional, free Internet and Wifi, free pancake breakfast, free organic coffee, book exchange, bike rentals. Dorm: US$7, private: US$12, with private bath: US$20.
- 5 [dead link] Posada La Gordita (From NW corner of Central Park, 3 blocks west, 1/2 north.), ☎ . Simple but charming accommodations in an old colonial home with two gardens. Geared towards those looking for peace and quiet and perfect for long term visitors such as digital nomads. In season you can pick your own fruit from the huge mango tree. Free use of kitchen and wifi. Room with private bath $20.
- 6 Hostel D´Oviedo (From SW corner of Central Park, 2 1/2 blocks south.), ☎ . More like a bed and breakfast than a hostel. A lovely Nicaraguan couples have converted their home into a hostel. Breakfast and really fast internet are included. Guests are also allowed to use their kitchen. Room with shared bath $17, with private bath $23, with A/C $45.
- 7 Los Balcones (From cathedral, 1 block east, then 1 block north.). Has A/C, real mattresses, nice views, hot water, and great service. Friendly English-speaking staff. US$50 per night.
- 8 Hotel San Juan (In front of Iglesia San Juan). Nice hotel offering a good breakfast. Swimming pool.
- 9 El Convento (From Central Park NW corner, 2 blocks west, 1/2 block north.). The most beautiful hotel in León, with rooms organized around a nicely landscaped courtyard. It is located next to the San Francisco church, in what used to be the former Franciscan monastery, and to honor its history, the hotel has some beautiful religious artwork. Worth a visit for lunch or dinner and a walk around the place even if you are not staying there.
León is by both Central American and Nicaraguan standards a safe city. You can safely walk in the city center during both the day and in the evening.
There are Cybers all over town
- Poneloya and Las Peñitas - two Pacific ocean beach towns and fishing villages. Great places for swimming, surfing and kayaking. Located 20 km southwest of the city, they are easily reachable by car or taxi (C$150-250). Buses depart from the municipal market in Sutiava.
- Chinandega - The neighboring city by Volcán Cristóbal that is even hotter than León. It has an excellent archeological museum and some beautiful churches. Located 40 km northwest of León, buses leave every 15 minutes from the main bus terminal.
- The northern beaches of Aposentillo, Juiqilillo, Padre Ramos and Mechapa, for swimming and surfing. First go to Chinandega and then continue further north by car or bus.
- Estelí - A lively mountain city in the cooler northern part of the country, famous for its murals and cigar makers, and surrounded by nature reserves. Direct bus service from the main bus terminal.
- Ruins of León Viejo — the original site of León on the shore of Lake Managua and at the foot of the Momotombo volcano. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located almost half way to Managua, take a bus to La Paz Centro, and then another bus to Puerto Momotombo.
- Granada - the other colonial city in Nicaragua. From the bus terminal, take a minivan to Managua UCA station and transfer to another minivan to Granada. It takes around 4 hours and costs less than C$90.
- Honduras - From the neghboring city of Chinandega there is regular bus service to the Honduras border at El Guassaule. If you're heading all the way to the Bay Islands, there are 3-4 weekly shuttles to La Ceiba ($65, 13 hours) leaving at 2:00am and arriving in time for the afternoon ferry to Útila or Roatán.
- El Salvador - To El Tunco, El Salvador there is a 10-person direct mini-shuttle with a/c ($45pp, 10 hours). $7pp fee at Nicaragua-Honduras border not included. If you want to avoid Honduras, take a bus to Chinandega and then another bus to Potosí on the Gulf of Fonseca. From there you can take a boat to La Unión in El Salvador.