Welcome to Leon – a university town located in northern Nicaragua in Central America and the only place in the world where you can go volcano boarding. Leon has a truly authentic feel to it – it isn’t hugely touristy and unlike other towns in Nicaragua such as Granada ‘gringos’ are left alone and not touted by locals trying to sell you hammocks or other various items! It is a pretty colonial town with a stunning white cathedral in the central park. In Leon it is hot, hot, hot – it is the hottest town in Nicaragua and year round temperatures are just above 30 degrees Celsius with high humidity but thankfully the beach is only 20 minutes away where you can cool down.
Flying down the Cerro Negro volcano on a wooden board (or you can run down it if you please!) is an epic adventure and a must do activity in Nicaragua. There are various tour guides in Leon (and neighbouring towns) that will take you – I used Quetzaltrekkers who I highly recommend. The tour price is all inclusive with transport to the volcano along with a snack and lunch. The Cerro Negro volcano is located on the ring of fire and is currently due for an eruption (it erupts every 12 years).
We arrive at the bottom of the volcano – we strap our boards onto our backs along with a backpack that contains a suit and gloves (think a pair of overalls a mechanic would wear!) and we begin hiking up the volcano. The hike to the top is between 45 minutes to 1 hour and it certainly isn’t an easy hike – I would call it moderate. The scenery is incredibly beautiful – black ash volcanic dirt surrounded by green mountains with a beautiful blue sky. We reach the top of the volcano, put on our suits and gloves and our guide runs (yes runs!) halfway down the volcano with a flag and camera. This is no small volcano either – looking down to the bottom from the top was slightly unnerving! There are two lanes that you can board down so our group splits into two and we go down one by one once the guide waves the flag. You sit on your board – hold onto some rope attached to the board and push off with your feet (think tobogganing but your feet are on the outside of the board). Next think you know you are flying down a volcano really fast and it’s so much fun. So much fun that thankfully you have the option of hiking up the volcano again and going down a second time!
The cathedral is the centrepiece of Leon and forms part of the Central Park. It is a beautiful white structure and you can climb the stairs to the top ($1USD) and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding area. The top of the Cathedral is very ‘Greece like’ with round mounds all over and you have to remove your shoes to walk around. The photo opportunities are amazing and afterwards you can enjoy a meal and a drink at El Sesteo and watch the various activities in the Central Park area.
Thursday nights in the night in Leon to party whereas Friday and Saturday nights are quiet. Salsa night at La Olla Quemada is where all the action is from 9pm onwards. The entrance is 60 cordobas (approx. $2USD) and the dancefloor is going off with people salsa dancing . It doesn’t matter if you d0n’t know the moves – everyone is welcome to do their thing! There is also a large seating area where you can enjoy a beer and mingle. Salsa night is busy – if you want a table get there early! La Olla shuts at midnight and a good majority of the people make the 5 minute trek up the street to Oxygen nightclub (there are other nightclubs but on Thursday nights Oxygen seems to be the place!). Entrance to Oxygen is 30 cordobas and has two areas- the front dance floor where the music is salsa themed and the back dance floor where the music is electronica themed – take your pick and get dancing! Oxygen closes at 3am – make sure you pick up a delicious hamburger from the stand outside before heading back to your accommodation.
Las Penitas is a 20 minute drive away by taxi (or the local bus goes there). The beach at Las Penitas is beautiful and the sunset is simply stunning. The sand isn’t heavenly white due to the volcanoes but the Pacific Ocean is beautiful albeit very rough and on some days it isn’t that safe to be swimming. Pull up a chair at Playa Roca beach bar, grab a drink and some delicious chicken tacos and chill out!
Where to eat
The staple food in Nicaragua is a dish called ‘Gallo Pinto’ which is a mix of rice, red beans, capsicum (peppers), onion and some spices. Nicaraguans eat this traditionally for breakfast and they eat rice and beans with most meals (separately – not Gallo Pinto).
For breakfast you can’t go past a delicious breakfast at El Desayunzo – whether you are seeking a traditional Nica breakfast of eggs and gallo pinto or a plate of waffles or pancakes this café has you covered! The café also has wifi which is a bonus!
Depending on your budget you can eat at comedors (home cooked eateries) on the cheap or upscale restaurants such as El Sesteo, Yavoy, Imbir or Botegon. Pizza is great here – Hollywood pizza is delicious and the pizza at Pizzeria Antonino is to die for! Considering how small Leon can sometimes appear it has a wide selection of restaurants and bars to choose from.