America,  Nicaragua,  TDM,  Travel Journal

León (Nicaragua): the city of students

After 2 weeks in Granada, we move to spend 2 weeks in Leon, 2h30 drive away. Leon is a colonial city even more lively than Granada, it is here that thousands of students come to study. As usual, practical advice can be found at the end of the article.

Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

Granada – Leon in shuttle

We could have made the trip by public transportation (134 cordobas = 33 cordobas to Managua, then 71 cordobas by expreso (it is an air-conditioned bus that does not stop on the way to pick up clients, it leaves when it is full) to Leon, and finally 30 cordobas by cab to downtown).

But we had just come a long way from Ometepe to Granada the day before and we have no desire to drag our suitcases on public transport. So we opt for a shuttle for tourists, which leaves at 12 o’clock every day. It’s a 12-seater van, and from the very first moments, we regret our choice: a tourist sitting next to me stinks of sweat – and another one puts his disgusting feet right behind JB’s head. This kind of behavior quite common among backpacker tourists would have been unthinkable among locals. We miss local transportation…

To escape from this horrible smell, I stand right next to the driver, even if it means taking the air conditioning in front of me. He is super nice and we could talk for a long time. I’m delighted that I could understand 80% of what he says, proof of the efficiency of my Spanish lessons these last 2 weeks.

The landscapes on the way are incredible, we cross green areas without inhabitants.


The city of Leon is much larger than Granada. The whole city is in colonial architecture, whereas in Granada only the city center is particularly well preserved for tourists. Leon is more lively, more local, more authentic because thousands of students live here as well: this city does not only depend on tourists. The city remains small and can be visited on foot.

The most lively place is next to the cathedral, all white, also close to the market. The locals get on the back of the trucks ( as in Cuba), this type of transport is very cheap (count 2 to 3 cordobas only)

We see everywhere in Nicaragua, but especially in Leon, pre-cut fruit stands. Each bag costs 10 cordobas, whatever the fruit. I particularly like green mangoes, to be eaten with salt and a bit of chili (for that, ask for “con sal y chile”).

As soon as you approach the market, an irresistible barbecue smell emanates from two stalls in the street. You can go there at any time of the day. This is where we often dine. We have a choice of chicken, beef and pork – all accompanied by a plate of rice mixed with beans. It is very good, and economical (100 cordobas + 20 if you take a soda). The two very nice ladies also sell slightly sweet desserts, grilled banana etc. In short there are many unknown things to try.

On the same street, there is a McDonald’s with the most stylish storefront in Central America, a cute Mañana Mañana Caf e with lots of outlets for those who want to work (the connection isn’t very fast unfortunately). All this coexists with handicrafts and candy vendors in the street.

The Cathedral of Leon

I won’t put the picture of the cathedral, which is quite ordinary – but pictures of its roof. To visit absolutely, otherwise it’s as if you’ve never been to Leon 🙂 The access costs 98 cordobas (or 3$) per person, and there are two accesses located on the side of the cathedral (look for a small door). Be careful, it is closed for lunch break and on Sunday.

Everything is super white, it dazzles us despite our sunglasses. The view on the domes is breathtaking, just like the one on the volcanoes & the city.

We see several volcanoes in the distance. It is the ideal place for the sunset too.

This cathedral must have been much more modest. But its architect wanted something different and made it the most impressive cathedral in the country.

Our Airbnb

After a lot of searching, as with Granada, one has to give up the habit of renting an entire apartment – either it’s very ugly or it’s poorly equipped. As an alternative we find a private room in an incredible airbnb in the city center, nestled in a lush garden. The common areas we have at our disposal are those of the restaurant of the same owner, but it is only open 5 days a week. So on Mondays and Tuesdays, when we work, we have the whole garden (and pool) to ourselves (plus the possible tenants of the second room but who are usually outside during the day). Wednesday, it starts to get a little bit active but we always find a small quiet corner to work. It is really a haven of peace. Every day, I see hummingbirds coming just in front of my window, they make a special noise, I’ve learned to recognize their song.

The room and the shower (private) are spacious. It misses us just a small table inside the room, to continue working when the sun goes down (at 5:30 pm!) leaving place to the mosquitoes which leave to the attack. There are only two rooms on the spot, hurry to book, Internet here is the best of the whole city (we tested a little everywhere in Leon) : 16,8Mbps going down, 8,15Mbps going up

Link from Airbnb: https:
// on this link to
get a $25 welcome on Airbnb

If you aren’t lucky enough to be accommodated on site, the restaurant is called Coco Calala, and only serves vegetarian dishes. It is open from Wednesday to Sunday, when you arrive, go straight ahead, to the end. You can also pay 5$ to enjoy the pool.

Spanish Courses

I continue to take Spanish classes in an unknown school, but at a faster pace because we don’t stay long in Leon. I am very happy with my experience in Granada and I thought that all teachers were the same. But no, my teacher seems to want to work hard on grammar (especially the special cases that nobody uses) – and when I ask her to focus more on conversation, we have almost nothing to talk about. It worked out well towards the end, but no more classes in schools without good feedback now. For your information, I paid $150 for 20 hours of classes, which is $30 more than in Granada.


In Leon, tourists concentrate on one street – the one where ViaVia (Booking link) is located, a very famous youth hostel, but it’s very nice because a lot of locals hang out at the bar in the evening – there are more locals than tourists. Just in front of it is another known Big Foot Hostel : we wonder why it is in Lonely Planet, it is really a concentrate of gringos rather unpleasant with a consumerist / party / I don’t care mentality not tip top. I advise against going on excursions with Big Foot or ViaVia because the excursions are done at 20++ in a nightclub atmosphere, alcohol, …. unless that’s what you’re looking for.

Leon is also a great city for shopping (it doesn’t look like it but it’s thanks to the students). There are plenty of stores selling imported clothing from the USA (new), brand name, between 4$ and 6$ each. It must be unsold in the USA… in any case, we could see a lot of beautiful brands at an incredible price. There is a big store on the same street as ViaVia, the clothes are classified by category and size, it makes shopping even easier.

We spent a little too much time at the French bakery Pan & Paz hhehe . We really like their quiche lorraine, their French toast, their very correct cheese (it’s better to buy to go rather than opt for the cheese board), and their strawberry. Count 45 cordobas for a quiche, 140 cordobas for a local camembert to take away… it’s very accessible and it helps those who are fed up with Central American food. Unfortunately, because of the very different weather conditions in France, the pastries are very average. You can bring your computer and work here too (there are two addresses, and the one far from the cathedral is more spacious), but the connection is a bit slow.

Another place where we like to have lunch is Paz de Luna (link Booking), with a nice garden – and a very economical restaurant. There is never anybody there.

Since Leon, due to our limited time, we only went to Las Penitas and visited the turtle project.

In the end, we only spent one month in Nicaragua but we really liked it. It is already time to go to El Salvador.

Part 2: Practical Tips

How to get there?

  • Shuttle Granada – Leon : 15$ (go through Danny’s Tour agency in Granada). Departure every day at noon
  • Public transportation: Bus Granada – Leon :
    • Take a minibus from the Buses Granda – Managua Terminal (UCA): 33 cordobas
    • In UCA (Managua), take an expreso (bus that does not stop on the way) directly to the bus terminal of Leon: 71 cordobas
    • From the bus terminal of Leon, take a cab colectivo: 30 cordobas to your hotel (fixed price but negotiable if you are more than 3)
  • From Managua by public transport (Bus Managua – Leon) :
    • Take a cab to the UCA terminal (pronounced OUCA)
    • Take an expreso (air-conditioned bus that does not stop on the way) directly to the bus terminal in Leon: 71 cordobas
    • From the bus terminal of Leon, take a cab colectivo: 30 cordobas to your hotel (fixed price but negotiable if you are more than 3)

How to leave Leon?

Take the same transportation mentioned above, but in the opposite direction.

If you want to opt for a shuttle, here are the rates in November 2019 (one departure per day):

  • Shuttle Leon – Managua Airport: $15
  • Shuttle Leon – Granada : 15$
  • Shuttle Leon – San Jorge : 25$
  • Shuttle Leon – San Juan del Sur : 25$
  • Shuttle Leon – San Salvador : 50$++ (we talked about it in details here)


  • Airbnb : 23€/night
  • Food :
    • 100 cordobas in comedors
    • or at least $12/person in tourist restaurants (gratuity not required)
  • Tours & excursions in the surrounding area: $30-45/person (KarmaNica donates its profits to an education program)
    • Cerro Negro : 30$ (it is the youngest volcano in Nicaragua. It isn’t very high (a little more than 1000m) and we can go down the volcano with a sledge)
    • Sunset at the edge of the Telica volcano: $45
    • Sleeping next to the Telica volcano: $55
    • Mangrove forest: $45

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