After Granada, we spent a week relaxing in San Juan del Sur. We lucked out and got a super nice place at a best resort in town; therefore, we didn’t really do anything other than cook lots and watch countless sunsets and thus don’t have many photos. It was a nice chance to sleep in and gave us a jump start on planning our Europe trip (plane tickets to Iceland and England as well as Greece and Germany are now booked!).
From San Juan del Sur we decided to save some cash and take chicken buses all the way up to León. The simplest (and cheapest route, i.e. no taxis) involved going from San Juan del Sur to Rivas to Granada to Managua to León. The journey took around 6 hours – about 2 hours longer than the shuttle and saved us over $20 USD each.
That evening we went to a little French bakery that served sandwiches for a quick and cheap dinner. It turned out to be our favourite spot and we went back at least once every day. The prices were unbeatable: less than $2 USD for a veggie and home-made pesto sandwich on a fresh baguette and less than $1 USD for a fresh juice (1/3 the price of most cafes in the city). Cheap food combined with a cheap hostel (our private room cost $13 USD a night – our cheapest room to date) made León one of the cheapest spots we have visited yet on our trip.
However, León is also probably the hottest place we have been to date. We’re talking 35 + degrees Celsius during the day. It was unbearable and thus, we did not get up to much while we were there.
It seems Granada and León are always (and have always been) the two competing Colonial cities in Nicaragua for tourism. They all previously competed to be the capital of Nicaragua; however, instead Managua was chosen which lies in the middle of the two cities and was considered a compromise. We read that the two cities were comparably beautiful, but would have to argue that hands down, Granada is the nicer and “prettier” city. Granada’s old town has been restored much better and the colourful houses add to the vibrancy of the city. León, on the other hand, is much more run-down and dirty. It however, does boast a beautiful church (the largest in Central America): Catedral de León, and a museum of modern Central American art: Centro de Arte Fundación Ortíz-Gurdián.
The Centro de Arte Fundación Ortíz – Gurdián has a wide variety of art, most of which is part of a private collection, spread throughout three classic multi-wing Spanish-colonial buildings with large open courtyards. The collection includes works from the renaissance and colonial periods, as well romanticism, modernism, postmodernism and actually modern pieces by Cuban, Peruvian and other Latin American schools. There are select pieces by Rubens, Picasso, and Chagall, but the collection is defined by Latin American masters including Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Fernando Botero, and Roberto Matta and more. It’s well worth the $2 USD entry fee, a fraction of what you would pay anywhere else in the world for a similar collection.
The two Scottish girls (Emma and Imi) we met on our San Blas sailing trip were in León at the same time as us and we got the chance to meet up and say hi (unfortunately, Imi was sick and wasn’t able to come out). We met up with Emma in the morning (at our fav spot – the French Bakery) and had a quick iced coffee before heading to the Catedral to try and figure out how to get on the roof. The church is undergoing restoration (a lengthy process which has been ongoing for years from the sound of things) thus making it difficult to find the tiny office across the street selling tickets for the roof access and then find someone in the church who knows where the stairs leading to the roof actually are.
Once we were at the top it was well worth the mini hunt we had to go through as it was not only a stunning view but also a very interesting structure in itself. No shoes were allowed on the newly painted (white) roof to keep it clean.
For more photos of León, check out our Flickr Album.