6 Essential Things To Do in León, Nicaragua

León is easily one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua. The city is a hotspot in the country, with tons of culture, history, nightlife, and spectacular volcanoes. It’s tough to narrow down the list of the best activities in León–there’s so much to see that we devote a whole guide to León!

But not everyone has endless days to explore. If you’re pressed for time, here are the 6 absolutely essential things to do in León, Nicaragua:

CLIMB TO THE LEÓN CATHEDRAL ROOF

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If you’ve ever looked up León before, chances are you’ve seen shots of this massive white roof. But what exactly is it, and why is it worth visiting?

This pristine plane sits atop the iconic Catedral de León, the largest cathedral in Central America. The historic structure is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its unique combination of architectural styles.

Officially called the Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it dominates the central plaza of León. The landmark is nearly impossible to miss.

Climb to the top of the cathedral to catch the best view in León. You’ll be able to see the city’s red-tiled roofs, highlights like the Iglesia El Calvario, and volcanoes in every direction.

The historical significance and stellar surroundings earn this destination a top spot on the list of essential things to do in León. It costs just $3 to climb up to the León Cathedral roof.

HN Hint: Expect to remove your shoes to preserve the white surface.

There is a time limit of approximately 20 minutes per tourist on the Cathedral roof, so make sure you get your pictures early!

While you’re there, don’t forget to explore inside the Cathedral. The stunning interior took 67 years to build, and serves as the final resting place for several renowned Nicaraguan figures.

HN Hint: Find famous poet Rubén Darío’s marble tomb guarded by a lion at the foot of the Saint Paul statue near the altar.

TAKE A FREE WALKING TOUR

Seeing the city with The Original Free Walking Tour is a great way to kick off your visit to León.

Over the course of 2.5 hours, you’ll visit major landmarks, learn all about León’s history, and get recommendations from a local tour guide that will help you make the most of your time in the city. It’s a high-value activity that covers so much ground that it’s one of the best things to do when you’re short on time in León.

The best part? It’s completely free!

A Quick Note: We would strongly encourage you to tip as you feel comfortable if you enjoy your tour–as is the case in most of Nicaragua, your generosity goes a long way.

The Original Free Walking Tour meets every day at 9am and 4pm at Plaza Central Juan José Quezada–located right between the Cathedral and El Sesteo restaurant. You can find a pin on Google Maps with the exact location.

The size of the tour group varies day to day, but it’s an easy way to meet people as a solo traveler. Plus, you’ll get an overview of León that will be useful in planning out the rest of your visit.

If those times don’t work for you, or if you want a more personal tour experience, check out the freelance tour guide cooperative. These seasoned professionals can customize your tour to give you the best possible experience in León. (Prices vary)

GO VOLCANO BOARDING AT CERRO NEGRO

What’s the number one thing to do in León?

You probably already know the answer: volcano boarding.

This infamous adrenaline sport is the ultimate Nicaragua bucket list item. Whether sledding down the side of an active volcano at speeds of up to 62 mph sounds exhilarating or terrifying to you, it’s a can’t-miss activity in León.

The volcano boarding site, Cerro Negro, is located just outside the city. Nearly every hotel in León can coordinate a tour for you through one of the two main operators: Bigfoot Hostel and Volcano Day.

What’s the difference between Bigfoot Hostel and Volcano Day volcano boarding tours in León?

Besides the jumpsuit color (orange and yellow, respectively), the biggest difference between Bigfoot and Volcano Day is the social atmosphere.

Bigfoot is known for inventing the original volcano boarding tour back in 2004. Today, it’s also notorious for its party culture. Volcano boarders commute to Cerro Negro in a light-up school bus packed with free-flowing rum. The tour typically concludes back at the hostel, where the fun continues well into the early morning.

Volcano Day is a more balanced experience. Like Bigfoot, you’ll get to celebrate your conquest of Cerro Negro with rum and cokes on the ride home (plus a bonfire and marshmallows if you take the sunset tour!), but the vibe isn’t quite as electric as Bigfoot’s jampacked party bus. You will likely prefer Volcano Day if you’re not big into the heavy drinking scene.

Both Bigfoot and Volcano Day are fantastic options, and priced equally at $35 per tour.

You can expect to devote a solid half day to volcano boarding, so make sure you factor it into your León plans from the start.

You generally have two tour options: morning or afternoon.

HN Hint: The afternoon tour is more popular because you get to volcano board at sunset!

The morning tour leaves around 8-9am and returns around 1-2pm. It’s followed by an optional beach trip for the remainder of the day. The afternoon tour leaves around 1-2pm and returns around 8pm. It’s followed by light fare, then it’s off to the bars with your tour group (your new best friends in León, if it’s anything like our experience!)

Note that the hike to the top of Cerro Negro is just 45 minutes but fairly strenuous. Wear good sneakers or hiking shoes, bring a shirt or bandana to cover your mouth and nose as you speed down the volcano, and pack LOTS of extra water.

You can also opt to have a young man from the community carry your board up to the top for you. It’s $5, and the money goes straight to the local. This is totally optional, but supports their livelihood and makes the experience a lot easier as you climb the windy volcano.

VISIT CULTURAL MUSEUMS

León has several impressive museums that recount its storied history and rich cultural roots. Each is worth visiting in its own right, but three institutions top the list if you have limited time:

MUSEO DE ARTE FUNDACIÓN ORTIZ-GURDIÁN: CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM

León is home to one of the finest contemporary art museums in all of Central America: Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Gurdián.

It spans across two buildings and showcases both accomplished Central American artists of past and present and masterful European works, including pieces from the Renaissance era. The wide array of sculptures and paintings range from the 16th century to contemporary art.

This is a truly spectacular museum even for those who aren’t well-versed in the arts, and easily deserves a spot on your León things to do list at just $2 per ticket.

You can spend as much or as little time as you’d like on this self-paced tour. Find it near Iglesia San Francisco.

MUSEO DE LEYENDAS Y TRADICIONES: MUSEUM OF MYTHS & LEGENDS

By far the most unique museum in León is the Museum of Traditions & Legends (sometimes known as the Museum of Myths & Legends).

Housed in a former prison from the Somoza regime, the museum serves as both an exhibition of Nicaraguan folklore and a memorial to those who suffered human rights abuses on the site.

Discover the stories behind 14 Nicaraguan famous myths and legends, including the golden crocodile, the beheaded priest, and La Gigantona.

Articles on display include papier-mâché figurines and puppets that tell the eccentric tales of León lore, while grayscale paintings on the walls behind them depict the suffering of prisoners. It’s a jarring contrast, but one that works to weave a powerful narrative of the culture and endurance of the Nicaraguan people.

The Museum of Myths & Legends is open every day from 8am to 5pm in front of Plaza San Sebastián. Admission runs you about $2, with a special discount for kids.

MUSEO DE LA REVOLUCIÓN: MUSEUM OF THE REVOLUTION

Smaller and more politically inclined, but still one of León’s most famous museums, Museo de la Revolución catalogues the civil war that Nicaragua endured in the 1960s and 70s. It paints a picture of the revolution as it took place in León, a pivotal battleground at the time.

What makes this humble museum particularly interesting is that you are given a retelling of the war directly from veterans. Many of the tour guides fought in the revolution themselves, and are quite passionate about giving a firsthand account. It’s a unique opportunity for tourists in Nicaragua to speak directly with those who participated in a major piece of the country’s history.

HN Hint: The tours offered by the museum are sometimes available in Spanish only. If you don’t feel confident in your listening comprehension but still want a guided experience, we recommend bringing a bilingual friend or requesting an English-speaking guide. (However, you would be surprised by how much you can absorb from a spirited guide even without understanding the language!)

Guided tours run approximately 1 hour and cost 100 córdobas, or about $3. The Museum of the Revolution is located right behind Central Park, facing the León Cathedral.

GRAB DRINKS AT A LOCAL BREWERY

Cervecería Cerro Negro is a popular craft beer brewing company in Nicaragua. The Cerro Negro taproom, Beers & Pallets, is a fun spot to grab a flight or a pint with friends in downtown León.

The cozy space is warmly decorated with wooden slats and industrial string lights. It’s an essential thing to do in León because it helps you escape the heat!

Cerro Negro Brewing keeps 12+ beers on tap. With Nicaragua-inspired brews like pink Pitaya Mead and the 11% ABV San Cristobal stout, there’s something for everyone.

HN Hint: Want to try all 12? Ask for “Los Maribios,the Cerro Negro mega flight!

GO FOR A BEACH DAY

The best way to cool off from the León heat? Taking a dip in the Pacific at Playa Las Peñitas!

A short 30 minute drive from the city center, Playa Las Peñitas is a small fishing village that is frequented by tourists looking for a beach respite.

Here you’ll find lots of seaside bars and restaurants where you can chill in a hammock with a cold macuá or dine on fresh caught fish overlooking the ocean. If you want to go swimming, the surf is a little rocky, but the water is incredibly refreshing.

To reach Playa Las Peñitas from León, the fastest way is to take a taxi–it shouldn’t cost more than $10. Your hotel may offer discounted group shuttles to the beach, as well. This is a great option if you’re only looking to spend a few hours at Las Peñitas, but arrange your own transportation if you want to be on your own schedule.

The public chicken buses will also get you there from El Mercadito for a scant 14 córdobas, but expect a longer, less comfortable journey if you take this route. They depart every 45 minutes.

HN Hint: If you go volcano boarding in the morning, you’ll get a free afternoon shuttle to the beach included with your tour!

If you want another beach day option, you can also venture out to Playa El Tránsito. Just an hour south of León, this more secluded fishing village is popular for its excellent surfing conditions and rocky tide pools. It’s less touristy, but equally beautiful.

Conclusion

These 6 essential things to do in León will pack your Nicaragua itinerary with a little bit of everything. Whether you’re looking to relax with craft beers and a beach day, venture into the elements by scaling an active volcano, or soak in the historic context of this majestic Central American city, you’ll find something for everyone in León.

Want more info to plan your trip? See our ultimate guide to León, Nicaragua to get all the details you need for an unforgettable experience.

Don’t forget to pin this post so you remember all 6 essential things to do in León!

Meet your Tour Guides

Hola! We’re Gail & Luis, a team of two with a deep love for Nicaragua. Luis, a professional tour guide, is the knowledgeable source behind the blog. Gail, an American writer, is the voice. 

We started this blog as a way to stay connected from afar and support Nicaragua in our own small way.

Today, our mission is to open hearts and minds to the wonders of Nicaragua and make it easier than ever to start planning your trip.

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