With the Pacific Ocean as its western border, the León department of Nicaragua consists of ten municipalities – El Jicaral, El Sauce, La Paz Centro, Larreynaga, León, Nagarote, Quezalguaque, San Jose de Achuapa, Santa Rosa del Penon and Telica. The capital of the department is the city of León, located in the municipality of the same name.
León is a colonial city with a colorful history, including being attacked and virtually destroyed by pirates in 1685. Today the city is full of historic and cultural treasures such as the cathedral which was rebuilt in 1747, and expanded in 1860 becoming the largest cathedral in Central America. The León Cathedral is the final resting place of many famous people, including Nicaragua’s beloved poet, Ruben Dario. Other places of interest in Leon include the Museum of Legends and Traditions, the Ruben Dario Museum and a number of churches with historic and architectural value. The original site of the city of León, which was abandoned due to volcanic activity in the 17th century, is now known as Leon Viejo and has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical value. Visitors can explore the ruins of León Viejo and enjoy the scenic view of the Momotombo Volcano and Lake Managua.
The wide sandy beaches of the León department, most notably Poneloya and Las Penitas, offer both local and international holidaymakers the opportunity to enjoy the Pacific Ocean, with many charming seaside towns offering accommodation and a variety of activities. Juan Venada Island at Las Penias is a protected reserve which can be accessed by boat. The mangrove forest of the island serves as a sanctuary for many animals and thousands of birds. Puerto Sandino is popular with surfers due to the consistency of good quality waves. Puerto Sandino plays host to a number of cultural celebrations such as the Palo de Mayo (Maypole) festival, characterized by lively music and dancing to welcome the rainy season and new life.
The Maribios Range of volcanic mountains, some of them quite active, slices its way through the Leon department dominating the landscape. Many of these volcanoes offer excellent hiking and climbing opportunities. Cerro Negro, considered to be Central America’s youngest volcano, is popular for hiking as well as sand-skiing – traveling on a board down the ash covered slopes at high speed – for the more adventurous.
Nicaragua is a fascinating country, rich in history and holding cultural traditions in high esteem. The León department of Nicaragua offers aspects of all things that Nicaraguans hold dear and is well worth exploring.