We arrived in Nicaragua after an epic transit from Honduras. Leaving San Pedro Sula (dodgy, murder friendly town in Honduras) at 5am in the morning and finally arriving in Leon, Nicaragua around 10pm. We opted not to pay for an extra seat in the minivan for our bags, for the final 1.5 hour leg of the journey, instead putting the 20kg behemoths on our laps, sending even more heat into our bodies, just what we were after. The travel ordeal wasn’t helped by some local dude in Leon trying to demand 20 corbodas from us for apparently not taking a taxi into the city and just getting our minivan to drop us in town. I took the initiative to get lippy and argue the point in a bit of Spanish and English, while he blurted Spanish back at me at an ever increasing volume. In the end I won the battle and he went off in a huff – saving our precious $1 USD each.
Leon is one of the two colonial towns in Nicaragua. Colonial much like Antigua (Guatemala), Hoi An (Vietnam) or Luang Prabang (Laos), but of course with its own Central American flare and food. After the mammoth journey from Honduras we were ready for some nice accommodation and we found it at Lazybones – a garden courtyard, swimming pool and free coffee – with a couple of good restaurants situated just across the road. Cel managed to take on her first (and hopefully only) bout of backpacking sickness, probably a dodgy taco she had in San Pedro Sula. Leon was the perfect place for her to recover, nothing too taxing on the travel front, the main attraction is to simply wander around the town taking in the colonial buildings, eating at the hundreds of good restaurants and of course visit the world renowned “Museum of Legends and Traditions” (more about that soon)
Leon is definitely a colonial town that has managed to keep it’s authentic Nicaraguan feel. Often colonial towns lose their local feel due to the sheer number of tourists that flock to them, e.g. Anitgua, GUA, but not Leon it’s rich with local people, food and history. Our mornings were normally filled with walking around the old colonial buildings, churches / cathedrals, checking out markets and making our way through the back streets to watch how everyday life unfolded in the town. One of the more interesting things I saw was a mural depicting a civil struggle in the town, illustrating the military rulers of the day that shot down protesters who were pushing for freedom from the military.
The final word on Leon firmly rests on the Museum of Legends and Traditions. Set in an old prison that used to used torture techniques on prisoners, the museum is an eclectic mix of puppets, paper dolls, stories and a couple of military relics. The front of the museum is a nice courtyard with gardens, an old tank and a few murals on the walls. It’s not until you get inside the museum that the craziness unfolds. The stories range from city mayors to town tramps, giant women to ghosts! Fair to say we both looked at each other after reading the first couple of stories, quickly agreeing that it was the weirdest prison we’d ever been to, the pictures show why:
Leon was magic, admittedly the accommodation really set it off on the right foot, but the rest of the town was everything you could ask for from a colonial town. The local feel definitely gave it an edge that was hard to beat, roll on Granada
We’d put most of our eggs in Leon’s basket, planning only a night in Granada. The trip was much quicker (1.5 hours) and although we got called gringo’s by some local on the bus (I put him right, telling him we were from NZ to which he put down his can of beer and applauded) we made it into town in a much better state than we had Leon. After quickly finding accommodation, we set out to the streets in search of food. It wasn’t hard, there are restaurants everywhere but the Lonely Planet recommendation of the Garden Cafe came up with the goods; clearly gringo’fied but the steak sandwich with caramelised onions outweighed the American association! After food we again took to the streets checking out the local market, cafes and cathedrals. It was all much of the same really, certainly in a more ‘kept’ state than Leon, but definitely not as authentic.
Our solo night in Granada ticked the boxes. A meal at a local restaurant, feasting on the speciality in Central America – grilled chicken – while necking a litre of Tona. Cel of course refrained from the necking but did put away some pure agua. After dinner we hung out in the street (with espresso and gelato in hand, no guessing whose idea the gelato was), listening to a band that was playing the hits from the 70’s and 80’s.
So of the two colonial towns, our vote would go to Leon, it’s more Nicaraguan, I’d assume more of the tourist dollar goes to locals, it has great accommodation and you just can’t go past the weirdest museum in the world!
Next up is Ometepe Island – getting onto the farm and into the bush.