We had a week in León, Nicaragua, with kids, in September 2017.
It was our first stop in Nicaragua and, boy was it hot!
León is a stunning colonial town 2 hours drive away from Managua, and today I’m gonna tell you all about it!
Best place to stay with kids in León
We spent our days in Tortuga Booluda Hostel. It was our first experience with hostels and it was way easier than I thought.
We had 2 connecting rooms with a toilet in the middle. There were real turtles (4 or 5 of them), a table of the pool game, hammocks, a communal computer, a kitchen, sofas, and awesome staff. We loved the morning make-yourself pancakes with bananas and honey, and the turtles. Plus, there are bottles of beer, water, and soft drinks for a dollar each.
There were only 2 problems: the lack of air conditioning (although to be fair, there were 2~3 fans in each room) and the cold shower.
What to do in León – for families
We did less than we wanted, but we didn’t want to strain ourselves too much. The heat was super strong and we decided to take it easier than usual. But we did a few things that I’m gonna share below.
If you’re in León, you’ll see it like or not. We visited it quite a few times, but not always to see it – just passing through or to do something there, like visit the Cathedral or eat. It’s full of tourists and locals, there are people selling all kinds of stuff, plus there are trampolines, home-made merry-go-rounds, and lots of pigeons.
It’s so full of life, I love it.
The White Cathedral
It has lots of names, according to Wikipedia. We heard it as Our Lady of Grace Cathedral, but we’ll call it the White Cathedral. It was being painted so the front of it was white and the sides and back were still tainted with gray/black.
On a Tuesday, we decided to climb it. We arrived around 11 am and it was closed. We were kind of defeated, but decided to go get the postcards for our subscribers (subscribe here! We send out 3 of them every month!) and have something to eat. When we were done, it opened. Funny. There’s a sign in one of the doors saying the times they’re open and on that day, it was from 2:30 to 4:30 pm. So we went. There are quite a few entrances, but you’ll need to get tickets first if you want a tour or to climb to the top of it. It’s sold in a little door on the side of the church. A lady behind bars was there giving us the options and the tickets. We decided we didn’t want the tour, just to go to the top of the church so we paid 80 cordobas (around US$ 2.5) per adult, 40 cordobas per kid, and Coral (5) went for free.
The stairs to the top are VERY narrow and kind of dirty, but it’s doable.
At the top, there was another lady explaining the rules (no shoes, no climbing on the domes, no ringing the bells) and we had 25 minutes there. The floor was hot, and the sun was burning our souls, so we didn’t stay for 25 minutes. We spent something like 15. I think it was a bit too expensive for 15 minutes, but it was worth it. The view from up there is incredible and it really is all white (it is a bit dirty, though).
It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and it’s worth visiting, even if you’re not climbing nor doing the tour. You can always just go chill or pray inside the church.
We went there once at night in hopes of seeing a turtle but no luck. Plus, it was a scary night with lots of bolts of lightning and thunders, so we left quickly. We saw many fireflies drowning (seriously) and managed to rescue one. Or maybe it was just sea bathing and we removed it from its leisure. Anyway, it was pretty neat seeing those little flashing lights on the sand.
On the next day, we talked to the staff at the hostel, and they told us that there rarely are turtles there anymore due to poachers. They flash a light very quickly to let others know there are turtles there. Well, we never really headed back because the last thing I want to encounter is a dead turtle.
Volcano boarding? Not for me, but you’ll find it there. It’s a beautiful black volcano (still active). You climb it on foot and slide down on a board. We decided to walk up and down. It was a stupid mistake to go from no exercise at all to a sudden volcano hike. It took us around 2 hours to the top and we gave up right before the cume. The path is there, but it’s full of loose rocks and not easy. It was slippery, steep, and scary. The kids managed it way better than I did, though. So we went to the first crater because after that, the path was narrower and we’d be on the way of the volcano boarders.
There was a bit of smoke coming out of the crater and it was fun watching. Plus, there’s a dragon-shaped black lava mark on the ground that we could only see halfway to the top that was really cool.
IF we ever went there again, we wouldn’t climb it – I don’t think so.
Getting there was hard too. It took us around an hour in the car from León to the volcano, passing through village after village, holes, and sandy paths. Not easy on a 2WD, but doable.
Hervideros de San Jacinto
This brings up mixed feelings. It’s basically the mud pools and the breath holes from the volcanoes around. We were literally the only ones there. As soon as we opened the car door, a lot of kids – A LOT – came and started talking, offering guiding and other things my Spanish couldn’t get. We paid the entrance fee and entered, accompanied by around 5 kids that weren’t ours plus the lady from the ticket booth. And that’s because we declined the guiding services.
They were knowledgeable and gave us information about all that was happening (plus the paths because although they are marked, it was pretty confusing and unsafe). It’s pretty cool and we were able to get very close (as in feet inside) the mud pools. We got burned a few times, but it wasn’t really bad, of course, it was just really hot and uncomfortable.
It didn’t feel too safe walking around, as pools emerged in the path and the guides knew, so they just went around, whereas we – while taking photos, ended up with our feet covered in hot mud. OK, it was just me.
I think it was hard, with all the kids that walked with us asking for money after the tour, and the unsafe path wasn’t very child-friendly. Unless your kids are older or you’re able to pay complete attention to them, I’d skip this one.
Family friendly places to eat in León
This restaurant was the most expensive, and our favorite. We loved the waiter that was there all the times we visited it, and how nice he was to everyone. It’s right in front of the White Cathedral, which is very handy. Their fruit juice is great, and the Nicaraguan food is delicious! If you want good food and a relaxing time with a view, this is it. Their chicken broth was just delicious!
Want a VERY local restaurant, with local food only? This is it. It doesn’t even have a sign. It’s not super beautiful, but their food is incredibly delicious and the portions are huge. We didn’t go back there because it was a bit farther than we wanted to. Otherwise, we’d have gone back because their bean soup (sopa de frijoles) is just the best I’ve ever had – and I’m Brazilian born, so I know bean soup.
We went there on our last day because it was close to the hostel and it had air conditioning. We’re that kind of people. The pizza was good, and it came loaded with everything. Service wasn’t the best, but the air conditioning and the kids’ play area were enough for us, really.
Las Dos Fridas
It’s a neat café with few food options, but their juice was yum! They also have a pretty setting, with hammocks, hummingbirds flying around, and a gorgeous friendly cat roaming through the tables. We didn’t eat, just had juice, and we loved it!
It was the first restaurant we went to. It’s a pretty place, but it was really, really hot, the food took just too long to arrive and it wasn’t even good. The juice, on the other hand, was the best we had in León.
Pizza Papa Jam
We had pizza on Sunday because it was the only thing open at night. The pizza was bigger than we were used to and OK. Not the best pizza ever, but good enough to repeat.
How to get there
There are many ways to get to León. You can grab a bus, a shared taxi, a shuttle, or a regular taxi. We rented a car in Managua, so we drove. It was around 2 hours of driving, and it was an easy drive. Sure, you’ll need to watch out for holes and horses and cows, but it’s not hard. Plus, it’s a beautiful drive.
Weather in Nicaragua
It’s always hot, so no need for the sweaters. Seriously.
The wet season is from May to October and the dry season is from November to April.
We were there in September and it did rain every single day, but never for a long period. Only on one night, the rain lasted the whole night. That’s when the lights went down all over the town and we thought we’d die due to the heat. It was that bad.
We’ve had ours done in White Devil Tattoo. We loved it so much that I had my old one repainted and Angelo did a big one on his forearm. Andy was very professional, it was all clean, and it was just the cheapest place we’ve ever encountered. Plus, there’s air conditioning and he’s British – no need to explain your idea in Spanish.
Tips for families visiting Leon
There are a few tips I’m gonna share them here!
– The showers are cold. Always. The water isn’t super cold, but it’s not the hot shower I enjoy. Try taking the shower before lunch or during the afternoon, when it’s so hot everyone will be pleased with cold water.
– It’s hot, so most people won’t mind the cold shower, really. It was the only place in my whole existence where I felt the need to shower twice a day. We all woke up all sweaty and by bedtime, we were all sweating and yuck again.
– Mosquitos are a thing, so people just pass around spraying poison everywhere. On one day, we had to stay in the room, within closed doors, for around 3 hours because the smoke of poison in the neighborhood was just too much to bear. Maybe that’s why we only saw them a few times.
– We saw many lizards, bats, and hummingbirds there. You’ll probably see them too!
– Air conditioning isn’t widely available. Unfortunately.
– The houses are all colorful and beautiful! The doors are tall and wide. It’s pretty awesome. Great for kids photos – they’ll look small comparing to the doors!
– There are more churches than one can count. They’re all pretty and worth a photograph!
– Enjoy the fresh fruit juice! A cup for a dollar is a fair price and worth every penny! Great stuff!
– While we were there, there was a pinkeye (conjunctivitis) outbreak. We all got it. Not fun, highly contagious, but not serious, thankfully.
– In September, they have the Independence day and school kids walk around town playing drums. It’s pretty cool (and loud) to watch!
We loved León, despite the heat and the poison smoke. It’s beautiful, cozy, charming, colorful, the people are lovely, things are cheaper than the usual, and it’s amazing! It’s definitely worth a few days of your trip. Everywhere is family friendly, and Leon is a great family destination!
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|City / Country||León / Nicaragua|
|Minimum Stay||3 days|
|$ – $$$||$|
|Child-friendlyness||It’s pure love! Kids were welcome everywhere!|
|Best local transport||WALK!|
|Do we recommend it?||YES!!!|