My Nicaragua Love Affair Part 2 – Leon
My next stop is León, Nicaragua’s second largest city after the capital Managua. The city welcomes me with spotless blue skies and oppressive heat.
I spend three nights in a breathtakingly beautiful hotel, El Convento. It has been rebuilt on the grounds of the old San Francisco convent using the same Spanish-colonial style and with a proliferation of religious decor to preserve the original ambience.
The hotel is spacious and airy with a pretty courtyard providing a much needed refuge from the stifling heat and the scorching sun. Unusually for Nicaraguan hotels, there is a bathtub in my room (but as you might expect: there is no hot water!)
León itself is a dizzying feast for the eyes overflowing with fine examples of Spanish colonial architecture.The beating heart of the city is the grand Cathedral of the Assumption, the largest cathedral in Central America and a UNESCO Heritage Site which took more than 100 years to complete staring during the Age of Enlightenment in 1747.
It shines with its white-washed walls brilliant under the bright sun.
Inside the Cathedral is the tomb of Rubén Darío, the most famous Nicaraguan poet. He is the Shakespeare of Central America and the “Father of Literary Modernism”, whose works have had a lasting influence on Spanish literature of 20th century. Inside his tomb is marked by a regal stone lion.
Unexpectedly, a torrential rain starts an hour after I arrive in Leon bringing a welcome hint of coolness to the air, and I make my way to Nicaragua’s largest art museum, Centro de Arte Fundación Ortíz – Gurdián, across the road from El Convento. This spacious gallery houses a private collection of one of Nicaragua’s richest man (who also happens to own the hotel that I am staying in). The collection is impressive, encompassing the Old Masters and contemporary art, both from Europe and the Americas.
The collection seems to be endless, spanning several interlinked buildings. Some of the old masters’ paintings make me chuckle – they are badly executed and are rather terrible, and yet I applaud the effort the owners went to in order to procure them. I am, however, impressed by the Latin American masters’ pictures – Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Fernando Botero, Roberto Matta and more – that define the collection.Afterwards, I stroll to the main plaza sprawling at the base of the Cathedral of the Assumption to get my favourite local meal of marinated pork and boiled yuka, vigorón, at El Sesteo. Situated right in front of the cathedral, this landmark cafe is perfect for people watching! Satisfied, I roam the streets until twilight falls.
The next morning, I wake up at dawn to go on a hike in the environs of Leon. Leon is surrounded by magnificent volcanoes, so this city is the perfect base if like me you love hiking. I choose to climb El Hoyo Volcano within El Hoyo volcanic complex. Its last eruption took place in 1954 and it can be easily recognized by the huge hole situated on one of its slopes. The hike is not particularly strenuous, taking me less than two hours to reach the top. The views from above are spectacular – El Hoyo’s closest neighbour is the imposing ash-black Cerro Negro, but I can also see volcanic chain receding into the distance with lapis lazuli waters of Lake Managua below me.
In the afternoon, I am taken on a private tour of Leon.
We climb to the roof of the Cathedral of Assumption accessible by a discreet staircase at the back. Before we go out onto the roof, we are asked to take off our sandals, as the soles of our shoes could spoil the pristinely white surface. The perfectly smooth and white rooftop feels incredibly pleasant and warm under my bare feet. The whiteness of the roof is incredible at reflecting rays of sun – apparently its absolutely baking around midday so everyone is advised to avoid exploring it then. I wander about, look over the bannisters, feeling a little childish I jump and twirl about.
The next day, I go volcano surfing, an activity unique to Nicaragua. According to CNN, this should be a number two in your bucket list of 50 fun but terrifying experiences before you die! Hopefully its not going to end after this one! You can read all about my adrenaline-filled experience here.
To be continued… 🙂 :