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Nicaragua: Granada, Leon, Masaya
Leon, Nicaragua: Revolution that shaped the country
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Leon has long been considered the political and intellectual centre of Nicaragua. Laying claim to some of the country’s most important poets and musicians as well as some of Nicaragua’s most beautiful historical buildings. It is also home to the revolution that shaped Nicaragua as we know it today.
For our trip from San Jose, Costa Rica to Managua, Nicaragua, we had chartered a flight. In about 60 minutes, flying over countless volcano craters we landed at Managua airport. A bus and our guide were waiting to receive us. For the next 3 days we would be exploring Nicaragua - essentially Leon and Granada with the Masaya Volcano added along the route in good measure.
Bisecting the city of Managua we headed straight to Leon. Our hotel for the next 2 nights would be the historical El Convento. Located in the heart of Leon, Hotel El Convento combines the essence of a classic 17th century convent with modern comfort and elegance. This boutique hotel surrounds you with abundant flowers in the central courtyard and Spanish-colonial antiques and artwork in the corridors. Each of its 31 executive rooms (single or double, including a deluxe suite with a king-sized bed and ample lounge area) features terra-cotta floors, exposed brick walls, and ornately carved wood furnishings.
That afternoon we were on our own. The plan was to take it easy at the hotel or just explore the neighbourhood and the fascinating streets of Leon. The next day, our guide would be walking us around the city's icons.
As the city of the revolution and one of one of the oldest Spanish colonies on the continent, Leon is hard to beat for interesting history. If you want to get a true appreciation and understanding of León, a city tour is a great way to scratch the surface.
The bullet holes and colorful murals on Leon’s streets are relics of the revolution, when radical poets, students, and farmers overthrew the US-backed Somoza dynasty in 1979. The roots of the rebellion run deep in Leon: it was there in 1956 that a local poet shot dead the first of three Somoza dictators at a party. Students from Leon and Managua formed the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and Leon was the first city to be liberated when the Sandinistas eventually wrested power back from the Somozas in 1979.
The iconic Cathedral of Leon or the Basilica Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an important and historic landmark of Nicaragua. It has been awarded UNESCO status and rightly so. Built over a period of 67 years, ending in 1814 and consecrated by Pope Pius IX in 1860 this magnificent building still maintains the status of being the largest cathedral in Central America.
Climbing the roof of the Leon Cathedral is surely a must-do. There has been a massive restoration taking place to restore this rain stained historical monolith to its former pristine white glory. 34 domes cover the cathedral creating a whole different perspective from above. Every aspect of this cathedral, whether inside or standing on the roof or admiring the facade, one will be overwhelmed with how intricately beautiful and historically fascinating the building is.
After grabbing a quick bite, we moved towards San Jacinto Mud Pots. San Jacinto is a little town about 20 kilometers northeast of Leon. Behind the village lie boiling mud holes, connected probably to the Telica volcano. The field is not big but it is interesting as well as extremely hot to walk around and see the holes, which differ in size and color, where the mud is fiercely boiling. The mud sometimes throws little rocks in the air and steam is continuously emitted from the holes.
Many local kids offer to guide you around. To many, this is surely a good idea because there are no clearly set paths that mark where it’s safe to walk and the kids know where to take you. The kids are also expert in digging out the hot mud and mold them into artefacts. They also pack the mud in pouches and sell as a skin-healer. As a token of our appreciation, we were happy to share some sweets and chocolates with the kids.
It was now time for some adrenaline rush - sandboarding down the volcanic ash. An hour's drive got us to the base of Cerro Negro Volcano.
Cerro Negro, Central America's youngest volcano was born in April 1850 and is one of the region's most active volcanoes. It has been producing frequent eruptions, occasional lava fountains and lava flows, and powerful explosive eruptions every few decades. Cerro Negro lies in a sparsely populated area and its eruptions have not caused significant damage nearby, but ash fall from its sometimes strong explosions have damaged farmland and houses in the populated areas of the Nicaraguan depression. The volcano consists of a black ("negro") basaltic cinder cone with associated lava flows. The frequent eruptions of Cerro Negro have modified its morphology continuously since its birth 160 years ago. The volcano has created opportunities for visitors to slide down the slopes.
Barring me and a friend, everybody else in the group opted for the sandboarding. Basic equipment is available on rent for tourists. It includes the board, a jump suit, goggles and gloves. Visitors have the option to hire the services of the porter who carries the board up for you. An hour's hike takes the visitors up the 728-metre volcano. From the edge of the crater one slide down the board, after, of course, getting the instructions from the guide. Depending upon the speed you travel, it takes about 3 minutes to reach the base!
While the group was enjoying the slide, I was enjoying the beautiful sunset.
The next morning we would drive to Granada with a brief stop at Masaya Volcano.
Leon Image Gallery Photo viewer
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