León is an interesting city to walk around, but it’s always better to have a guide! I happened to find a new company that offers free walking tours every morning so I signed up. Here’s my experience on the free Leon City tour.
About the Tour
The tour lasted 90 minutes and covered the centre of the city. I learned more about the history of the city and the country and saw some of the murals depicting these stories. On the tour with me were a Canadian couple and 3 Germans, which is not surprising! Germans and Canadians are the most common tourists in Nicaragua right now.
City of Churches
I already mentioned the enormous amount of churches here, and the guide, Sebastian, pointed out León is known as a city of churches. This is because there are 2 Catholic churches per neighbourhood here. I don’t know why that’s necessary but the churches are pretty to look at and have some crazy icons inside.
He also informed us that the main cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, has tunnels to 5 different churches in the city. These were created to fend off pirates!
Sebastian also taught us a lot of history of the revolutionary movement, the Sandinistas, the U.S. vs. U.S.S.R, and the demonstrations that led to the deaths of students and innocents in the city of León. Nicaragua suffered a lot through those years, this region especially. The pain, struggles, and hope for peace and recovery, is evidenced in a lot of the murals around the city.
Leon Street Art
He highlighted this mural –
on the left is a historical Sandino with his foot on Somoza’s head and the struggling farmers and sugar cane workers. Somoza’s family ran the country from the 30s to the 70s, and just after signing a peace pact with him, killed Sandino, the father of the revolution.
On the right is the modern day (this was created in the 80s) Sandino, with Uncle Sam under his foot and anti-American expressions. He also gave us a version of the origin of the term “Gringo” – that the U.S. troops wore green and the locals wanted them gone, so in simple English “Green. Go” = gringo. That doesn’t seem to be true, but it is a colorful story.
He showed us some more revolutionary murals, including one dedicated to a student peaceful protest that ended with the military attacking the protesters.
León and Volcanoes
We also learned about the volcanic activity around León and the fact that there is an Old León buried nearby and the survivors of the volcanic eruption had to create a new city where we currently are now.
Our final stop was a courtyard at the University (UNAN) which housed a special exhibit to the country’s famed poet and writer Rubén Darío. It was free to enter and they have some beautiful gardens in the building. I really like how so much of the landscaping here seems like an homage to Edward Scissorhands. Or maybe it’s just me.
If you visit León, Nicaragua, I recommend taking this free Leon City Tour, and tip your guide. It’s a lot of work to do one of these tours!