But seriously, León is hot. In the high season, roughly November to February according to hostel workers, the city’s average temperatures are actually the lowest of the year. Of course, I hadn’t thought to look up Nicaraguan climate beyond the times I would be there, so I was shocked to learn that the blaring sun and oppressive humidity was their “winter.” Nicaragua doesn’t really have seasons, just a dry season and a rainy season, and they’re both pretty freaking hot.
Despite the rivers of sweat and layers of deodorant I caked on for the sake of passerby, León charmed me. Not only is it a hub of activity itself, but it is also a gateway to nearby volcanoes and beaches.
My flight got in at 8pm, and after hearing from many people to avoid Managua at night, I booked a taxi to León rather than stay and use the bus in the morning. Well, the taxi driver wasn’t there (I later learned repeatedly that this is far from uncommon). After being followed around by some taxi drivers who were grating my nerves with their earnestness, I was able to call a friend and she told me my best bet was to take a taxi all the way to León, where I already had a hostel reservation. The drive was $80, which was much more than I had planned on spending, but it was safer than getting a taxi from the highway and I was able to get a driver who spoke some English.
Immediately, I was initiated into the kamikaze driving rules of Nicaragua. Insane speeds, hairpin turns, and questionable passing on two-lane highways would have been a nail-biter of a drive – if I wasn’t so tired. Often the driver would be going 60mph, only to suddenly brake when we came upon a donkey carriage or moped that didn’t have reflectors. Everyone beeps too, and I began to realize that a few quick beeps are “hey, how are you doing?” and longer beeps are “get out of the way, hijo de puta!” Normally I would have been flipping through my travel dictionary to figure out what “slower” was in Spanish, but I couldn’t bring myself to do more than passively watch through half-closed eyes.
When I finally crashed on my dorm bed in the Surfing Turtle León hostel, I curled up with my two-liter water bottle and fell asleep to the sounds of moped horns outside. The next morning I awoke to a tall Dutch man leaping from the top bunk and greeting me with “Howdy!” Thus began my first day in Nicaragua.
Catedral de León
Famously the largest cathedral in all of Central America, this has a beautiful view of the city and the volcanoes beyond. It took me a couple loops around the cathedral to figure out that a small tunnel leads to a ticket office for rooftop tours. From there, I again walked around the cathedral until I found the gatekeeper for the rooftop, and after my ticket was punched I followed a small group up a claustrophobic pathway to the top. Shoes aren’t allowed, and it is kind of refreshing to walk the sunbaked roof barefoot. The bluebird skies and whitewashed roof transport you to an almost meditative state, far from the hustle and bustle below.