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Capitals of Nicaragua, Managua and Leon

Coast of Riches: A Journey Through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama Day 1: Arriving in country 47, Nicaragua and sightseeing in Managua and Leon before driving and spending the night in San Juan del Sur!

Day’s Itinerary

Our 5 am United departure to Managua with a transfer in Houston already guaranteed a tiring start to the trip.

Planning the trip in our comfy first class seats on United.
Planning the trip in our comfy first class seats on United.

On our landing approach, from the window we saw the Statue of Sandino perched above Tiscapa Lagoon, surrounded by steel roofed shacks.

Immediately getting off the plane, we were welcomed to Nicaragua with hot and humid air sticking to our skin. Immigration and customs was a breeze, besides the minor annoyance of filling out three forms asking for the same exact information. Country 47 stamp secured!

We got some cash and grabbed our rental from Avis, which was located in the parking lot of an Indian themed casino. With a tourist map in hand, our first stop was Managua.

Managua

The capital since 1852 and the largest city in Nicaragua, Managua is a busy sprawled out web of roads with crowded single story buildings. We drove by horse carts, motorcycles and trucks all using the same lanes to arrive at the Plaza de la Revolución. Our map was terrible, but we managed to spot the tall cathedral from the road and turned off just in time.

Plaza de la Revolución

This central square is flanked by the main buildings of interest for a tourist visiting Managua. There’s the cathedral, the National Palace, the Parque Central (Central Park) and La Casa Del Los Pueblos.

Old Cathedral of Managua (Catedral de Santiago)

This cathedral was actually shipped over in pieces all the way from my Belgian homeland and constructed in the 1920s. Then during the 6.2 magnitude 1972 earthquake it was extremely damaged and condemned. Apparently they haven’t had the funds to restore it yet so its eerie shell just sits there.

Catedral de Santiago of Managua
Catedral de Santiago of Managua
You can see the serious structural cracks throughout. The tower is also missing a cross!
You can see the serious structural cracks throughout. The tower is also missing a cross!

National Palace

Right next to the cathedral is the National Palace, which use to house Congress, but has now been turned into the National Museum, Library, and Archives.

We decided to go into the museum and paid the charge-a-tourist-whatever fee of $4. We realized when the museum’s ticket lady asked the guy who sold us the tickets “How much did you charge them?” that we may have been had.

We walked around for photo-ops of weird cultural masks, pottery, archaeological finds, sculptures and some awesome wall art. We also walked in on some fashion photo shoot taking place.

The National Palace with the Nicaraguan flag waving in the wind.
The National Palace with the Nicaraguan flag waving in the wind.
Sculpture of children playing in the courtyard.
Sculpture of children playing in the courtyard.
Wall art at the National Museum.
Wall art at the National Museum.
<strong>La Casa de Los Pueblos</strong> is a cultural center but use to house the offices of the President and his advisors.
La Casa de Los Pueblos is a cultural center but use to house the offices of the President and his advisors.
The tomb of FSLN founder, Carlos Fonseca, honored by an eternal flame.
The tomb of FSLN founder, Carlos Fonseca, honored by an eternal flame.

We then checked out the statue of the Nameless Guerrilla Soldier – Monument to the True Heroes of the Revolution, honoring the FSLN Sandinista fighters.

He’s raising an AK-47 in one hand and holding a pickaxe in the other. This is possibly the most badass statue I’ve ever seen.
Raising an AK-47 in one hand and holding a pickaxe in the other, this is possibly the most badass statue I’ve ever seen.

We drove by Lake Xolotlán on the way to our next stop, Leon. There was some serious traffic due to construction and we noticed people holding large iguanas on the side of the road. I’m assuming they were selling them, but I’m not sure for what purpose (pets? food?). Besides that it was a smooth drive on decent roads.

León

The second largest city of Nicaragua and a previous capital, Leon is famous for its colonial charm. The center is very touristy and full of churches, restaurants, and hostels. This seems like a backpacker heaven.

We parked next to the main market and walked to the front of the cathedral.

León Cathedral

Built in 1747 -1814, this eclectic style rectangular cathedral is UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of the most famous Nicaraguans are buried within the grounds of this holy edifice.

Made it to the largest cathedral in Central America!
Made it to the largest cathedral in Central America!
From the inside of the cathedral you can take underground tunnels to several other churches in Leon.
From the inside of the cathedral you can take underground tunnels to several other churches in Leon.
Iglesia de La Recoleccion at the end of the street.
Iglesia de La Recoleccion at the end of the street.
We got a typical Nica lunch with a large domestic Victoria beer to cool us down.
We got a typical Nica lunch with a large domestic Victoria beer to cool us down.

Before we left, I spotted some shirts at the market where we parked. Perfect time to pick up the shirt of the country!

As I was paying for my T-shirt a young boy was pulling at my shorts repeated the words “Tip Top” (a fast food joint) over and over again. I thought he wanted a tip, but it seems he just wanted a few seconds of attention and asked me to take a picture of him wearing his mask. Bill asked if it was tasty and he answered “SI, ES MUY DELICIOSO!”

We were sold.
We were sold.

Then we took a long and arduous, though beautiful, drive to San Juan del Sur where our hotel was. It was around 5 hours. We got lost a few times which I blame on a poor map and virtually no road signs, but helpful locals pointed out the way.

Sunset on drive to San Jaun del Sur.
Sunset on drive to San Jaun del Sur.

On the way, we saw the infamous Tip Top chicken glowing red and yellow in the night sky and couldn’t really contain our excitement. We found that Tip Top was very much like a KFC, but you get to sit down and someone comes to take your order. Interesting concept for fast food, but it doesn’t really work when it takes 45 minutes for our meal to come out.

Bless your heart child for sharing this top tip on Tip Top.
Bless your heart child for sharing this top tip on Tip Top.

After dinner, we had a direct drive through Rivas and then arriving at our destination in San Juan del Sur. We found our exotic hotel, Pelican Eyes and crashed into bed.

Ometepe awaits tomorrow!

David De Clercq

About David De Clercq

Founder and writer at World-Adventurer.com, David is on a mission to travel to every country in the world and has less than 10 countries left! He loves new adventures, unique cultures, historic landmarks, and luxurious hotels. Follow along as David shares a journey of a lifetime!