20/2/17. Although we were reluctant to leave the beautiful Laguna de Apoyo, we were also quite excited/apprehensive about the journey from there to our next destinatination, the rival with Granada for the title of oldest city in Nicaragua, León.
We spent some time researching how to get to León direct from the Laguna without success and resorted to taking a taxi back to Granada (cost $15 for 18 km) to catch public buses, via Managua, at a total cost for two separate buses (for a journey of 120 km) of $2.80 each. It was an experience! And great fun!
There are shuttle transfers between the two cities in a/c minibuses for about $30 a head which are “easier” and probably safer – but they won’t be half as enjoyable! The real highlight was, on the first section to Managua, observing the young “conductor” hanging out of the open door shouting at people on the roadside to encourage them to take his bus rather than the one 30 seconds behind.
Arriving in León bus station was chaos (take a bow, Lee!) as we had read. We were assailed by taxi and pedicab drivers for transport to the centre. Stephen tried to resist but eventually succumbed to the persistent pressure and we grabbed a pedicab who, initially, claimed to know where our hostel was but, as we neared it, clearly didn’t! A phone call using the number in the email confirmation sorted him out and we arrived another $4 lighter in the pocket for about 2 km. (Mind you, not even Stephen would push one of those pedicabs for 2 km with 2 grumpy foreigners aboard for $4 in that heat!
And what of León?
Our initial impressions were not overly favourable when compared to Granada but it has steadily grown on us. The Lonely Planet says “Many people fall in love with Granada, but most of them leave their heart in León”. We are not sure we entirely agree with that but our feeling is that Granada is more set up for tourists while León is more “authentic” – at the moment, but give it a few years! Our recommendation would be to get yourself here quickly because it is changing – fast!
Also, León is several degrees warmer than Granada – say 33-35° rather than 28-30° when we were here.
León prides itself in being the centre of the 1979 revolution against the right wing dictatorship of the Somoza family and there are many reminders of the struggle including a museum (with an ex-Sandinista guerrilla guide) and many murals. It is quite atmospheric wandering the streets. Not threatening, but evocative. (For a flavour of the city, see the photos here.)
We leave León tonight on another overnight bus trip for El Salvador. We have to cross a narrow corridor of Honduras (reputedly the most dangerous country in the world in terms of murders per capita – but Iraq? Afghanistan?? Syria???) where we will not stop other than for border controls (more passports stamps, please!).