Leon – Nicaragua – Information


OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2017:



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OVERVIEW:

I left El Salvador and crossed the Gulf Of Fonseca by boat and ended up staying 4 nights in Jiquilillo: a rustic little fishing village on the Pacific coast in north-west Nicaragua.Potosi to Jiquilillo Map

I stayed in the Vistas Del Pacifico: which is almost the only place in town that GRANDPAckers can afford (US$20 / night discounted down to US$18 / night by ‘walking in off the street’).Jiquilillo - El Vistas Del Pacifico - Grounds

It was a basic little place. I was the only one there (at the end of October / Rainy Season).Jiquilillo - El Vistas Del Pacifico - Entry

It had a restaurant on the beach.Jiquilillo - El Vistas Del Pacifico - View

My room was acceptable.Jiquilillo - El Vistas Del Pacifico - Room Entry

And I had a private bathroom (the only operational room that did).Jiquilillo - El Vistas Del Pacifico - En Suite Toilet

It was time to move on to Leon.


JIQUILILLO TO LEON:

León is located along the Río Chiquito (Chiquito River), some 90 kilometres northwest of Managua, and some 18 km east of the Pacific coast.

The busses out of Jiquilillo leave starting at 6:30am. The next is 7:30am. Then 9:30am … The last bus out is 3:00pm. They all head for Chinandega.Jiquilillo to Leon Map

I was up early, skipped Breakfast and stood out the front of my hotel to wait for the passing bus. I was targeting the 7:30am bus.Jiquilillo - Walk 1

It passed at 7:40am. I flagged it down. My suitcase was put up on the roof and I jumped in.

We arrived in Chinandega at 9:10am (N$30). The bus terminates near the Parque Central (north west of town center).Chinandega - Town Centre Map

From there, you have to get across town to the Bus Terminal. Ignore the cycle tuk tuks who want to charge you N$150 / US$5 (it’s too far away for them anyway). Wait for a passing taxi (N$20). Ask the taxi to take you to the ‘Busitas’ (Minibusses).

NOTE: The Busita charges N$31 to Leon and takes 50 minutes. The Chicken Bus charges about N$25 and takes over 1.5 hours … it’s a no-brainer – catch a Busita.

Alas, I had my large suitcase with me and the Busita had no luggage storage so, as with many parts of South East Asia, I had to buy a seat for my suitcase too. You buy your ticket(s) at the counter before you get on the Busita. I bought 2 tickets for a total of N$62 and jumped in. I got a small ‘jump’ seat … and my suitcase was put on the floor next of me 🙂 … so much for paying for a seat … I was, actually, paying for the extra weight!

We left at 9:25am and arrived at the Leon Bus Terminal at 10:15am.Leon - Bus Terminal

At the terminal, as always, you will find lots of cheap eateries. I sat down for a Desayuno Tipico with coffee (N$45) and an 2nd coffee (N$5).Leon - Bus Terminal - Desayuno Tipico N$45

I, then, started walking the half hour walk from there (out of the Bus Terminal and through the street market) to my hotel.Leon - Bus Terminal - Street

I was at my hotel by 11.15am. It would have been a 35 minute walk to the Cathedral Square.


ABOUT LEON:

León is the second largest city in Nicaragua, after Managua.Leon - Town Map

It rivals Granada in its number of historic Spanish colonial churches, secular buildings, and private residences. As of 2012, the city had an estimated population of 201,100. This number increases sharply during university season. As a University Town, you can be assured of many night-life options.

León used to be the capital of Nicaragua in colonial times. So, naturally, when Nicaragua withdrew from the United Provinces of Central America in 1839, León became the capital of the new nation. As a result, León is rich in both monuments and historical places.Leon - Historical Center Map

Especially in and around the Historical Center / Cathedral Square.


WALK AROUND – PHOTO GALLERY:

Around the Bus Terminal there is a big market that spans many blocks. This is the best area for shopping.Leon - Bus Terminal Market Street 2

These shops can sell items for nearly half the price of what you pay around the Cathedral.


THE STREETS:

Leon is not Antigua nor San Miguel de Allende. It is not picturesque.Leon - El Jardin - Street

In comparison, the Cathedral and its square are pretty average too.Leon - Cathedral

The Hiistorical Center streets are reasonably tidy – but lack ‘character’.Leon - Street to Cathedral

It’s all a bit ‘ho hum’ really.


WHERE TO STAY:

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night mid November 2017 (the first month of their ‘dry season’) within easy walking distance of the Historical Center …



HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:

All accommodations under a rack rate of US$15 / night have Shared Bathrooms. The cheapest accommodation with a private bathroom starts at (a discounted price of) US$15.Leon Booking 1

There are many options with Private Bathroom for under US$30 / night.


AGODA.COM:Leon - Agoda

EXPEDIA.COM:Leon - Expedia

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 18% to the displayed price to get the final price.



VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … please note that these prices are in US$s …


TRIPADVISOR:Leon - Tripadvisor

AIRBnB:Leon - AirBnB

PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Extra Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.



IN SUMMARY:

I started my search (for a Double Fan Room with En Suite) early and kept an eye on prices … looking for big price drops. I even pretended to be arriving a week before I planned to see if any ‘last minute deals’ popped up. Last minute discounts were few.

I advise you to start your search early and look for daily discounts … don’t pay more than US$20 / night including taxes for a Fan Double with En Suite … you should be able to find something for that price if you are patient.

PLEASE NOTE: Many of these hotels still have Shared Bathrooms – even at US$15+ prices. Go to the hotel link and check that your preferred room has a Private Bathroom.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

As well as looking in the normal hotel search engines, I searched for hotels on Facebook and for their own websites. It always seemed to boil down to the same 5 options:

  • Guardabarranco (includes Breakfast)
  • El Jardin (includes Breakfast)
  • Leyendas (includes Breakfast)
  • Casa Ivana
  • El Albergue

Having a good Free Breakfast included is worth US$2 / day per person.


HOSTEL GUARDABARRANCO:

I liked the look of the El Jardin but it was 950 meters away from the Cathedral. So, I decided to contact the Guardabarranco using their own website (it was only 650 meters from the Cathedral).

I booked a Double Fan Room with En Suite and Breakfast for US$15 / night for 4 nights. The Guardabarranco were running promotional prices on their website in October … their normal price for the room was US$18. The same room was listed for US$22 / night on Booking.com. I paid cash in N$ on arrival. There were no ‘favours’ here … they used a 30.5 exchange rate to convert the US$60 to N$1,830.

The Guardabarranco is on the same street as a number of other cheap hotels.Leon - Guardabarranco - Main Entry

It has a Shared Kitchen.Leon - Guardabarranco - Shared Kitchen

A Dining / Lounge Area. Leon - Guardabarranco - Shared Lounge

And a small garden with hammocks at the back.Leon - Guardabarranco - Back Garden

My room was perfectly acceptable and clean.Leon - Guardabarranco - Room Entry

The bed was comfortable.Leon - Guardabarranco - Bed

But, again, no wardrobe – so out came my washing line.Leon - Guardabarranco - Furniture

The en suite was a good size and clean.Leon - Guardabarranco - En Suite Entry Leon - Guardabarranco - Toilet Leon - Guardabarranco - Vanity

The cold-water shower had plenty of water-flow.Leon - Guardabarranco - Shower

The Free Breakfast was simple and alternated between a Pancake with a Banana and Scambled Egg with Toast – both came with an orange juice. Free coffee was available between 7:30am and 9:30am. There was no free water.Leon - Guardabarranco - Free BreakfastLeon - Guardabarranco - Free Breakfast 2

Wifi was good throughout the property. The in-room wifi signal was good.


HOSTEL EL JARDIN:

On my return from a few days in Managua to pick up my 21 year-old son, we returned to Leon. This time we stayed in the El Jardin.

The El Jardin is located 1km from the Cathedral a few blocks from the main Bus Terminal.

I viewed the El Jardin when I was first in Leon. They had a communal area with a pool table, a shared kitchen, and a small garden at the back. I did not see inside the rooms.Leon - El Jardin - Dining Area

I tried to book at reception but they preferred that I booked through BOOKING.COM – to help to keep control of their booking system. I booked 4 nights with BOOKING at a discounted price of US$15 / night.Leon - El Jardin - Shared Kitchen

We arrived at noon and waited 30 minutes for our room to be ready.Leon - El Jardin - Back Garden

They converted US$s to N$s at an exchange rate of 31. I paid N$1,860 up front in cash.

The room was very small.Leon - El Jardin - Twin Room Entry

There was a small gap between the beds. The was just enough space to walk around the rest of the room.Leon - El Jardin - Twin Room

The en suite was OK and there was good (cold) water pressure in the shower.Leon - El Jardin - En Suite Entry Leon - El Jardin - En Suite Shower Leon - El Jardin - En Suite Toilet

Alas, the in-room wifi was non-existent … which is a problem for me with this travel blog.

To make it worse, my laptop needed a full Windows 10 Upgrade … after 4 days of sitting around the communal area to get a wifi signal, that Upgrade had only downloaded to 48%!

Your free breakfast was a choice between a pancake with a banana or 2 fried eggs on toast.Leon - El Jardin - Free Fried Eggs Breakfast

The best thing about breakfast is that they had filtered coffee (usually you get ‘instant’ coffee in this price range).

I chose the El Jardin on my second visit because it was nearer to the Bus Terminal. The Guardabarranco was nicer. In retrospect, it would have been worth spending an additional US$3 / night to stay in the Guardabarranco.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


INTERNET / WIFI:

You will find wifi in most places around town. But, you may still need your own Internet Plan on your Smartphone.

In Potosi, I bought a Claro SIMcard and data plan; I had too many problems with Claro (including my top up money disappearing). In Jiquilillo, I dumped Claro and switched to Movistar. All of the locals told me to make the switch – they all use Movistar. I am glad that I switched … I get a better signal (Gs instead of Hs) and they have an Android App which is easy to use.Leon - Side Street Church

I bought my Movistar SIMcard for N$50 and a 7 day N$100 MegaPack package: 500MB of data plus some talk time credits and some SMS credits. It was a ‘quadruple day’ and I got 4x my SMS and talk time credits … alas, these ‘double’, ‘treble’, and ‘quadruple’ days rarely apply to your internet data.

PLEASE NOTE: Movistar seem to have ‘quadruple’ day on a Friday. Try and top up on a Friday … or try and wait until a ‘quadruple’ day is advertised.


TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere around the Historical Center.Leon - Cathedral Square

The Bus Station is about a 30 minute walk from the Cathedral; a taxi costs N$20.

As for the public busses? Figuring out what bus goes where is a mission in itself – especially if you don’t speak fluent Spanish.


EAT:

Most of the cheap restaurants are west of the Cathedral.

You will find plenty of cheap Comedors within 2 blocks of the Cathedral and in the back streets.


BREAKFAST:

Most Comedors offer a Breakfast for N$40-50.Leon - Bus Terminal - Desayuno Tipico N$45

Add N$10 for a coffee.


LUNCH:

There aren’t many street stalls around during the day. But, I did manage to find one that did a tasty Pork Meal for N$60.Leon - Street Meal N$60

Most Comedors offer a Lunch for N$50-60. Add N$20 for a fruit drink.


DINNER:

Around the Cathedral Square you can find some street stalls at night. Something like an Enchalada costs N$20. I bought 2 for N$40 … poor value for money … you are better off going to a Comedor.Leon - Street - 2x Enchaladas N$40

Most Comedors offer a Dinner for N$50-60. Add N$30 for a fruit juice or beer. Not all Comedors remain open for Dinner.

I treated myself to a Chicken Coconut Curry at Don Jack’s for N$140.Leon - Don Jacks - Chicken Cocounut Curry N$140

Don Jack’s is listed as one of the ‘cheaper’ places in town … they have plenty of other options in the N$90-N$110 price range.


IN SUMMARY:

Try and get Breakfast included at your hotel, otherwise, expect to pay an average of N$55 / US$1.85 for a cheap Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of N$75 / US$2.50 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of N$85 / US$2.85 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice or Beer.


DRINK:

Again, most of the best bars are west of the Cathedral Square.

Expect to pay N$35 / US$1.15 for a 300ml bottle of beer and N$70 / US$2.30c for a 1 liter bottle.

Popular bars like Via Via put on live music some nights and have a Pool Table (1L beer N$75).Leon - Via Via Bar

The bars in the popular hostels (like Bigfoot) can get pretty busy specially on ‘beer-pong night’ (1L beer N$70).


MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:

There are several Supermarkets within walking distance of the Cathedral Square; one (La Union) is only 1 block away.Leon - Cathedral Arch

There are a couple of covered markets just east of the Cathedral. You pay a premium if you shop there.

You are best to shop 1km north east of the Cathedral (towards and around the Bus Terminal).

Some example costs are:

  • 12 bananas: N$20 (street market)
  • 3L Pepsi: N$39 (supermarket)
  • Pack of 20 Pall Mall Cigarettes: N$44 (corner store)
  • 1L Bottle of local Light Rum: N$94 (supermarket)

BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There are plenty of banks and ATMs to choose from.Leon - Cathedral Square Fountain

I used the Banpro ATM to take out N$10,000. They charged me 4% for the privilege (the minimum fee is US$2).


HEALTH & SAFETY:

As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

There is no reason to feel unsafe.Leon - Guardabarranco StreetLeon - Guardabarranco Street

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America.

When I was there, mosquitoes were around but, not a big problem.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

Leon Climate ChartNovember through April is the best time to go.

I was there for Halloween.Leon - Cathedral Square - Live Band

They put on a live band in the Cathedral Square.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

There is plenty of information on the internet about what to do in Leon – I won’t repeat it here. I’m just travelling through this time but, when I return next week, I will be using Leon as a base to do some day trips to some famous nearby sites.


GETTING AWAY:

From Leon I head to Managua.Leon - Street Play

I can get a public bus from the Bus Terminal for about N$50 but I have decided to catch a Shuttle to take me to the Airport (N$335 / US$11). The shuttle leaves at 9:00-9:30am and arrives at the airport at about 11:00-11:30am. It drops people off in the City Centre on the way.


GRANDPAcking COSTS:

Here is a detailed breakdown of costs for 2 GRANDPAckers holidaying in Leon to GRANDPAcking standard.

As a reminder, this “standard” requires 2 GRANDPAckers to:

  • Stay in an Hotel Double Room with Fan and Private Bathroom
  • Eat 3 ‘balanced’ meals each day in a budget restaurant

Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.


SPREADSHEET SUMMARY:Leon (1) GRANDPAcking Costs



MY ACTUAL COSTS:

My costs are purely provided for information purposes. I do not always follow ‘GRANDPAcking Standards’. In fact, I deviate from them all of the time! But, my costs are real costs and they may help you formulate your own budget.

I lived in Leon to GRANDPAcking standard.


COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):

Accommodation: I stayed at the Guardabarranco for (a discounted price of) US$15 / night – the price included a simple breakfast.

Transport: I walked everywhere and didn’t take any trips out of town.

Communications & Fees: I topped up my Movistar SIMcard with N$100 and bought a 7 day MegaPack with 500MB of data, some call credits, and some SMS credits.

Food & Beverages: I spent an average of N$116 / day. But, I was on a ‘health kick’ and spent 2 days eating only bananas.

My COE was US$17 / day (30% of my total budget).


COST OF LIVING (COL):

In / Out Costs: It cost me N$112 to get from Jiquilillo to Leon.

Living Costs: I spent an average of N$71 / day on beer (usually a 1L bottle down a bar). I bought a 1L bottle of rum for N$94 for drinks back at my hotel. I spent N$314 stocking up on cigarettes. I spent N$1289 on equipment (the main cost of N$1179 was on my new suitcase).

My total COL was US$31 / day (56% of my total budget).



COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:

COST OF EXISTENCE:

Accommodation: Book yourself into something for the first 2 nights at about US$18 / night. Then look around … you should easily be able to get yourself into a decent budget hotel for US$15 / night thereafter. Both should include a simple Breakfast.

Transport: There is a budget for 2 people to go on a weekly day trip to see some sights.

Communications & Fees: Your budget includes a N$50 Movistar SIMcard and 4x 7-day MegaPacks (500MB of data, some talk time, and some SMSs).

Food & Beverages: The budget is N$340 / day. This is to eat Lunch and Dinner in a Comedor. You will, also, need to buy your own water (which is unlikely to be provided by the hotel).

Your COE is US$28 / day (50% of your total budget).


COST OF LIVING:

This leaves you US$26 / day (N$800) to LIVE on. This is plenty.

Organised day tours start at US$30.


CONCLUSION:

GRANDPAckers can get reasonable accommodation for under US$20 / night. Eating is also well priced. This makes Leon a cheap destination.

However Leon, itself, is not an ‘attractive’ town … you come here to use it as a base to go on excursions to the surrounds. Excursions that you can afford because your Cost Of Existence (CoE) is so low. The CoE for 2 GRANDPAckers is US$28 / day.

Leon DOES NOT make it into my RETIREMENT REVIEWS.

TTFN


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