A third route to Honduras leaves the capital heading through the Pacific lowlands to the Gulf of Fonseca in the shadow of Los Maribios, a chain of volcanoes from Momotombo on Lake Managua to Cosigüina overlooking the gulf. This route takes in León, a city influential in shaping Nicaraguan history since colonial times. On the Pacific coast are the beaches at Poneloya and the major port of Corinto. From León, 88 km from Managua, the Pacific Highway continues north to the industrial town of Chinandega. From here, routes lead west to the port of Corinto, north to the Gulf of Fonseca and east to Guasaule and the Honduran border. For the adventurous traveller, León is a good base to climb one of the volcanoes of Los Maribios: Momotombo is known for its perfect shape and incredible views from the top; Cerro Negro is the youngest volcano in Central America, erupting every four to five years; Volcán Telica has bubbling mudholes at the base and glowing lava in the crater; San Cristóbal is the tallest volcano in Nicaragua and highly active; while Cosigüina is surrounded by beautiful nature and famous for its huge crater lake and spectacular views.
The old paved road to León crosses the Sierra de Managua, offering fine views of the lake. It is longer than the new Pacific Highway and not in good condition. About 60 km down the new road to León lies the village of
, with several truck-stop restaurants and accommodation. There is a good range of cheap, handmade pottery here, and you can ask to see the potters' ovens and production of bricks. Try the local speciality
(mozzarella cheese, onions and cream wrapped in tortilla), available all along the highway. From here you can reach
, which dominates the Managua skyline from the west. It is possible to camp on the lakeside with great views of the volcano.
You need a permit to climb Momotombo from the south as a geothermal power station has been built on the volcano's slopes. At the time of writing, no permit was required to climb the volcano from the north but one reader has reported it as being a gruelling 11-hour climb. Take local advice and use a professional guide - ask at
At the foot of the volcano lies León Viejo, destroyed by earthquake and volcanic eruption on 31 December 1609 and now being excavated. It was here that the brutal first Spanish governor of Nicaragua Pedrarias and his wife were buried in La Merced church next to Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, the country's founder who had been beheaded under order of Pedrarias. Archaeological excavations have revealed the
, as well as the bodies of Hernández de Córdoba and Pedrarias, which have been placed in a special tomb in the Plaza Mayor. The ruins themselves are little more than low walls and probably only of serious interest to archaeologists, but you can see the ground plan of the old Spanish town and from the ruins of the old fortress there are breathtaking views of Volcán Mombotombo, Lake Managua and Momotombito Island and the Maribios Volcanoes range. To get to León Viejo, take a Managua bus and get out in La Paz Centro. Catch a second bus (or taxi) to Puerto Momotombo, and walk 10 minutes to the site from there.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF