Around León

Poneloya and Las Peñitas beaches

A bumpy road from León heads west to Poneloya and Peñitas, a couple of relaxed and very friendly beach communities 19 km from León. Both contain long beautiful stretches of sand and a mixture of humble houses and rich vacation homes. Most of the coast has big waves and strong currents (swim here with great caution - there are drownings every year). The south end of Las Peñitas and Puerto Mántica, at the north end of Poneloya, are the best for swimming, with good surfing in between, but there are no boards available to rent. During the week you will have the beaches to yourself so be prepared to fend for yourself, but at weekends people come from León and in Semana Santa it's sardine time. It is possible to rent quadbikes from the
pulpería
at the intersection of the road to Las Peñitas and Poneloya, called
Licorería Estela de los Mares
.

San Jacinto

On the road to Estelí, 12 km north of the intersection with the Chinandega-León road, is San Jacinto. About 200 m to the west of the road is a field of steaming, bubbling
mud holes
, which is worth visiting. You should approach carefully, the ground may give and scald your legs; follow other footmarks for safety, avoiding walking on the crystallized white sulphur, and listen for hissing. It is recommended to hire a guide (ask tour operators in León) or trust one of the local children (US$0.25 tip) to show you where it is safe to walk. A visit can be combined with a hike to the edge of the spectacular crater of Telica with glowing lava inside. The climb is fairly easy but trails can be hard to find. It's best to use a professional guide and make an excursion from León - ask at
Va Pues
or
Quetzaltrekkers
.

Chinandega

About 40 km beyond León, Chinandega is one of the hottest, driest towns in Nicaragua. Agriculturally, this is one of the richest areas in Central America producing bananas, peanuts, sugar cane and shrimps. There's a good market by the bus terminal and you can hire horse-drawn cabs. The local fiesta is on 26 July. The
tourist office
, has a helpful representative who speaks English and Italian.

Chichigalpa

Not far away, near Chichigalpa, is the
Ingenio San Antonio
, the largest sugar mill in Nicaragua, with a railway between the town and the mill. While there are no official tours of the installations, you can apply at Gate (
Portón
) 14 to be shown around. On the edge of Chichigalpa itself is the
Flor de Caña distillery
, maker of what many believe to be the finest rum in the world, aged up to 21 years and made in over 15 flavours. On leaving you will recognize the picture on the bottle labels, a palm-shaded railway leading towards Chichigalpa with volcanoes in the background.

Corinto

Twenty-one kilometres from Chinandega, Corinto is the main port in Nicaragua and the only one at which vessels of any considerable size can berth. About 60% of the country's commerce passes through here. The town itself is on a sandy island,
Punto Icaco
, connected to the mainland by long railway and road bridges. There are beautiful old wooden buildings with verandas, especially by the port. Entry to the port is barred to those without a permit.

On the Corinto-Chinandega road is
Paseo Cavallo beach
(
Restaurante Buen Vecino
). The sea is treacherous here and people drown every year. There are no facilities in Corinto's barrier islands, but they are beautiful with crashing surf on one side, calm and warm swimming water on the other. The journey can be negotiated with any fisherman. A
panga
can be rented for the whole day for US$40 so you can explore the numerous islands and mangroves. You'll see lots of birdlife but also lots of sandflies, so be sure to bring repellent.

North of Chinandega

The road north to Puerto Morazán passes through the village of
El Viejo
, by bus from Chinandega, 5 km, where there is an old church,
La Basílica del Viejo
, famous throughout the country for its celebration on 6 December called
La Lavada de la Plata
, which consists of devotees washing all silver parts of the altar. The Basílica has la Virgen del Hato, which leaves the altar every December in a major pilgrimage to visit Corinto, Chinandega, León and Managua.

From Chinandega there are six buses a day to
Potosí
. In the centre of the village there are warm thermal springs in which people congregate to relax each afternoon. There are also pleasant black-sand beaches; the sea, although the colour of coffee, is clean. The passenger ferry from Potosí to La Unión (El Salvador) has been suspended. Ask around for an ad hoc service or ask in Chinandega before setting out to the peninsula. Rumours suggest that there may be a service from Corinto to La Unión.

It is a four-hour hike to the cone of
Volcán Cosigüina
. The path is overgrown and very difficult to follow, so you may need a guide . There is plenty of wildlife in the area, including poisonous snakes. On 23 January 1835, one of the biggest eruptions in history blew off most of the cone, reducing it from 3000 m to its present height of 800 m, throwing ash as far as Colombia, and leaving an enormous crater lake. From the cone there are beautiful views of the Golfo de Fonseca shared by Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. The volcano and the surrounding dry tropical forest are a Reserva Natural, administered by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources in Managua.

Jiquilillo
beach, 42 km from Chinandega, is reached by a mostly paved road branching off the El Viejo-Potosí road. Lying on a long peninsula, there are a few lodgings and small restaurants. From Chinandega a rough paved road goes to the Honduran border on the
Río Guasaule
near
Somotillo
(where the road improves) heading to Choluteca, Honduras.

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
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