When we were done exploring Guatemala we continued traveling in the south. Following famous gringo trail we booked recommended 8am shuttle for 150Q (~14£) at Cucuruchos Hostel in Antigua to El Salvador. To avoid travelling during the night we made a quick – two nights – stop at the little surf town on the coast. There is not much to do in El Tunco unless surfing is your thing. Besides overpriced restaurants (all in US dollars) and slightly dodgy vibe around there was something we could finally experience ourselves – the spectacular sunsets on the Pacific coast!
If you happen to make a stop in El Tunco while getting to Nicaragua, we would recommend staying in this lovely airbnb just right by the beach. While chilling and getting our energy before next long trip we stumbled across Day Cafe & Salad Bar which was a nice surprise for our long waited green juice intake! Need a handmade souvenir or your necklace fixed? Roberto (Salvadoran guy in the picture) makes beautiful stone accessories and sells them in one of the main streets so make sure you support local artists!
The trip from El Tunco to Leon in Nicaragua is quite long (approx.10 hours) as you will be passing Honduras too. Despite mixed online reviews we booked our 30$ (~21£) shuttle with Gekko Explorer. Air conditioned van and friendly drivers who helped with the fees of 16$ (~11£) while passing the borders – in our case we can only say good things about this company.
Leon has this feeling of being stuck in a time warp however it’s a city that has a perfect balance of tradition and modernity. One of the oldest colonial cities in Central America, has incredible architecture, is full of friendly locals and even if you are not a fan of cities it will melt your heart!
We found this amazing colonial house in the heart of old town and then regretted that it was only for two nights stay. Our airbnb host Maggie was so welcoming and gave us one of the best hospitality experiences we have ever had. Walking through the streets we randomly bumped into Rebecca and Jared, a lovely couple we met in our airbnb in Antigua – you can read their travel story here! Following Maggie’s tips all of us went to watch the sunset from El Mirador Terraza – rooftop bar with insanely cheap drinks.
Since that time we became addicted to Michelada – famous Latin American cold beer beverage mixed with lime juice, spices and peppers. If you miss a good craft ale or wish to taste some sri lankan/polish fusion Imbir restaurant will be an excellent choice. Have a drink in their beautiful garden and make sure to check for their live concert programme as they happen to host them very often!
There is no way you can miss the most iconic building in town, it’s impossible to walk around the main plaza without spotting the biggest cathedral in Central America – Our Lady of Grace Cathedral. We are not a fans of churches but this one was quite special and after paying a small fee we went up on the white washed rooftop to see the whole city.
During the day you can stroll through food markets and we promise it will be shocking to find out the size of avocados in Nicaragua! After sunset the city lights up in different colours as everyone leaves their houses to cool off in the streets full of food vendors and charming buzz – great way save up on your dinner and eat like locals!
By far our favourite place to eat in Leon was Casa Abierta. This tranquil vegan/vegetarian restaurant/hostel is located just a short walk from cathedral and serves tasty homemade dishes for reasonable prices.
And of course “things worth knowing” before visiting León:
- Be aware of the Semana Santa; the most important festival of the year in the Catholic world. If you happen to travel during this time of the year – forget about getting anywhere as the whole Central America celebrates Holy Week of Easter.
- Avoid walking around the city after 11pm at any cost; Nicaragua has a reputation for being a bit dodgy but all the “bad stuff” happens in the dark so as long as you are sensible and take a taxi you will save yourself from late night robberies!
- Learn your directions in spanish; or at least ask your host/hotel to write it down for you so you avoid ending up on the different side of the town.