Location: On the highway between Managua and León, located in the town of Puerto Momotombo in Nicaragua.
Best Time to Visit: It can be visited anytime throughout the year. But the best is during December-January.
Preferred Timing: 08.00 a.m. to 05.00 p.m.
Entry Fee: C$12 for Nicaraguans and C$2 for foreigners.
Still Camera Charge: C$25
Video Camera Charge: C$50
How to Reach
The nearest airport is Augusto C. Sandino Internation Airport, also currently known as Managua International Airport (MGA). You can find flights to this airport from various destinations in the world including Mexico City, Havana, Montreal, Miami, Houston, Guatemala City, Panama City, San Josíé, San Salvador, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Fort Lauderdale. There are also a number of domestic flights run by Atlantic Airlines and TACA Regional La Costeí±a.
You can reach León from Managua through the Carretera Vieja in around 2 hours, covering a distance of around 150 km. Those who are coming down from the north (Esteli), need to take the Carretera Norte, and then take the turn north of Matagalpa, at San Isidro. This route may not be an enjoyable journey for you.
There are several ways you can reach León from Managua. There are fifteen-seater vans leaving from Mercado Israel Lewites or there are also microbuses leaving from UCA (Universidad Centro Americana). Vans are fairly crowded, yet not too uncomfortable. Buses are regularly available in every 15-20 minutes and may cost C$25.
Nearest airport: Managua International Airport (MGA)
There is an uncanny similarity between Leon Viejo and the ancient city of Pompeii. The old Leon (or Leon Viejo), much like Pompeii, was destroyed completely by the adjacent volcano of Momotombo. Sometimes it really makes you wonder what prompted these ancients to build cities so close to volcanoes and other natural sites of potential danger! However, the inhabitants moved out and built the new city some 30 km. away. The old city got buried under ashes and remained so until it was rediscovered in 1999.
The historical worth of the ruins of Leon Viejo is immense. Founded on 15th June 1524 by the Spanish conqueror Francisco Herní¡ndez de Córdoba, Leon was the earliest city under the Spanish rule in the New Land. The ruins of León Viejo now survive as a stupendous testimony to the social and economic structures of the early Spanish Empire of the 16th century. In 1967, the Ruins of León Viejo was discovered and the place became the center of attraction among the tourists. In the year 2000, UNESCO also declared it as one of the World Heritage Sites. Currently, it is located in the town of Puerto Momotombo in Nicaragua.
The ruins of León Viejo will give you the opportunity to experience the material culture of one of the oldest Spanish colonial settlements. The form of early Spanish settlement and the adaptation of European architectural and planning concepts have been uniquely preserved.
What to Visit
A visit to León Viejo will take you to the Spanish colonial settlement, currently an archeological splendor. The highlight of your visit to the ruins of León Viejo will include the first cathedral of Nicaragua, Catedral de Santa Maria de la Gracia, and the Iglesia La Merced — the place where the remains of Pedro Arias de ívila and Francisco Herní¡ndez de Córdoba were discovered. You can take a guide who will show you around. There are also several signboards around the place that will give you some idea about the place and its history. Walking up to a hill will give you some wonderful views of the lake, the popular Momotombo volcano, and also some other volcanoes surrounding the city.
The majority of the ruins of León Viejo are located along the main avenue leading towards west from the main plaza. On the plaza, you can find the statue of Herní¡ndez de Córdoba. The convent and the Iglesia de la Merced are located at the end of the avenue.
Cathedral of León:
It is the biggest cathedral in Central America and also the final resting place of a number of notable Nicaraguans including Ruben Dario. Climb up to the stairs to the roof of the cathedral against a small payment. You can get the wonderful view of all the churches of León and the surrounding volcanoes. Also see the giant sculptures that are holding up the bells of the cathedral. Ringing the bell is prohibited.
Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Subtiava:
Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Subtiava is one of the oldest colonial churches in León. Served a traditionally indigenous community, this church has got wonderful rustic wood interior, unlike the ornate styles that most of the churches of that period were having.
For some of the magnificent views of the ruins of Leon Vieja, click on the links below:
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=BrMUmpz-Vao&feature=related: The first of a two-video series on a visit to the Leon Vieja, which beautifully showcases the old architecture of the regions as well as the Nicaraguan life.
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=kqdVOz-htvU: Another great video on some of the ruins of Leon Vieja. Enjoy!