Planning a Trip
By Bus -- León's Bus Station, 6a Calle NE (tel. 505/311-3909) is 1km (1/2 mile) northeast of the center. Managua is 75 minutes away by microbus and a ride from there costs C23 ($1.20/60p); buses depart a few times daily. Estelí is 3 1/2 hours away and a ride there costs C81 ($4.20/£2.10); there are two buses a day at 5am and 3pm. Chinandega is a half-hour away and the ride there takes 1 1/2 hours by ordinary bus and 45 minutes by microbus. There are also connections to Corinto (1 1/2 hr.) and Matagalpa (3 hr.).
By Taxi-Shuttle -- Tierra Tour, 1 1/2 blocks north of Iglesia La Merced (tel. 505/315-4278; www.tierratour.com), organizes transfers to Managua and farther afield. Their shuttle service leaves daily for Granada at 4pm. Price depends on the size of your group, but their schedules are flexible and they can drop you off right at your hotel.
León's street system is numerical. Avenida Central and Calle Central Rubén Darío junction form an axis at the northeast corner of Parque Central. Streets going north or south are called calles and ascend numerically, as do avenidas that go west and east of Avenida Central System. Generally speaking, this numbering system is ignored by locals; when giving directions, they will almost always describe a location in terms of landmarks. The main market called Mercado Central is situated behind the cathedral. The old indigenous town of Subtiava is now a western suburb.
León is good for strolling around -- it's perhaps easiest to discover its many historic buildings on foot. To get to outlying areas, you can take local buses or ruleteros (pickup trucks with canvas covers), which leave from Mercado Central and the bus terminal. Fares cost C6 (30¢/15p). Note that the roads around the city are in a terrible condition, and it is not uncommon to see children filling potholes with dirt in exchange for coins from passing motorists. Taxis are easy to catch on any corner and fares start at C40 ($2/£1).
Driving Advice -- It's easy to reach Nicaragua's main cities, such as Granada and León, by car since these cities are all relatively close to or right off the country's main highway. The state of the roads worsens dramatically as you go farther afield, however, which is why I've listed info on how to drive to only the smaller or farther flung towns.
The Intur office, 2a Av. NO (tel. 505/311-3682), is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 12:30pm and 2 to 5pm. Here you can find an excellent map of the city and the staff members are very helpful, though they speak little English.
There are three ATMs 1 block east of the cathedral; banks to try with ATMs are Credomatic, 1a Calle NE (tel. 505/311-7247; www.bac.net), and Bancentro, which is 20m (66 ft.) south of Parque La Merced (tel. 505/311-0911). The police can be reached at tel. 505/311-3137.
One efficient Internet outlet is Compuservice, in front of Policlinica la Fraternidad. It is fast, reliable, and open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 9:30pm and Sunday from 9am to 6pm. Club en Conexion, 3 blocks north and a half-block east of the Cathedral, offers Internet access, along with air-conditioning, and is open Monday to Friday from 7:30am to 9:30pm and Saturday 7:30am to 7pm.
Go to Farmacia Lopez, Calle Rubén Darío (tel. 505/311-3163) for any pharmacy needs. The area's largest hospital is Hospital San Vicente (tel. 505/311-6900), past the bus station.
The main post office, Correos de Nicaragua (tel. 505/311-2102), is 3 blocks north of the cathedral. You'll find public phones outside the Enitel office on the northwest corner of the Parque Central.
Clean Express, 4 blocks north of the cathedral (tel. 505/438-8393), offers 1-hour laundry service. It's open Monday to Saturday from 7am to 7pm.
Vapues, on the north side of Iglesia El Laborio (tel. 505/895-9157; www.vapues.com), is one of the city's main tour operators, organizing everything from flights to hotel reservations. Tierra Tour, 1 1/2 blocks north of Iglesia La Merced (tel. 505/315-4278; www.vapues.com), organizes tours of the area and transfers to Managua and farther afield. Surf Tours Nicaragua (tel. 505/440-4123; www.surftoursnicaragua.com) specializes in surfing tours of the north Pacific coast and offers 7-day packages with accommodations included.
Quetzaltrekkers, 1 1/2 blocks east of Iglesia La Recollecion (tel. 505/311-6695; www.quetzaltrekkers.com) is an agency with a difference. It is run by volunteers and all profits go to helping street kids in León. They conduct volcanic hiking tours to Momotombo and Cerro Negro, among others.
Julio Tours, a half-block north of the cathedral (tel. 505/311-1927 or 625-4467; firstname.lastname@example.org), is operated by Julio Pineda, an excellent English-speaking city guide who specializes in historical and cultural tours of the city.