Leon and the North West

The northwest corner of Nicaragua is a land of extremes: the highest volcano, the hottest city, the oldest Spanish ruins. While almost anywhere in the country can claim to have “a little something for everyone,” the northwest is one of the few places that delivers on that promise. There are monuments aplenty, cathedrals galore, old forts, prisons with grim histories, ceramic workshops, museums, fertile agricultural fields and deep blue crater lakes – and that’s just the landward side.


This region of Nicaragua is tucked between the Pacific Ocean, to the west, El Salvador and Honduras, to the north, and Lake Managua, to the east. Characterized by both flat agricultural lands and steep volcanic peaks, the northwest has managed to earn the title of Nicaragua’s bread basket while still being home to the mighty Ring of Fire. The two major cities in this area are the ever-popular intellectual center of Leon and the less-popular, but more pleasantly local, Chinandega.

Visiting the North West

The Spanish chose the northwest when they settled in Nicaragua, and then chose it again when seismic activity and crime forced them from their original spot. Today, tourists take minibuses up from Managua to experience the colonial grandeur of the cities themselves and, when they’re tired of that, to relax on some of the country’s most beautiful beaches. Pick your destination carefully if you plan to swim; riptides and volcanic outcroppings make the northwest the land of surfing.

Although more likely to be overlooked in the rush – to climb Volcan Cosiguina, kayak through a mangrove swamp or hitch a ride to El Salvador – the food in the northwest is both unique and delightful. Among the stops you shouldn’t miss are:

  • The cowboy town of El Sauce for homemade honey.

  • Corinto for fresh seafood and Naragote, where you can get local cheese wrapped in a tortilla.

  • Grab a fragrant, meat-filled roll in Chinandega.

  • Of course, the bread this far north is definitely worth the trip.