- Where to Go
- The Best of Nicaragua
- Nicaragua’s Best Surfing
- Hiking Nicaragua’s Ring of Fire
- Nicaraguan Arts & Crafts
- Nicaragua’s Great Green North
- Sportfishing in Nicaragua
- Down the Río San Juan
- Nicaragua’s Celebrations & Fiestas
- Volunteering in Nicaragua
- Diving & Snorkeling in Nicaragua
- Managua’s Revolutionary Driving Tour
Only a few kilometers west of Chinandega, El Viejo is a cheerful town of some 50,000 Viejanos. Less service-oriented than its big neighbor, El Viejo can still launch you on your next adventure.
El Viejo is much older than Chinandega. Originally an indigenous community called Tezoatega, for the fierce cacique who once ruled it, the town was renamed for the old Spaniard who arrived in 1562 carrying a sacred image of the Virgin Mary.
According to legend, when the Spaniard tried to sail back to Spain, the Virgin created a hurricane so that she would be returned to her new home in Nicaragua. The old man complied, and the image soon became the most important Virgin Mary in the country. Her fame has lasted through the centuries, and in 1996 the Pope himself recognized her when he came to declare El Viejo’s church a Basilica Minor. The church is impressive and worth your time to visit.
Buses arrive half a block north of the basilica, across the street from the market where you’ll find the cheapest eats. Buses called interlocales back to Chinandega leave from the basilica, one block west of the park, and run until about 11 p.m.
Entertainment and Accommodations
Nightlife in El Viejo is exciting and sometimes downright rowdy. Local volunteers say it’s all “beer and bark” though, and everyone makes up and shakes hands the next day. Just north of the basilica is the clean and well-liked Tezoatega (well known even in León), with good food and service, lots of music (including mariachi night Thursdays). La Piscina, two blocks north of the basilica and half a block east, is almost as good, with dancing Thursday–Saturday. Their swimming pool costs $0.75 to use all day.
El Viejo’s fiestas patronales are the week of December 6, with firework-spitting bulls every night, culminating in the Lavada de la Plata, when even the president and national ballet often show up to help wash the church silver. There is no lodging in El Viejo save a few motels of ill repute: Stay in León instead.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition