Las Ruinas de León Viejo
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The sleepy ruins of Spain’s first settlement in Nicaragua make for an easy and worthwhile day trip from León. Francisco Hernández de Córdoba founded the first León in 1524 and Pedrarias Dávila governed it. After two years, for reasons unknown, Dávila had Hernández de Córdoba decapitated in the town square.
In 1610, Volcán Momotombo erupted, burying the site under ash. But León may have already been abandoned following a series of premonitory earthquakes that convinced the settlers to look elsewhere for a place to call home. (Momotombo has erupted several times since then, most recently in 1905.)
Dr. Carlos Tünnerman and a team from the National University (UNAN) first uncovered the ruins of old León in 1966, but in 2000, archaeologists found the remains of both Córdoba and Dávila and placed them in an on-site mausoleum. León Viejo is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Nicaraguan Culture Institution has completed fascinating excavations and has trained many local guides to take you around, most of whom are friendly, enthusiastic, and speak passable English. Entrance is $3, plus a small fee to take photographs or video.
The ruins are located just adjacent to Puerto Momotombo; turn off the highway at La Paz Centro (at the statue of an indigenous warrior). The site is open seven days a week, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. (till 4 p.m. on Sundays, hours are strictly observed by bribe-resistant guards). Most people go on tours organized by their hotel or tour company in León, but you can do it by yourself as well: Catch a bus from León to La Paz Centro, then take either an 8 a.m. or 11 a.m. bus to the ruins; last return bus from the ruins is 3 p.m.
For more info, call 505/2222-2905, ext. 112, for the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura in Managua.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition