Northwest of Managua  are broad plains of peanuts, corn, beans, sorghum, and sugarcane. The fecund soils that make this the most agriculturally productive region in Nicaragua are a gift from the Maribio volcanoes, an uncommonly active and exposed chain of peaks and cones stretching from Lake Xolotlán to the Gulf of Fonseca.
Fire gives way to water, and the Pacific northwest coastline of Nicaragua includes some of the longest, most isolated stretches of sand in the country. There are coastal islands, endless estuaries, and virgin mangrove stands rich in marine life and waterfowl. Large tracts of this region are still difficult to access, but progress and paved roads are slowly creeping up on them.
You can’t help but feel itinerant in [node:.5963 link León] and Chinandega . Blame it on the heat—this is the driest, most scorching corner of the country. Volcanism seeps from the land in boiling mud pits, geothermal vents, and the occasional rumble. The ruins of León’s first incarnation  are a testament to the area's impermanence.
This region suffered tremendously during Hurricane Mitch in 1998, when more than two meters of rain fell in three days. Nowhere in Nicaragua was the destruction as intense, and the still-visible landslide at Las Casitas is a silent reminder of the worst of it. For this, Leóneses and Chinandeganos know that life can be short and even violent, and should thus be enjoyed.
León is the principal city of the northwest, a colonial town with the architecture and languid lifestyle of centuries past. This bastion of liberal thought in Central America has narrow streets lined with cathedrals, universities, and cafés. For five hundred years, León’s political history has consisted of long stretches of peace, punctuated by the staccato call of uprising, resistance, and war.
In contrast, Chinandega , Nicaragua’s most northwestern city, is the agribusiness capital of the country, center for both the sugarcane and shrimp industry, Chinandega Department is also home to the Padre Ramos Reserve , and the Cosigüina peninsula , whose beaches and surf are just beginning to be visited by foreigners.