León ’s museums are exceedingly eclectic, covering the political, natural, and all things cultural.
Start at La Casa de Cultura (from the Iglesia San Francisco, one block north, 20 meters east, tel. 505/2311-2116, open 8 a.m.–noon and 2–7:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., until 6 p.m. Sat. and Sun.), housed in an old colonial home; enjoy a collection of artwork that includes a disparaging painting of Ronald Reagan and Henry Kissinger. Entrance is free. This is a good place to find out about all kinds of cultural classes and activities.
La Casa de Rubén Darío (tel. 505/2311-2388, open 8 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., 8 a.m.–noon Sun.) is a glimpse into León in the 19th century. Nicaragua’s favorite son lived here with his aunt and uncle until the age of 14. Fellow poet Alfonso Cortéz later inhabited the same house as he battled insanity (the room he inhabited still has the iron bars he bent during one attempted escape).
Darío’s bed and the rest of the furnishings of the museum are typical of middle-class León in the late 19th century, as is the building itself, built from adobe with a clay-tile and cane roof. On display are original copies of his most famous works translated into several languages and copies of a magazine he published in Paris.
The silver crucifix given him by Mexican poet Amado Nervos, correspondence from when Darío was the consul to Argentina and ambassador to Spain, and period coins and currency are also displayed; donations of $1–2 are accepted for the upkeep of the building.
A block west of the Parque Casa de Rubén Darío occupying two facing buildings, the Centro de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Gurdián (open 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sat. and 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun., $0.75 admission, free on Sun.) has reputedly the best collection of Latin American artwork in Nicaragua, with an emphasis on colonial America.
El Museo de Tradiciones y Leyendas (Barrio Laborío, open 8 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–noon Sun., $1) celebrates Nicaragua’s favorite folktales: the golden crab, La Carreta Nagua, the pig-witch, and La Mocuana. The building itself is the former XXI jail and base of the 12th Company of Somoza’s National Guard. Built in 1921, XXI meted out 60 years of brutal torture. The mango tree that now shades this museum was planted by a prisoner and watered from the same well that was used for electric shock and water-boarding sessions.