When we wrote the first edition of Moon Nicaragua in 2002, we could fit every hotel option in León  on one page. Today, dozens of hotels range from backpacker hostels to midrange and luxury hotels, and increased experience with foreign tourists is bringing the quality and the service up. You will sleep well here.
The cheapest flop houses, often labeled Abierto 24 Horas (Open 24 hours) are located near the main bus terminal and are universally dismal in a potentially dangerous area; avoid them without hesitation.
Casa Ivana (across from the Teatro Municipal’s south side, tel. 505/2311-4423, $8 d) is the best Nicaraguan-owned option, with seven clean, quiet, safe rooms with private baths along a long garden in a family house. Around the corner, Hostal La Clinica (tel. 505/2311-2031, $5 in a dorm with fan, up to $25 with a/c) is another low-key, friendly, Nicaraguan-owned hotelito with a veritable jungle growing in the central patio.
For a more Nicaraguan family-oriented, less meet-other-travelers vibe, check out Casona Colonial Guesthouse (half a block west of the Parque San Juan, tel. 505/2311-3178, $15–25); its eight rooms with queen bed, private bath, hot water, and a fan represent one of the best bargains in León , complete with high ceilings, flower-filled courtyard, and beautiful wooden furniture.
The city’s many international-oriented hostels each cater to a slightly different style: La Tortuga Booluda (1.5 blocks west from the San Juan de Dios church, tel. 505/2311-4653, www.tortugaBooluda.com ) offers a breezy courtyard and has common hangout areas and a communal kitchen excellent for meeting other travelers. La Tortuga feels homey and prices range from $5 per dorm beds, to a small selection of rooms with private baths, $10–15; or choose the second-story en-suite with air-conditioning for $30. Features include a nice book exchange, billiards, coffee, Wi-Fi, and common-use kitchen. The only meal they serve is free pancake breakfasts for guests, a fun morning ritual.
Enter Vía Vía (75 meters south of the Servicio Agrí cola Gurdián, tel. 505/2311-6142, www.viaviacafe.com ) through its popular multicultural café and information area, then continue walking into a quiet, colonial-style patio where a small selection of dorms and private rooms surround a gorgeous garden. Two six-bed dorms go for $5 per person, and four rooms with private baths, high ceilings, and fans run $15–25. The building was reportedly built by an Italian in 1760 for his Nicaraguan mistress and her servants. Ask about Spanish classes and salsa dance lessons; also, expect your hosts to encourage you to get out and explore the area, as if you needed the encouragement.
Bigfoot Hostel (from Banco Procredit, half a block south, tel. 505/8917-8832, www.bigfootnicaragua.com , $6 dorm, $13 d) caters to backpackers, surfers, and anyone else who enjoys sipping a delicious mojito while seated in a small, footprint-shaped swimming pool. This is the biggest hostel in León , so expect a lively scene, but it doesn’t get too crazy and is quiet after 10 p.m. The narrow but high hallways are dotted with events boards, rocking chairs, and clusters of barebacked travelers plotting their next move. Halls branch into multiple dormitories, common areas, and a mellow vegetarian eatery, the Pure Earth Café. Bigfoot offers lockboxes, a shared kitchen, laundry service, plus sign-up lists for the young owner’s ecocentric tour company, Green Pathways. The hostel is ecofriendly, reusing shower water for the potted plants; they donate five córdobas from every mojito to a reforestation project (that’s right, have another).
Centrally located two-and-a-half blocks north of Parque de los Poetas, Lazy Bones (tel. 505/2311-3472, www.lazybonesleon.com ) offers $8 dorms and a handful of private rooms with fan for $19–28, some with shared bath. The kicker here is the pool, still a rarity in León hotels; seems to be a quieter option in this price range, offering free locker, breakfast, billiards, computers, and lounge space.
Hotel San Juan de León (on the north side of the Plaza Iglesia San Juan, tel. 505/2311-0547, www.hsanjuandeleon.com , $40) has 20 smallish rooms with fan and private bath (a bit more with a/c) on two floors surrounding a tasteful courtyard and kitchen for guests’ use. Breakfast is included. Another excellent, friendly family option in this range is Hotel Real (tel. 505/2311-2606, hotel.real [at] gmail [dot] com, $45); 14 well-equipped rooms in a nicely furnished, comfortable home with Wi-Fi; be sure to compare several rooms to see what you prefer. Don’t miss the lookout point upstairs.
The imposing 30-room compound of Hotel Europa (from the Iglesia San Juan, one block south and one east, tel. 505/2311-6040, heuropaleon [at] hotmail [dot] com, www.hoteleuropaleon.com , $25–35) has been around since the 1960s, when it catered to the train passenger crowd. Recently remodeled and kept clean, it offers a restaurant, lounge areas, Wi-Fi, guarded parking, and its own water and electricity supply.
Hotel Posada del Doctor (one block west of Parque San Juan, tel. 505/2311-4343, www.laposadadeldoctor.com , $45–60) offers 11 lovely, fully equipped rooms around a very bright and pleasant garden. In a converted colonial home, the Hostal Casa Leonesa (from the cathedral, three blocks north and half a block east, tel. 505/2311-0551, lacasaleonesa [at] gmail [dot] com, www.casaleonesa.com , $55) has nine gorgeous rooms around a small pool and garden, each with air-conditioning, TV, hot water, and Wi-Fi. The beautiful common space makes you feel like Leónese royalty.
Expect old colonial stateliness in the 20 wood-adorned rooms at Hotel Los Balcones (three blocks east of the cathedral, tel. 505/2311-0250, www.hotelbalcones.com , $58). Upstairs rooms have small balconies overlooking the street, plus standard amenities: TV, air-conditioning (discount if you don’t use it), hot water, and Wi-Fi.
In the center of León , Hotel Austria (from the cathedral, one block south and half a block west, tel. 505/2311-1206 or tel. 505/2311-7178, www.hotelaustria.com.ni , $60) is a practical hotel with 35 spotless, modern, air-conditioned rooms with TV, phones, and hot water; continental breakfast and guarded parking for your vehicle. There is an on-site restaurant and comfortable space for relaxing or meetings.
The rooms at Hotel La Perla (1.5 blocks north of Iglesia de la Merced, tel. 505/2311-3125, www.laperlaleon.com , $80) are among the classiest we’ve seen anywhere in Nicaragua, combining old-style elegance and antiques with modern comforts like plasma screen TVs and Wi-Fi. This 150-year-old home was lovingly restored by owners with a passion for architecture and history. The two presidential suites sport mirrored dressers, king beds, and minibars, both on the second-story balcony with superb views of León’s tiled roofs and churches. Hotel La Perla is also a veritable museum of fine art. Excellent breakfast and small pool for guests, plus a white-cloth restaurant with hearty fajita and pasta dishes.
Hotel El Convento (next door to the San Francisco Church, tel. 505/2311-7053, www.hotelelconvento.com.ni , $112) offers bathtub-equipped rooms with lots of space and history. Parts of the hotel were built with stones used in the convent’s original 1639 construction. From the beautiful centerpiece garden and fountain to the long, cool corridors adorned with art and antiques, El Convento impresses. In addition, the hotel offers business and conference services, a ballroom, a restaurant, and local tours for guests.