Viviendas León offers students the opportunity to experience both urban and rural Nicaragua. The focus of the urban excursions is to allow the students to understand a city’s diversity, history, and culture, which in turn enables them to feel a part of the city. Excursions to places outside of León are intended to introduce students to the incredible geography and biodiversity of Nicaragua. A few of the possible eco-excursions are listed below; many more are possible. We are able to tailor excursions, both urban and rural, to the interests of the school group.
In and around León
Viviendas León is headquartered in León, a city an hour northwest of the capital, Managua. A city of approximately 160,000, León is the second largest city in Nicaragua. Founded by the Spanish conquistador Hernandez de Cordoba in 1523, León was the capital of Nicaragua for more than 200 years until 1858. It is a wonderful, walkable city for students to explore. Leóneses (the people of León) are rightfully proud of their city as it is not only the intellectual and educational heart of Nicaragua but also rich in the arts and colonial architecture. León is the home of the indigenous community of Sutiava who have lived in the area well before the arrival of the Spanish.
As is true of many Latin American cities, the focalpoint of León is the cathedral. Views from the cathedral’s roof affords the visitor tremendous views of the city and of the volcanoes beyond. Leóneses routinely gather at the Cathedral not only for religious activities but to meet friends or just watch the world go by. Everyone in León seems to pass by the Cathedral at some point during the day. The main market for the city is directly behind the cathedral and the city’s primary park fronts it. The Cathedral of León is known as one of the largest in Central America. Construction on the building started in 1746 and lasted roughly 100 years. The cathedral houses significant works of religious art that date from the mid-1700’s to the present, including massive 10’ high paintings for each of the stations of the cross. The cathedral is also the burial place for most of the country’s prestigious political, intellectual and religious figures. One of these is the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío.
El Museo de Tradiciones y Leyendas (Museum of Traditions and Legends)
The Museo is located in a building that served as a jail for political prisoners from 1921 to 1979. The cells are now galleries dedicated Nicaraguan folktales and legends. One local folkloric art tradition on display is one that originated in Spain: giant puppets (gigatonas), which are paraded around the city during festivals in August and December. In the museum’s courtyard are a large series of mosaic panels depicting the legends and traditions of Nicaragua, designed by noted León artist Daniel Pullido
León Viejo is the second oldest and most well developed historical Spanish settlement in the Americas. Due to the volcanic eruption in 1610 that buried the city in ash, León Viejo remained preserved for 350 years until it was discovered in 1966. Its ruins are an outstanding example of towns of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century and provide archeological evidence of the material culture of one of the earliest colonial settlements. León Viejo reveals how colonists adapted European architectural and planning concepts to the material potential of another region. Since the unearthing of the town, eighteen buildings or structures have been identified. Because of its archaeological richness, León Viejo was named a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2000.
Ruben Dario Museum
The poet Ruben Dario is perhaps Nicaragua’s most famous literary figure. A poet, journalist, novelist and one-time Nicaraguan ambassador to France, Ruben Dario is regarded by many as the “spokesman of Latin American modernism.” His poetry was known for its experimentation, complexity, and rhythm and engendered great pride among Hispanics. The Rubèn Darìo Museum is located in the home where he spent his childhood and returned at the end of his life. The life history of Rubén Darío is portrayed on the walls and some of his belongings are on display, including his bed, his bible, and some of his writings.
Art Museum Fundación Ortiz Gurdián
The art museum of the Ortiz Gurdián Foundation is located in two restored, colonial buildings that are excellent examples of Spanish Colonial architecture of the 17th Century. Each building houses different galleries containing paintings, sculptures, images, and contemporary arts of Latin America. The first building shows pieces of art chronologically, beginning with objects from the 16th century and ending with contemporary arts. In the second building one can find more exhibits of contemporary arts.
Esteli and Miraflor
To the North and east of León is Estelí. The city and surrounding region is well known throughout Nicaragua as one of the most influential places in the revolutionary history of the country. It has a markedly cooler weather than León and natural sites combining eco-tourism, coffee farming, orchid farming or cheese production. MiraFlor is rich in waterfalls, rain forests, bird watching, and a variety of flora and fauna characteristic of the region.
To the south of León, along the route to Granada is Masaya, a town known for its traditional handicrafts. The central market of Masaya is located in an historic building dating from the 19th Century. Here one can find crafts made by local artists. Every Thursday night are the Verbenas, Nicaraguan live music played by local musicians with their marimbas, a traditional Latin/Caribbean instrument.
En route to Granada is the Volcán Masaya National Park. Nicaragua's first National Park established in 1979, it has an area of 54 sq km, including two volcanoes and five craters. It is the only volcano in the western hemisphere where you are able to drive to the rim. In the Santiago crater is an underground tunnel which was formed by lava flows, where one can find bats and parrots, and look inside and observe the glowing lava in the dark crater mouth of the volcano. There are walking tours of the craters and a visitor center where guides explain volcanic activity as well as the animals and plants that make their home in the craters.
Laguna de Apoyo
Nicaragua’s cleanest lake is a body of water inside the crater of the Apoyo Volcano. Its walls are thickly vegetated with green forest and a network of trails, most of which exist as a protected nature reserve in this tropical dry ecosystem. The flora and fauna consist of numerous species of plants, tropical dry trees, a large variety of orchids and numerous mammals and reptiles. Over 200 species of birds, 65 species of migratory birds and various species of butterflies are present. Apoyo lagoon also contains a variety of fish including four species of mojarras, found exclusively in the lagoon. The lagoon has various attractions such as dark sand beaches for swimming, and hiking in the surrounding forest. Recently, petroglyphs and artifacts of indigenous peoples have been found in the reserve.
Granada is a colonial city similar to León. Here students can visit colonial houses, churches, museums and the central plaza where very frequently one can find food stands, live music and horse car rides. Granada also offers unique environmental locations including Lake Cocibolca where there are boat tours of Las Isletas, islands resulting from an ancient eruption of Volcan Mombacho that support a variety of animals and birds. The volcano is also a natural reserve where there are eco-tours, hikes and coffee farming tours, all in a rain forest that has unique flora and fauna.
Mombacho Rain Forest
One of Nicaragua's most important cloudforests drapes the slopes of the inactive Mombacho Volcano, southwest of the capital city of Managua and near the shores of Lake Nicaragua, also known as Lake Cocibolca. Mombacho is a 2,500-acre reserve, surrounded by coffee plantations and small farms. The park has an amazing variety of orchids and birds and is home to howler monkeys, along with the Mombacho Salamander and Mombacho butterfly, two species found nowhere else on Earth. The protected area is carefully managed by the Cocibolca Foundation, a local conservation group that is helping coffee growers develop sustainable agroforestry methods.
Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua. Its name derives from the Nahuatl words ome (two) and tepetl (mountain), meaning two mountains. The two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, are joined by a low isthmus to form one island in the shape of an hourglass.
Volcán Concepción is the northwest half of the island. It is a symmetrical cone, and is still considered an active volcano. It reaches an altitude of 1,610 m and is the world's highest lake island. Concepcion is considered the most perfectly formed volcano cone in Central America. The volcano went through a long quiet period. It's most recent eruption was in 1957.
The southeast half of the island consists of Volcán Maderas, which has a crater lake and supports a diverse rainforest environment. This volcano rises 1,394 m above sea level. The last eruption occurred in the 13th century and is considered extinct or dormant. A large lagoon formed in its crater, and was discovered on 15 April 1930 by the farmer Casimiro Murillo. It is covered with coffee and tobacco plantations and the remaining rain forest. This volcano is a perfect destination for the ecotourist. Much of this part of the island is now a nature reserve.
Ometepe harbors large populations of the White-faced Capuchin monkey, also called White-headed Capuchin, (Cebus capucinus) and populations of the Mantled Howler monkey (Alouatta palliata). Efforts are being made to study and protect these animals. The Ometepe Biological Field School is situated on the Maderas side of the island. Here, students and scientists from all over the world come to study the unique flora and fauna of the area. The lake surrounding Ometepe harbours many species of aquatic animals, notably the Nicaragua shark, which until recently was thought to be a unique species of freshwater shark, but has since been shown to be continuous with ocean-populations. Small populations of spider monkeys inhabit very small islands within Lake Nicaragua.