León is a major city in western Nicaragua and is considered to be the intellectual center of the country as well as a liberal hothouse. It is located abot an hour away from Managua near Lake Xolotlan and the Momotombo volcano. The city is the home of the Autonomous National University of Nicaragua (1812) and an 18th-century cathedral, which is the largest in Central America if you ask any Nicaraguan. The ornate cathedal was built by the Spanish from 1747 to 1860 to fit their grandiose taste and is filled with restored paintings, carvings and beutiful architecture. The great Rubén Darío’s tomb is in the church and there is a museum dedicated to him nearby. There is also a small plaque commemorating Rigoberto Lopez Perez who assassinated General Anastasio Somoza Garcia. León is the transportation and cotton-trading center for the surrounding agricultural region and its manufactures include: furniture, shoes, and leather goods. The original city, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1610 and is about 30 km from the present location, was designed by Juan Meco who also designed the city of Lima, Peru and is being excavated and can be interesting to explore. León, with its population of 101,000 people, was the capital of Nicaragua until 1852 when it was moved to Managua for political reasons.
Go see a 19th century sketch of Leon's cathedral.
The city of Rivas is located on the 18 km wide strip in between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean at the lowest point along the entire line from Alaska to the Patagonia (40 meters above sea level). Founded in 1720, the city of Rivas was partially sacked during the civil war against the Somozas, but it has been rebuilt and now supports a marine industry based on shrimp, a certain variety of turtles, fish like pargos, corvinas, macarel, jureles, marlin, and pez vela. The most important cultural item in Rivas is the Museum of Anthropology and Natural History of Rivas. Rivas’ archaeological emblem is pre-Columbian ceramique. This museum, which was destroyed during the war and was moved to the House-Hacienda "Santa Ursula" contains a total of 800 native Indian ceramique pieces, 250 other pieces, and 180 taxadermic pieces. George Squier and John F. Bransford conducted the first arcaeological studies in the 1800s and many other studies have since followed.
Go see one of the statues.
If peace, quite, and an escape from Managua’s suffocating heat is your wish, drive up into the cloud forest and rent a little cabin at the Selva Negra resort area. The view is breathtaking to say the least, as is the fact that it actually snows up there in the "winter."