CHINANDEGA, 35km northwest of León, is primarily a working city. Set on a plain behind looming Volcán San Cristóbal, the area’s dry, kiln-like climate is ideal for growing cotton, the area’s main economic activity, along with Flor de Caña rum, Nicaragua’s export-grade tipple, produced in a distillery on the outskirts of town. Chinandega is generally visited on the way to the Honduran border and, with wildlife-rich volcanoes nearby and a decidedly untouristed vibe, it’s not a bad place to stop off. Most action centres on the Parque Central, which has an odd miniature fort at its centre, and Parroquia Santa Ana, a faded but peaceful church opposite its northern end.
The coast west of here is truly beautiful and unspoilt, with great surfing and kayaking.