La Paz Centro could justifiably lay claim to the title of Nicaraguaâ€™s tile center. The city center features the simple Iglesia de San NicÃ³las, declared a national heritage site in 1972, quesillo stands and the dilapidated old train station, but it is along the LeÃ³n-Managua highway where you can find the cityâ€™s true claims to fame.
The most visible of these are the tejares, small scale operations that produce the brick red tiles and curved roof shingles that are widely used across the country. The alcaldiaâ€™s Casa de Cultura (505-2-314-2295, email@example.com) can arrange tours of the local factories, but you can also visit on your own.
One of the largest and most famous tejas-production centers is Tajer San Pablo (505-8-639-5100), where the giant kilns are large enough to walk through. Between their working hours of 3 a.m. and 10 a.m., an average worker can produce 300 raw bricks with teams of four men shaping 1,000 shingles in the same time. The shaped clay is then left to dry for several days before being baked brick red and ceramic hard. The best time to visit is between the heavy production times of 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.; call ahead of time or check in at the front office before touring the grounds. To get there, either hire a mototaxi for C$20 or ask a Managua-bound bus to let you off at the San Pablo bus stop. Production stops any time there is heavy rain.
For a more refined (and colorful) version of the tejas ceramics, look no further than the Mercado de ArtesanÃas (8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily) where locals sell heavy vases, piggy banks, kissing geese, chickens and other brightly-painted creatures. The Casa de Cultura (7:30 a.m. to noon, 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., weekdays) has a variety of local ceramics on display, as well as an exhibit of baseball trophies and uniforms. The tourist information booth, though, closed for lack of funding.
La Paz Centro prides itself on being the place where quesillos were invented. You can find the delicious combination of corn tortilla, local cheese, cooked onions and cream at any number of eateries along the cityâ€™s entrance. The most famous is the original Quesillos GuiligÃ¼iste (505-2-314-2205, 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily) where fresh, pure ingredients are a point of no small amount of pride. Quesillos cost C$27 and are served either with flat rounds or trenzas (braids) of the mozzarella-like cheese.
A few blocks up the street, youâ€™ll find Bar-Restaurant El Asador (Mains: C$65 to C$110, 505-8-898-5552, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday). Locals claim the restaurant has the best food around. The menu doesnâ€™t vary from the usual beef/pork/chicken offerings but the dishes are prepared as theyâ€™re ordered, to retain as much flavor as possible.
La Paz Centro has two places to stay: the small and slightly grubby rooms at Hospedaje Fonseca (previously Hospedaje Familiar) are popular with itinerant workers and baseball players, who share a bathroom and pay C$70 per person. Hotelito CorazÃ³n has private bathrooms (minus the toilet seats), clean tile floors and thicker mattresses, but also doubles as a love hotel. The two hour rate per room is C$100 or C$200, if you want the whole 24.
Other places nearby La Paz Centro: Las Penitas, Chinandega, Puerto Morazan, El Viejo, El Sauce, Puerto Sandino, Padre Ramos Estuary & Nature Reserve, Playa Jiquilillo, Playa Aserradores and Poneloya.