León’s most entertaining and eclectic museum is housed in La XXI (the 21st Garrison), decorated with murals graphically depicting methods the Guardia Nacional used to torture prisoners. What makes this museum unmissable is the striking contrast of its main subjects: a quirky collection of life-sized papier-mâché figures from Leonese history and legend (such as Rubén Darío and a musician known as the Divino Leproso), handmade by founder señora Toruña.
You’re led from room to room, each dedicated to a different aspect of Leonese folklore, from La Gigantona – the giant woman who represents an original colonist, still ridiculed by a popular ballet folklórico – to La Carreta Nagua (Chariot of Death), which picks up the souls of those foolish enough to cross intersections, and kitty-corner and macabre figures, such as the pig-witches and Toma La Teta – a hideous woman with one enormous breast who attacks men with it, "leaving them stunned and asphyxiated". Check out the mosaics in the garden, too.
If you get the curator to show you around, between each rundown of local legends, your Spanish-speaking guide will cheerfully shift gears to describe the gory human-rights abuses – stretching on racks, beatings, water tortures etc – that took place here regularly until June 13, 1979, when Commander Dora María Téllez successfully breached Somoza’s defenses and secured La XXI for the Sandinistas, releasing all prisoners. Signage is in English and Spanish.