Rivas  is small and easy to get around, and for about $1–3 dollars per hour, a pedal-powered triciclo will carry you around town among the different attractions.
Rivas’s obvious centerpiece is a well-loved historical monument repainted in 2007. Built in the 18th century, the Iglesia Parroquial de San Pedro has witnessed the California gold rush, William Walker, the Sandinista revolution, and the 21st-century real estate boom. As you take in the details of the church’s pleasing colonial design, remember that every single gold rush–bound passenger that traversed Nicaragua in the days of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s steamship line passed under its shadow. It is today, as always, a peaceful place to seek refuge; mass is held evenings around 6 p.m.
Four blocks west of the park at the town’s center, the Iglesia de San Francisco was built in 1778 and was the first convent of the Franciscan friars. A beautiful statue commemorates the devotion of the friars to both God and their work.
When they began construction of the nearby Bancentro, an underground tunnel was discovered that linked the Iglesia de San Francisco with the plaza (the open area adjacent to the central park’s north side); the tunnel passes beneath the library (one door east of Bancentro). Researchers speculate it was probably dug at the same time as the church, meaning it was in place and probably used during the Battle of Rivas, when the plaza was the site of a military barracks.
Rivas  is also the birthplace of several presidents of the republic, including Máximo Jérez (Liberal, governed from June 8, 1818 to August 12, 1881), Adén Cárdenas (Conservative, governed from March 1, 1883 to March 1, 1887), and most recently, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (Coalition, governed from April 25, 1990 to January 10, 1997). Chamorro’s childhood home is located across the street from the Iglesia Parroquial de San Pedro’s south side. Several direct descendants of William Walker also continue to reside in Rivas.
Rivas has its own history museum: the Museo de Historia y Antropología de Rivas (open 8 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., only in the morning Sat., foreign travelers $1), set on the western side of town in a 200-year-old house that was once part of a cacao and indigo plantation. Once known as the Casa Hacienda Santa Úrsula, on June 29, 1855, William Walker and his men were defeated here in a heroic battle Nicaraguans are still proud of.
The Battle of Rivas, as it became known, was one of the first manifestations of Nicaragua’s growing sense of independence in the late 19th century; in fact, the people of Rivas claim that “nationalism began in Rivas.” The museum has a healthy collection of pre-Columbian pottery, as well as domestic utensils from the 18th and 19th centuries including kerosene lamps, silverware, and hand tools. The building itself evokes the lifestyle of the old farming community; more exciting are several old maps of the region. Some books are for sale.
The Monument to Emmanuel Mongalo y Rubio marks the final resting place of a young Rivas teacher who lived here in the mid-1800s. Mongalo y Rubio gained his fame during the Battle of Rivas by setting fire to the Mesón (the museum building) where Walker and his men had sought refuge; as they abandoned the blazing building, they were captured or shot.
Another museum piece in its own right, the Biblioteca Pública de Rivas next to Bancentro is one of the oldest still-standing buildings in Nicaragua, dating back to at least the early 17th century. Among its various incarnations it was a secondary school founded in 1872 by Máximo Jérez and El Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepción. Still easily visible in the building is a stray bullet hole incurred during the Battle of Rivas.
At the southeast end of town not far from the road to La Chocolata, the Rivas cemetery is set on a little hill with a nice view of town and the surrounding hillsides. It’s worth visiting in the late afternoon, as Rivas sunsets are often blazing washes of red and orange, thanks to the humidity from Lake Cocibolca.