When people talk about The Corn Islands, their eyes light up.
“Imagine what the Caribbean was like 50 years ago, before the crowds and the resorts?” they say.
If you are happy to hang your hammock and wile away the afternoon with a few quiet rums and wait for the fisherman to bring the daily catch of lobster in. Snorkel from deserted, pristine beaches or even just kick back in a nno-fussbeach front shack and watch the waves roll in, you might just like it here.
Life is pretty nice on The Corn Islands.
The Corn Islands sit 70 km to the east of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. This is the Caribbean people are just starting to find out about and word is spreading fast!
Nicaragua has such diversity in its regional cultures. From the south on the Rio San Juan to Matagalpa’s hill country, or when people from Granada talk about the folk from nearby Masaya (10kms away) being of fairer skin and shorter stature.
The Corn Islands are no different, here you will find Nicaraguans different to any others you have encountered along the way. Due to a very strong Caribbean influence, not only do these Nicaraguans look that little bit different, they speak differently. Mostly Creole English, as well as Spanish, is spoken on the Corn Islands and they move to a very different beat.
You are in paradise on the Corn Islands, something the locals know all too well.
Let’s start with Corn Island or “Big Corn” as everyone calls it. Corn Island is not so “Big” at just under 10 Sq km in size but compared to it’s little sister it certainly is the Big Island.
There are flights to Corn Island and also a ferry service (details later). If you fly, when you land on big Corn you may see pedestrians and cars being run off the tarmac before you land. The airstrip is also a main road on the island! The only way to Little Corn though is by boat.
You will find plenty of taxis waiting to take you to hotels or to the Little Corn Island boat (there are two a day that connect with the flights). Taxis on Corn will cost you around 20 Cordoba (~ $1USD) pp/trip anywhere on the island. Don’t be surprised if you are sharing with strangers or you have to detour to pick someone up along the way or stop for a chat.
The Corn Islands are not fancy, if you are looking for a 5 star island experience then the Corns may not be for you. If you are looking for a great island atmosphere and hospitality, where you can chill out and enjoy the spoils of a simpler island life, then this is definitely for you. You could quite easily lose track of time on these islands and perhaps never want to leave.
Big Corn Island
A lot of people skip big Corn and head straight for Little Corn, we think this is a shame. We spent a couple of days at the lovely Sea Star Spa where we were introduced to life on the Corns.
Big Corn Island has stunning beaches, plenty of diving and snorkelling and loads of laid-back bars and restaurants. Just don’t expect anything too fancy. While tourism is on the increase, the primary industry of The Corn Islands is fishing, mainly lobster and shrimp for export which means there is no shortage of great dining.
We dined on excellent fresh seafood for less than $20 USD for the both of us, including drinks, and this was at the fancier establishments.
There is a colourful and friendly culture here like nothing we had seen in Nicaragua and life is definitely a lot simpler.
Little Corn Island
When you have had enough of the not so hustle and bustle of big Corn, jump on a panga for the half hour trip to Little Corn. This can either be a picture postcard cruise across a stretch of sapphire blue water or it can be a hair raising, neck jarring ride leaving you soaked from top to bottom! We got the later and wished we had prepared with some more garbage bags, although when we were prepared on our return ride, it was smooth sailing. Go figure!
Tip: It pays to have some large garbage bags to cover your luggage on the panga transfer. It will be very wet if the sea is a little rough.
When you arrive, you will not find taxis, you will find no cars at all on Little Corn. It is walking or bicycles (if you can get one). But on an island that is only 2.9 sq km who needs wheels. Even on barge day, when all the stores for the island arrive, everything must be man handled and transported by foot to its final destination. Rows of purpose built wooden trolley’s line the docks waiting to off load the goods everyone has been waiting for.
It seems everyone comes to the dock on barge day, you never know what will be off loaded.
If you are lucky, you may find someone with a wheelbarrow and your name on a piece of paper to walk you to your accommodation, otherwise, just follow the signs and everyone else. It’s not hard to find things on Little Corn and you certainly won’t run into traffic on the main drag.
While accommodations vary from very cheap and basic (~$15/night) to somewhat higher end (~$100/night), there is really only one “luxury” establishment on the north end of the island offering individual cabins at ~ $2,000/week.
As we were on Little Corn Island at the end of low season our options were limited to those that were open and $2,000/week is way out of our travel budget. We were very happy with our choice which was fairly indicative of the popular options on Little Corn. Carlitos Place is one of a number of small properties sitting right on the beach, on the eastern side of the island. They offer very basic, colourful beach shacks which have a bed, a basic bathroom, a mosquito net and a view of the Caribbean sea.
What more could you want for a Robinson Crusoe getaway? After all, this is the Little Corn experience you came for.
While some of the hotels, of which there are few, will offer cable TV, Wifi etc. your average beach bungalow style accommodation will not have electricity until 2.00 in the afternoon, has no wifi or phone reception. It will have loads of hammocks strung under palm trees, stunning beaches and excellent little restaurants and bars where you can down some very cheap drinks and eat fresh fish and lobster.
The food on Little Corn is excellent and there are enough choices to keep you in new, albeit casual dining experiences for your stay. A meal of two lobsters with salad and, of course, plantains will cost around $8 USD. A whole fresh fish around the same and beer from a bar will set you back no more than $1.50 at the more casual establishments.
For us, the Corn Islands was a special experience for the very reason peoples eyes light up when you mention them. Even those who have never been, but know of them, seem to drift off to another place of lost island paradises yet to be discovered. A place where you can truly switch off, relax and forget about the real world.
Unfortunately, the Corn Islands, especially Little Corn will not remain the same forever but while it does, to us it will be the most idyllic island in the entire Caribbean.
Getting to The Corn Islands
La Costeña have 3 flights daily leaving from Managua- Big Corn ~$164 USD return / ~$106 One way.
Flights can stop via Bluefields ~ $60 USD for either leg – Managua-Bluefields or Bluefields – Big Corn.
There are two scheduled panga’s a day, leaving Little Corn Island at 06.30 and 13.30 to coincide with flights with talk of an additional panga to be scheduled to meet the 3rd flight starting 2015. There is also the option of catching the cargo boats when they are running. The panga will cost ~ $6 USD each way.
Scheduled ferries depart Bluefields from the river port of Rama to Big Corn every Wednesday morning around 9.00AM and return to Bluefields Thursday morning. The trip will take around 6 hours and cost ~ $12 USD one way. There may be additional trips scheduled at varying times of the year so it is best to check.
Express buses depart Managua for Rama at 9.00 in the evening and arrive at around 3.00 in the morning. A one way fare will cost ~$8 USD
There are supply ships leaving Rama on Thursdays which take passengers if room allows, but will take longer as they can stop for hours in Bluefields. This is the less reliable option but certainly one to consider if you miss the scheduled ferry.
*Note- flight & ferry schedules will vary dependant on time of year and can change frequently. Always check locally before setting dates.
Things To Consider
There is little in the way of shopping on either island so do not rely on being able to readily get even certain basic items. You will find mostly small general stores and on Big Corn a larger market type store.
There is no ATM on Little Corn so make sure you have plenty of cash to tide you over.
For up to date information on Little Corn Island accommodation & transport schedules check out this great reference – Little Corn Island.net