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.
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 no-fuss beach 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.
Big Corn Island
Let’s start with Corn Island or “Big Corn” as everyone calls it. At just under 10sq km in size, Corn Island is not so “Big” but compared to its little sister it certainly is the Big Island.
There are flights to Corn Island and also a ferry service (details later). If you fly, as you approach 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.
Arriving at Big Corn Island
You will find plenty of taxis at Corn Island Airport waiting to take you to hotels or to the Little Corn Island transfer boat.
There are two boats each day to Little Corn Island 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 Corn Islands 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 Island and head straight for Little Corn Island, we think this is a shame.
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.
Accommodation on Big Corn Island
We spent a couple of days at the lovely Casa Canada, a perfect introduction to life on the Corns. You will find accommodation on Big Corn ranges from very cheap and cheerful hostels to more established hotels and resorts. Although, don’t expect to find any accommodation in the higher end of the 5-star market – yet. One thing is constant, service is always very friendly and the pace, very laid back.
You can find more rates for the best places to stay on Big Corn Island for your budget here.
How to get to Little Corn Island
When you have had enough of the not so hustle and bustle of Big Corn Island, jump on one of the open panga boats 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. We wished we had prepared with some more garbage bags. We were prepared for our return ride and it was smooth sailing. Go figure!
Tip: It pays to have some large garbage bags to cover your luggage on the panga transfer. It can get very wet if the sea is a little rough. Passengers will be asked to hang on to a large tarpaulin run over everyone’s heads in an attempt to keep things dry.
If you have any valuable items such as phones or cameras, you may want to consider taking a lightweight dry sack to put those things in and keep them in your lap. Thankfully, we wrapped our cameras in plastic shopping bags tucked under our clothing. We were soaked from top to bottom on arrival but somehow our cameras made it.
Ferry Times From Big Corn: Boats to Little Corn Island from Big Corn leave at 10 am and 4.30pm which usually coincides with flights to Big Corn Island from Managua. The boats will generally wait if the plane is delayed.
Return Ferry Times from Little Corn: Regular pangas leave at 6.30am and 1.30pm. There is also a boat that runs at around 4 pm but this a less reliable service. On Saturdays, you may be able to catch one of the cargo boats that return to Big Corn between 5pm-7pm.
Cost: Expect to pay $6 USD or 165 Cordobas each way.
Arriving at Little Corn Island
When you arrive, you will not find taxis, you will find no cars at all on Little Corn Island. 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 manhandled and transported by foot to its final destination. Rows of purpose-built wooden trolley’s line the docks waiting to offload the goods everyone has been waiting for. Everyone comes to the dock on barge day because you never know what will be offloaded.
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.
Accommodation on Little Corn Island
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.
You can get an idea of current rates and different styles of accommodation on Little Corn Island here.
As we were on Little Corn Island at the end of the 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.
Electricity and WIFI
Little Corn Island loses power during the day so while some of the hotels, will offer cable TV, WiFi etc. courtesy of generators, your average beach bungalow style accommodation will not have electricity between 6.00 am and 3.00 in the afternoon. They will also have no wifi or phone reception. If these things are important to you, you should ask before you book. If you do require WiFi, Tranquilo Café and Desideri Café both have generators and free Wi-Fi.
In lieu of power and contact with the outside world, you 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.
Little Corn Island Restaurants
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.
How to Get to The Corn Islands
Flights to The Corn Islands
La Costeña has 3 flights daily from Managua to Big Corn Island. Expect fares of ~$164 USD return / ~$106 One way. These may vary according to the season.
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. There is also the option of catching the cargo boats when they are running. The panga will cost ~ $6 USD each way.
Ferry to Big Corn Island
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.
For up to date information on Little Corn Island accommodation & transport schedules check out this great reference – Little Corn Island.net
What You Will Need to Take to The Corn Islands
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. If you plan to cook on the Island, stocking up on staples at a supermarket before you arrive could be wise. Fish and lobster are plentiful on the island.
There is no ATM on Little Corn so make sure you have plenty of cash to tide you over.
Before you Go-Recommended Travel Gear for The Corn Islands Nicaragua