A Complete Travel Guide to The Corn Islands. Nicaragua’s Caribbean Secret

(Last Updated July 2018)
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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. 

A Complete Guide to Visiting The Corn Islands

(With Packing List)

The Corn Islands Nicaragua

 

If you are happy to hang your hammock and while away the afternoon; enjoying a few quiet rums waiting for the fisherman to bring in the daily catch of lobster. Snorkel from deserted, pristine beaches or simply kick back in a no-fuss beach front shack and watch the waves roll in; you might just like it here.

Life is pretty sweet on The Corn Islands.Big Corn Island Nicaragua

Where are 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!

About the Corn Islands

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.

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If you are looking for a great island atmosphere and hospitality, where you can chill out and enjoy the spoils of simpler island life, then the Corn Islands are definitely for you. You could quite easily lose track of time on these islands and perhaps never want to leave.

The Corn Islands-Nicaragua. Little Corn Island

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.

Corn Islands Nicaragua

Best Time to Visit The Corn Islands

The temperatures on the Corn Islands do not vary that much. The main changes will be in humidity and wet and dry seasons.

Rainy Season

As a rule, October and November are the wettest months. However, bear in mind that id the forecast shows rain during these months, it might just mean a chance of rain.

Dry Season

March through May are the driest months.

September is often the best month of the year as it is both sunny and calm.

Shoulder Seasons

December, January and February are relatively dry with the occasional tropical downpour and breezy weather. June July and August will be similar.

The Corn Islands-Nicaragua

How to Get to The Corn Islands

Flights to The Corn Islands

  • La Costeña has three 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.
Transfers from Big Corn to Little Corn Island

The only way to Little Corn is by boat.

  • There are two scheduled panga’s (small boats) 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.

Panga Boat to Little Corn Island

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.
Supply Ship to The Corn Islands

Supply ships leave Rama on Thursdays which take passengers if room allows, but will take longer as they can stop for hours in Bluefields. While this is the less reliable option, it is certainly one to consider if you miss the scheduled ferry.

Getting from Managua to Rama (Bluefields)
  • 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

Tip on Flight & Ferry Schedules

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 

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.

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.

Big Corn Island Nicaragua

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.

The Corn Islands-Nicaragua. Boat to Little Corn Island

Arriving at Big Corn Island

If you fly to Corn Island, as you approach the island, you may see pedestrians and cars being run off the tarmac before you land. The airstrip is also a main road on the island!

Taxis on Corn Island

You will find plenty of taxis at Corn Island Airport waiting to take you to hotels or the Little Corn Island transfer boat.

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.

Transfers to Little Corn Island

There are two boats each day to Little Corn Island that connect with the flights.

The Corn Islands-Nicaragua

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 see any accommodation at 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

The Corn Islands Nicaragua - Big Corn Island

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. The crossing can 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 larger dry sacks and some more garbage bags. On our return ride, we were prepared with extra bags, and it was smooth sailing. Go figure!

Important Information for the Little Corn Island Ferry

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 plastic tarpaulin run over everyone’s heads in an attempt to keep things dry.

Protect Your Valuables

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 inside dry sacks and tucked under our clothing. We were soaked from top to bottom on arrival, but somehow our cameras made it.

Corn Islands Nicaragua

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 planes are 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 of the transfer Between Big Corn & Little Corn

Expect to pay around $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.

The Corn Islands Nicaragua - Little Corn Island

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.

The Corn Islands Nicaragua - Little Corn Island

Everyone comes to the dock on barge day because you never know what will be offloaded.

The Corn Islands Nicaragua - Little Corn Island

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.

The Corn Islands Nicaragua - Little Corn Island

Accommodation on Little Corn Island

Accommodations on Little Corn vary from very cheap and basic (~$15/night) to somewhat higher end (~$100/night).

There is only one “luxury” establishment on the north end of the island offering individual cabins at ~ $2,000/week.

Accommodation on Little Corn Island

You can get an idea of current rates and different styles of accommodation on Little Corn Island here.

The Corn Islands-Nicaragua. Little Corn island

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.

The Corn Islands-Nicaragua

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.

The Corn Islands Nicaragua - Little Corn Island

Electricity and WIFI on Little Corn Island

Little Corn Island loses power during the day. 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.

Corn Islands Sunset Nicaragua

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.
  • A beer from a bar will set you back no more than $1.50 at the more casual establishments.

The Corn Islands-Nicaragua

For us, the Corn Islands was a special and unique 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.

What You Will Need to Take to The Corn Islands

Shopping on the Corn Islands

There is little in the way of shopping on either island so do not rely on being able to 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.

ATM’s on the Corn Islands

Big Corn Island has an ATM, but it is often out of cash. Many shops, restaurants etc. will also not accept cards.

There is no ATM on Little Corn so make sure you have plenty of cash to tide you over.

The Nicaraguan Cordoba is used on the Corn Islands although US dollars are also accepted.

What Type of Plug is Used on the Corn Islands

All of Nicaragua, including the Corn Islands, use the standard plug used in the United States.


Before you Go-Packing List for The Corn Islands Nicaragua

Insect Repellant

The Corn Islands are tropical islands with beaches and jungle so there will be bugs. The biggest issue will be mosquitoes and sand flies at dusk and after dark. If you don’t want to travel with aerosols or extra bottles we recommend Mosquito Repellant Bracelets and Insect Repellant Patches.

Sunscreen and Sun Protection

Hat, sunscreen, sunglasses will be a must. Don’t assume you will be able to buy these things once you get there. Or, they could be expensive on the island. Try to use a natural sunscreen as it is better for the reef.

Flashlight or Headlamp

As mentioned, the power on Little Corn Island goes off during the day but power to the Island in the evenings can be unpredictable at best. The paths are also dimly lit on the island so a headlamp will help when walking around at night.

Power on Big Corn can also be unpredictable so a flashlight of some description will be handy. Waterproof Headlamp

 

Lightweight Dry Sack and Day Pack

You will want a dry sack for the panga ride to Little Corn Island but it also a very handy beach item. A lightweight foldable daypack with security zippers is perfect for travelling through Nicaragua and for day to day use on the Corn Islands.

Luggage Locks

While the Corn Islands are safe, we still advise protecting your gear when you are out and about. Especially on Little Corn where your room or hut may not be that secure. In addition to locking valuables away in your luggage, we always recommend locking luggage to a fixed structure for added peace of mind.

Rain Jacket or Umbrella for Tropical Downpours

Even in the dry season, random downpours can happen. A rain jacket will also be very handy if you happen to get a rough crossing to Little Corn. We found a reusable rain poncho to be very handy right throughout Nicaragua. They fold down small so you can keep them in your daypack for emergencies.

Reusable Rain Ponchos

Personal Items and Clothing

  • Don’t forget to bring any personal hygiene items and medications as these may not be available on the islands. Especially medicines.
  • Pack flip-flops and, or a good pair of reef walking shoes for the beach and getting around the island.
  • Also, remember a lightweight sweater in case of cooler evenings. It does happen!
  • Remember to bring a book or E-reader for lazy days in the hammock.
  • The Corn Islands are very casual so standard beachwear will be fine for all occasions.
  • If you have prescription goggles for snorkelling or diving bring them. They may not have them at the dive shops.

Additional Chargers

Don’t forget, the power can go down on Big Corn and will be off during the day on Little Corn. You may be staying in a hotel with a generator but this may not be reliable. A few additional external chargers are always a good travel accessory especially if you are using your phone as your primary camera.

See our Complete Packing List for Nicaragua Here

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

While Big Corn Island can be reached relatively easily by air, as you can now see, Little Corn can be a little more challenging. Little Corn is mere a dot in the ocean. Not the kind of place you want to be caught in a medical emergency without travel insurance.

Also consider, the nature of the Corns, Little Corn especially is very relaxed. This goes for security as well. While crime is not a big issue, it doesn’t hurt to make sure your valuables are covered. Because let’s face it; petty crime is everywhere, even in paradise.

The Corn Islands-Nicaragua

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