For a long time we had a solid plan for how we would get to the Corn Islands. Before we even left the UK and right up until about a week before we were due to head out there, we had been determined to go the longer, cheaper route: catch a bus across from Managua to El Rama, then either get a panga (basically a long passenger speedboat) to Bluefields, followed by the Rio Escondido passenger boat over to Big Corn, or hop on the infamous Captain D cargo ship at El Rama and spend anywhere between a day to three days (depending on the cargo ship schedule) getting to Big Corn.
Neither of those journeys ever sounded particularly appealing, but because they are both considerably cheaper options than flying, we thought one of those routes would be best for us budget wise. However, two things happened while we were in León: because we were doing very little and cooking for ourselves most nights we managed to save a ton of money, and although our travel-weariness had greatly improved by the end of our stay there, it had had enough of an impact to make us feel really, really unenthusiastic about travelling to the Corn Islands by bus and boat. So one night during our final week in León, we bit the bullet and booked ourselves return flights with La Costeña from Managua to Big Corn Island for USD $180 each.
So we said our farewells in León, hopped in a combi van (an air conditioned combi van, no less!) to Managua, and before we knew it we were at Managua airport ready to catch our flight. Going through security was an interesting process – after being handed our laminated, re-usable boarding passes, we put our bags through the detectors (no need to remove any liquids!) and got a half-hearted body scan before being ushered through to the seating area at the tiny domestic flights gate. After a short wait we were boarded onto the small plane – and in true Latin America style, the plane was a sit-where-you-like, no assigned seating kind of affair – and after that it was just an hour long flight to reach Big Corn.
Although we planned to spend the majority of our time on Little Corn, we decided to spend a night on Big Corn at each end of our week long stay, to avoid any rushing or panicking regarding boats and flights – there are only two boats per day between Big Corn and Little Corn, and they are often over subscribed, so if you get there late and can’t get a ticket you will be doomed to either miss your first night of accommodation on Little Corn, or your flight back to Managua on the return journey. I had contacted a place called the G&G Hotel ahead of time and booked us a room there for those two nights – or so I thought.
After our flight landed we took a short stroll across the runway (!) and through a gate the other side that took us to where G&G Hotel was located. However, when we went to reception and gave our names, the immensely unhelpful receptionist said there was no record of our booking (even when I showed her the messages I had on my phone confirming it) and she could offer us no suggestions on alternative places to stay. Fortunately, Dan discovered a place right next door called Ruppie’s Guest House, which had nice, clean rooms and bathrooms, friendly staff, and only cost us USD $10 per night (as opposed to the G&G’s USD $15). So if you find yourself on Big Corn looking for a place to stay, we definitely recommend Ruppie’s!
That night we wandered along to check out the dock where we would get the panga to Little Corn the following day, then had dinner at a restaurant called Fisher’s Cave, which had good food and a great view over the water. The following morning we took a stroll around some of the pristine Big Corn beaches before returning to the dock for the half hour panga ride over to Little Corn.
It is definitely advisable to get to the dock early to buy your panga ticket – both times we took this boat it was overbooked, and latecomers had to wait on the mercy of the boat drivers to decide whether or not they would return to pick them up – and do be prepared for a cramped and, if the water is choppy, pretty wet journey. There is also no shade on the boat, so make sure you’re covered up or have liberally applied sunscreen!
When we docked at Little Corn, it was like arriving in a whole different world. There are no roads on the island, and the fastest mode of transport you can take there is a bicycle. We had booked a room at Three Brothers Hostel, which is on the main island strip just a short walk from the bars and restaurants, and had come highly recommended primarily because it has a kitchen. We had intended to save some money on the island by cooking most of our meals, so when booking a kitchen was a priority – but as it turned out, this was another of our plans for the Corn Islands that was eventually overturned, and we didn’t use the kitchen once! How could we, when there was so much incredible seafood on offer?! On our first night, while enjoying some fish and lobster in a cute little restaurant right on the beach, we decided to not worry about the budget (though not go overboard, of course!) and give ourselves a week to really enjoy eating out and try the awesome food on the island.
Three Brothers is great, and very sociable if you want to meet other travellers. We had a bit of an issue with our bathroom though, which was absolutely infested with mosquitoes – you would open the door and literally be greeted by a swarm of the buggers. I suppose it was good for saving water though, as I’ve never taken quicker showers in my life! And it is true that you have to expect some mosquitoes on Little Corn, being a jungle island and all, but the number we had living in our bathroom was insane. The mosquito netting on our bedroom window was also pretty ineffective and had a number of holes. Of course, this meant that I became a walking buffet and left the island with a large number of impressive sized bites – while Dan left with none (he likes to joke that he doesn’t need to use insect repellent when he’s near me, as when I’m around mosquitoes never bite him. I’d like to say this is an exaggeration, but unfortunately it’s true – they really love me).
As well as mosquitoes, another thing you have to expect about island life is insects – big ones. I had really hoped that we would not see any during our stay, and was beginning to think we had gotten away with it, until we walked into our room on the second to last night and Dan said urgently, “Charlotte, stop, and do NOT turn around”. I froze in the middle of the room as a series of banging noises and expletives started up behind me, and I was determined not to see whatever it was that had caused the commotion – but unfortunately I was standing in front of the mirror, and after a minute or so an enormous, jurassic-sized spider scurried into my line of vision on the wall behind me (with Dan in hot pursuit). I then ran screaming from the room while Dan – who, I might add, is also arachnophobic, but a great deal braver than me – spent around five more minutes chasing the spider around the room, eventually killing it with one of our Spanish notebooks (a shoe was not sufficient for this monster).
Mosquitoes and spiders aside, Little Corn Island really is paradise. The electricity is turned off every day between 6am and around 1pm, so with the fans in our room going off early every morning we were encouraged to get up and explore the island, wandering along jungle pathways and discovering hidden beaches. In fact, we found one beach not far from Three Brothers that was deserted every day, so we spent all of our afternoons there, lazing in the sand, reading our books and watching the sunset from under the palm trees. It really was idyllic, and you can understand why some travellers go there and end up staying for months!
As well as the beautiful scenery, the food is absolutely to die for. I think I ate lobster every single day, and although some of the more touristy restaurants are a bit pricier, you can go to local comedor-style restaurants and get some really tasty, cheap food. On our second to last night we treated ourselves to a meal at Tranquilo Cafe to celebrate our 5 year anniversary – it was a bit more expensive, but the food was so, so worth it. If you want a treat meal while you’re there, Tranquilo is the place to go!
If you find yourself in Nicaragua the Corn Islands are definitely worth a visit, and we recommend going sooner rather than later, as they are bound to become a tourist hotspot over the next few years. Already most of the information we read online beforehand is slightly out of date – for example, most blogs and websites said there is little to no wifi access on Little Corn, but we not only had wifi in our hostel, but a number of the restaurants and cafes had it too. We also met a local man one day who told us that the island had become noticeably more touristy in recent years. So our advice: go visit, and go soon!