Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Little Corn Island – The Basics
The population is around 500 people with the only real access by boat from Big Corn Island or the supply ship from the mainland of Nicaragua. The island is only 1.5 sq km and you can walk end to end in about an hour depending on the route you take. There are no cars, motorbikes, golf carts or other forms of motorised transport available. Leave that suitcase at home and swap it for a backpack to avoid hassles of lugging things around.
The islands were originally colonised by the British and therefore a lot of English is spoken with Spanish a close second. The English spoken is of the typical Caribbean style where it is a mix of Creole and sometimes hard to understand. Tourism is developing quite quickly, so don’t expect to have this paradise to yourself. The locals have figured out they can make good money from wealthy foreigners. Snorkel trips for a couple of hours are typically $20 and a dive for $30-$35 (still cheap in global terms). Eating at a restaurant could range from $4-$20 depending on your tastes and desires.
The island still has limited internet with some of the higher end hotels offering it complementary or for a fee. There are two cafes that let you use a wi-fi enabled device if you spend some money on their menu; they are Tranquilo Cafe and Desideri.
The island power can be quite erratic. Typically it runs from mid-afternoon to 6am. When we arrived the power had been off the past week or more and you only had power if you had your own supply such as a generator, wind or solar. The higher end accommodation again will typically have 24 hour power.
There is still no ATM on Little Corn Island, so bring cash; US dollars are the most useful. You will be best to have some local Nicaraguan Cordoba’s with you for little purchases like food and drink just to make things quicker and easier. A number of businesses offered credit card for payment, but typical fees were in the area of 5%+. You could fill up on cash at Big Corn Island, but that is a $12 per person and many hour return boat trip.
Getting the Panga (boat) to Little Corn Island
The Panga (boat) runs twice daily from Big Corn to Little Corn at 10am and 4.30pm, to synchronise with the incoming flights. The return boats from Little Corn to Big Corn run at 6.30am and 1.30pm. Tickets cost $6 per person one way. Remember you’re on an island a long way out into the ocean and if bad weather is around, these boats won’t run for safety reasons.
When Rodora saw the tiny boat she was getting quite worried. She gets seasick and it didn’t look all that safe to be loading so many people with all their luggage and crossing the big and wide ocean between the two islands.
When we set off, the boat was fully loaded with about 30-40 people all squished together. They gave us each a lifejacket and made us put them on. At first it was smooth leaving the port but then we got into open water with some big swell and waves. At our speed, we got some serious air underneath the boat as it came crashing down with a thud on a number of occasions. There was what looked like a couple of older local islander women on the boat directly behind us who were screaming (not in the fun way) as we hit some of these bigger waves. This was made worse as on your way there you are going against the current rather than with the current. After about 30-40 minutes of up and down motion and flying through the air we could finally see Little Corn Island and we were back in calm water again heading to the dock. Thank goodness!
We later found out that the panga wasn’t the only method of getting to the island and there was a significantly larger yacht that did the trip a couple of times a week. I wish we timed it to catch this instead. Below is the timetable from little corn to big corn however these run back and forth between the islands the same day. This is always subject to change, so be sure to ask around for up to date information.
Three Brothers Hostel on Little Corn Island
We were met by a crowd of maybe 15-20 locals on the dock who were a mix of people selling accommodation, people getting supplies from the boat and even a couple of tourist police. We had phoned a few days earlier to book a simple room in “Three Brothers Hostel”, although the sign he was holding said “Tree Brothers”. The hostel is located in the village (the main part of town) about a 5 minute walk (150m) along a concrete sidewalk turning left from the dock. It’s a good location as it’s fairly close to the beach and various shops and eateries. It’s worth noting that it does lack the oceanfront views or natural serenity you might expect from such a small island. The only downside is the nice and remote beaches are located on the Northern and Eastern sides of the island which is around a 20-30 minute walk through the jungle. A major reason why we also chose this place is because it’s one of the only places on the island that has a kitchen for guests to use. As we know from our Roatán experience, island food is expensive and self-catering is a simple way of cutting expenses. Our room was basic with one bed and shared bathroom, but for $12 per night for the room in paradise – it was a bargain. It’s also a great place to meet other backpackers from all around the world.
The most isolated of the accommodations is probably Derek’s Place at the far North East Corner. There are 4 picturesque huts with great beach access charging around $40 a night. If you’re looking to escape everything, this might well be the best place to do it. This is actually really close to some of the good snorkelling places as marked on the map shown earlier.
On the North side of the island is one of the newest opened accommodations, it’s called Yamaya. It is really impressive as soon as you reach it. Apparently it was only just opened in November 2013 and has 24 hour power and Internet. We’d be fairly confident in saying this is the nicest accommodation available on the island. When we spoke to a couple of the guests they told us it was $300 per night (including breakfast). It would’ve been interesting to see our faces as we were told this with a mix of shock and horror. The location is amazing, the place looks great, but when you do the maths of $12 a night versus $300, we’d rather spend the money on something like diving or travelling for a couple more months.
Food on the island
Coconut bread is part of the staple diet here and the smell is always seemingly floating through the air. We have still yet to figure out the exact dynamics of it, but it seems like different houses bake on different days. Sometimes you need to ask around for a couple of minutes to locate your fresh loaf, but it is never too far away. A single loaf costs 20 cords ($0.80) and it’s at its most delicious when it’s still warm to touch. We’d pre-purchased some Strawberry Jam in preparation for excess consumption. It is also tasty when it is pan toasted with butter.
Our local friend Jose sells baked goods made by his girlfriend Georgina that are absolutely delicious. You will find him at the fruit stand next to the main dock with a huge plastic container selling Georgina’s freshly baked batch. We tried the pineapple, and strawberry pastries – mmm so delicious and at 10 Cordoba’s ($0.40) each it was a tasty delight.
There is a large fruit stand near the dock that has the best supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresh supplies arrive on a supply boat every Saturday, so the best day to go buy fruit and vegetables is supply day, otherwise you will find during the end of the week the supplies diminish.
There are plenty of tienda’s (small stores) on the islands, attached to the local family homes. Like any remote island, supplies and prices can differ widely between the shops so shop around to find what you’re looking for. The biggest tienda that has the most supplies is a green building, when you’re walking of the main dock, go right and look on your left-hand side a couple of minutes’ walk away.
Another store with good variety is a yellow building as you walk off the dock it is almost immediately to your left. It is set a little bit back from the main path.
Buying fresh fish on the island wasn’t the easiest task and took us a few days to locate a reliable source. As tourism has increased, most fishermen have stopped fishing and use their boats to offer snorkelling or fishing tours to tourists instead as this makes more money. The only place on the island that consistently had fish is a guy called Marlo. To get here go to the school (near tree brothers), walk just past the school until you reach the basketball court. Here you will see a side path to your right. Follow this through some local houses to the house on the right that is blue/greenish. You usually have to duck under some washing on a line to get there. If you get lost, all the locals know who Marlo is, so just ask and they’ll kindly point you to the right spot. They have a big cooler full of yellow fin or red snapper. Fish was priced around 30 cords ($1.20) per pound.
Exploring the Island
We’ve explored and seen most parts of the Island in the time we’ve been here. We’ve walked up and down all the marked sidewalks and trails. Walked along all the accessible beaches we could find. We’ve seen the baseball/soccer field in the middle of the island and climbed the lookout tower near the school. It seems a little daunting at first, but the island is organised quite logically and it’s pretty hard to get lost.
The local houses on the island are generally very basic in design and structure. It’s a little hard to imagine these houses holding out some of the big storms that must hit this island. Talking to one of the locals, a hurricane hit this island in the late 1990’s which flattened everything except about 5 houses. There are a lot of simple shacks as materials must be near impossible to buy here. We are regularly seeing simple building supplies like wood coming in on the supply boats in small quantities.
The people are so friendly though with most locals sitting on their front porches and saying hi as we walk past on one of our many discovery walks. The thing Rodora liked most about this island is it’s still not over developed with no big resorts dominating and controlling the landscape (like in Roatán). The accommodation is basic and geared toward the backpacker market and eco-tourism. Many of the houses had signs selling random things to tourists such as snorkelling trips, fishing trips and most commonly coconut bread. These signs were really cute as they were all very basic and hand painted. You will find these signs throughout town and some with less than perfect English.
The beaches on the Northern and Eastern coasts are absolutely breathtaking. The water is fluorescent turquoise/blue and white soft sand that went for miles and miles with no-one in sight.
Cracking coconuts with the locals
On one of our many walks along the beaches of the east coast of the island, we reached a little shack and decided to have a rest. We later discovered this to be Georgina’s restaurant, in her words “My Dream”. We were initially greeted by a very friendly black dog called Paco. The longer you spend in these places, the easier it is to determine healthy and looked after animals versus the strays. It was very clear that Paco was well looked after and belonged to someone. He came over to us wanting attention and every time you stopped giving him a pat or scratch he would lick you and put his head in your lap begging for more.
We’d been on the lookout for low hanging coconuts our whole time on the island. Sometimes trying with sticks to try and knock some down. Toby had spotted some low hanging coconuts with a stable wooden chair underneath to gain access. We’d been told that Green coconuts had the best juice and the yellow one’s had ok juice but better flesh to eat inside.
The guy that lived in the shack (Jose) had seen our awful attempts to claim a coconut and came out and helped us. Within a flash he was up the tree climbing like a monkey and twisted off two coconuts for us. We did feel a bit stupid, as we had spent hours walking down the beach trying to get coconuts. Jose then went back into his shack and came back out with a machete and two straws and cut open our coconuts for us. We then sat down and enjoyed our refreshing drinks. This would be perfect with rum we thought, so we went back to his shack and asked if he sold rum. He said no, but wait, and instantly he came out with shot glasses and put some of his personal rum into our coconuts for free. Wow this was awesome. We decided that since he was so nice we would come back tomorrow and buy some beers or something from them.
The next day we returned back to visit and he was so happy we returned that he invited us into their tiny home on the beach. It turned out they didn’t sell anything today because Georgina (Jose’s girlfriend) had broken her foot by stepping in a hole one of the dogs dug. However, they were really excited that we went over to visit them so invited us to hang out with them in their shack. What ended up as a journey just to buy a few drinks ended up as a couple of hours talking to the locals. This is one of the best experiences you could ask for. Georgina was telling us her story on how she had 11 children, her first child when she was 13, and that even though her foot was broken that she didn’t want to go to the mainland as she didn’t trust doctors. Wow, what a strong woman. She said she loved her home and where she lived. She also told us how her dream was to turn her little shack into a restaurant and showed us her sign that said “Georgina’s – My Dream”. If anyone is going to the island, you need to go visit Georgina and Jose. They are some of the loveliest people we have met on the trip so far and so down to earth by not believing in the material things in life. Jose is also usually near the boat dock with the fruit and vegetable stand selling Georgina’s baked delights out of a large plastic container.
Rodora with her sunset coconut
Best view point on little corn island
We’d seen and read about the lighthouse before arriving on the island and went in search on our first night. I think all the locals know it as the “lighthouse” but there’s no light there anymore. This is also marked on the map above. If you follow the concrete path out of town to the North away from the school and towards the baseball field and keep your eyes out for a tree on the left with a white paper sign of a lighthouse on top. This marks a dirt path leading uphill that will take you through some farmland and eventually to where you need to go. The best marker is looking for the huge Red and White communications tower that is directly next to the lighthouse. Wikitravel says it best by saying it’s climbable and offers an awesome view of the whole island, but take care on the ladder and think twice if you’re afraid of heights. The sunset was really quite nice on the night we went and no regrets in climbing it at all.
The most often recommend way is by boat, which is around $20 for a 3 hour trip. We were trying to keep our spending low and didn’t actually do a trip, but others we met had said it was good. We had our own snorkels and had been told you could go from the beach. The only problem is you have to swim quite a bit out to get to the reef and the current was quite strong on the several occasions we had tried. This seems to be a day to day thing and if you have time, maybe be a bit patient if the weather doesn’t look good and wait for another day. We had our best luck swimming out nearly directly in front of Ensueno’s on the Northern coast. On one day Toby saw a green moray eel, though it was quite shy. Another day Toby found a couple of the often spoken about Spotted Eagle Rays. They were really big at maybe 2 or more metres across in wing span. He got as close as only a few metres away staring into the eyes of a very curious one. We still aren’t 100% sure how safe it is to swim close to them so kept as much distance as felt safe at the time. It was truly amazing to be alone and so close to them.
Diving is one of the most popular activities on the island. The water is quite clear and typically warm Caribbean waters along with some reefs near to the island all add to good reasons to get into the water. Guests of 3 Brothers Hostel get a 5% discount on diving at “Dive Little Corn Nicaragua”. Single dives cost $35 down to $33 with discount. A 10 dive pack was $280 and the courses were quite cheap as well. There are only two dive shops and they’re nearly next to each other just south of the main dock.
Date: Tuesday January 28, 2014
Location: Casa, Little Corn Island
Max depth: 56ft/16.6m
Time: 44 minutes
This dive was fairly simple; a less than 5 minute boat trip from the shop and a drop straight down from the boat and swim around a little reef. The depth is flat at around 17m with no real challenges to speak of. It started quite well as our dive master spotted an enormous Sting Ray just lying in the sand. The width of it had to be in excess of 2 metres and was rather intimidating. We then swam around the reef exploring the details and watching some really big schools of little fish. About mid-way through the dive we got lucky again as the dive master spotted a young turtle. It was only a brief encounter as the turtle swam away upon us getting closer. The visibility was ok, but there was still a lot of stuff floating around in the water that spoilt it a bit. I think my only disappointment was that we surfaced earlier than I wanted to as I still had 1200psi of air left getting onto the boat including a safety stop. I think we were spoilt on Roatán, but I feel if we’re paying for a service than we should get to enjoy it for the maximum time.
In summary The Corn Islands are a beautiful untouched paradise perfect for rest and relaxation.
Returning to Big Corn Island onward to Leon
We chose to take the afternoon boat from Little Corn to Big Corn the day before our flight. This was mainly to avoid a very early morning wake up and getting on a boat. If we’d chosen to stay on Little Corn and get the early boat, it may have been cancelled for bad weather or mechanical problems. That meant a change fee of $40 per person for the flight.
We stayed at G&G’s hotel for the night and quite enjoyed it. It was right next to our previous hotel of Hotel Ruppie and only cost $15 for the night with a large room, wi-fi (that was fast & reliable) and private bathroom. We went for a short walk after checking in and there are some cheap/budget places on the so called beach front just around the corner from this hotel. They looked ok from the outside and might be a worthy backup if G&G’s is booked up like it was on our first night on Big Corn Island.
Confirm your flight 24 hours ahead
Flights to and from the Island only occur twice per day. We were on the 8am departure. A quick tip, remember to confirm your flight 24 hours prior to flying. Our hotel was nice enough to let us use their phone and they simply needed your ticket number and name. Most of these flights are full, so if you don’t confirm or turn up on time, they give your seat to the first person on stand-by.
We flew back to Managua on the same 12 seater plane we came over on. There was a bigger, maybe 40 seater plane that left just before us. This plane made a stop at Bluefields and then arrived a couple of minutes after us in Managua. I had to wait for my bag to come off of the larger plane for a few extra minutes.
We’d tried researching our way back to Leon online, but had some mixed messages. If you take a taxi from the airport terminal into Managua city you can expect to pay around $15-$18. If you walk across the road from the terminal you can save a few dollars and negotiate for around $8-$12. We paid $12 (300 cords) to take us for a 25 minute ride to the inter-local shuttle stop outside of UCA (pronounced Ooh-Kah). This has many other shuttles going to other places including our desired destination of Leon. The shuttle only cost 50 cords ($2) each and was comfortable, not crammed, air conditioned and only made 1 short rest stop at about the halfway point for food/drink/restroom. This takes you to the North Eastern bus terminal in around 1 hour 30 minutes. You can take a local bus in Managua from the airport, but people were quoting different bus numbers and different directions. We paid for the convenience of knowing where we were going.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/