The Corn Islands are two islands 70 kilometers off the Caribbean Coast, in front of the city of Bluefields. These two islands offer a superb opportunity to see the Caribbean side of Nicaragua in a beautiful and mostly unexplored environment. The regular ‘Caribbean’ features are all present: turquoise water, white beaches, green palm trees and stunning reefs and marine life.
The islands are a perfect place to undertake adventurous sports like diving or sea fishing, but they are also a great spot to relax, enjoy the beach, and tranquilly explore the surroundings. Temperatures hover around 30°C year-round.
Development of the tourism sector is still at its infancy at the Corn Islands, and the tourism infrastructure is small-scale and in its early stages. There are consequently many charming sites with great, personal attention, but visitors should not expect the same level of amenities and qualities as more developed places. For example, electricity and telephone services do not always function. The accessibility is quite good though, with several daily flights between Big Corn Island and Managua, and the more adventure-minded tourist can get there also by road and then over water.
Great Corn Island: a taste of the Caribbean
With a surface of around ten square kilometers, Great Corn Island is more than three times larger than the neighboring island, Little Corn Island. Long stretches of sandy beaches and a wide variety of hotels can be found at Great Corn Island, and it is accessible by air and over water. Houses are scattered over the island, but small neighborhoods can be found at certain places. Some parts of the island are uninhabited.
The beautiful beaches and the turquoise water offer a great set of possibilities. Swimming is great, and the reef is located right off the coast so there are also great diving and snorkeling opportunities. Horseback riding or simply strolling over the white sand are also among the options. Below follows a description of the different beaches, starting north and moving down clockwise.
North End and Sally Peaches both offer stunning beaches, beautiful coral structures full of marine life, and therefore great snorkeling possibilities. Some of the most stunning views of long, white beaches can be found at South End and Long Bay. When the winds get stronger (October-December), high waves turn Long Bay into a great surfing spot. The southernmost point, called Bluff Point, is less accessible due to the lack of footpaths or roads. Large rocks make it not a great site for swimming or relaxing, but it can be a spectacular hike to complete a walk around the island (be sure to bring a guide for this part). South West Beach features a calm sea and a white beach, making it an ideal swimming site. Waula Point offers some other stunning views and tranquility.
Several transportation methods are available on Big Corn Island. The paved road that goes around most part of the island is used by cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. There are also several unpaved roads leading to more remote parts, sometimes only accessible by bike or foot. Most of the cars at the island are taxies, which – as opposed to the negotiation-style at the Pacific – use a fixed-rate system. The price is C$15 per person; departure and destination site do not matter. At nighttime the prices are higher. There are several sites where bicycles can be rented, providing a great way to independently explore the island. Some places even offer golf carts to drive around the island. A great journey is to go around the island. The 12-kilometer road takes about 3 hours to walk or 1 hour to bike all the way.
There are several elevated areas, most of them uninhabited and covered with forest. Some of these hills, with Mount Pleasant being the highest, can be hiked to enjoy a nice setting and most importantly a superb view of the island and its surroundings. A view tower, built in the 80’s, can be easily accessed by following the footpath that starts at the Olive Brown School in South End. This place provides another great view.
Other activities that can be undertaken include watching a local baseball match on Sunday, taking a boat tour around the island, go sport fishing or enjoy the local nightlife (Friday-Sunday).
Little Corn Island: tropical getaway where tranquility prevails
Located some 15 kilometers northeast of Great Corn Island, Little Corn Island certainly fits the bill as a little, tropical paradise. The island measures only 2.9 square kilometers and it lacks roads, cars, and TVs. Electricity is only available during certain hours, and most of the island’s surface is covered with forest.
Several hotels and some restaurants are set at different corners of the island. People looking for a tropical getaway from city noise, stress, and worries will definitely find the tranquility they are looking for. Again the white beaches and rich, turquoise water bring great possibilities for sea and beach activities.
Swimming, diving, and snorkeling can all be done here. There are also several diving operators at Little Corn Island to hire equipment or obtain PADI certification. Other activities include strolling down the beach, exploring the island, and occasionally enjoying the night life in one of the beach bars.
Several stories about the origin of their name exist. Some say the islands were named ‘Corn Islands’ after the British buccaneers – who used the area for restock their meat supplies – misspelled the Spanish word for meat (‘Carne’), whereas others say it is simply named after the corn that was grown here. Be sure to try some of the local dishes. Coconut bread is made on the islands, as is the traditional Rondón soup consisting of fish, potato, vegetables, and coconut water During a certain period in the past the islands were targeted by robbers and tourists experienced crime problems. Nowadays, however, police is present at both islands and the security situation has greatly improved. By using common sense the risk is very much limited. For diving, the best time to come is September-October, when the hurricane season starts in the more northern regions and draws away bad weather. After this period, late October-November, storms will be more common in the area, and very strong winds and heavy rains can be expected in November and December. An ATM machine has recently been installed on Little Corn Island. Visa cards can be used to withdraw money. On Great Corn Island there is a bank that also accepts Visa cards. A sculptural project, The Soul of the World, has designated the Corn Islands as one of the only eight places in the world where the vertices of a giant imaginary cube emerge. Read more about this cultural project on their website. Fortunately, the devestating Hurricane Felix that destroyed much of the RAAN province did not affect the Corn Islands. Recently the electricity and water supply at Big Corn Island has greatly improved, both services now being available 24 hours a day.
Reaching the Corn Islands can be easy and rather comfortable, or quite difficult and tiring, depending on the transportation method chosen. Other elements in this equation are the available budget and time for traveling. The fastest, most convenient and also most expensive option is to take the plane from Managua to Big Corn Islands. In one hour and 45 minutes this small plane touches down at the airstrip of Big Corn, for a price of around US$170 per ticket. Several flights from the local companie La Costeña depart each day. Alternatively, Big Corn Island can be reached by taking the ferry that departs once a week from El Rama. El Rama is a small port town at the Escondido River that has a decent bus connection with Managua. This scenario easily cuts down costs by two thirds or more, but it also means spending more than a day traveling under less-comfortable circumstances. Adventure is definitely ensured during this journey though, and it can surely be a great experience. Ferry 1 is the name of the ferry that travels back and forth between El Rama and Bluefields.
Little Corn Island can only be reached over water: there is a connection between Big and Little Corn Island. A boat goes back and forth between the islands, and Little Corn can be reached within 30-40 minutes. If demand is high, this boat travels twice a day between the two islands. If there are not enough people to make a trip worthwhile, the captain will only go once.