The Ultimate Guide To Nicaragua’s Little Corn Island
If you’re unfamiliar with the Corn Islands, you’re not alone. I like to think of them as one of Central America’s hidden gems, and one that is less frequented by tourists, making them the perfect bucket list destination to enjoy miles of unspoilt white sand beaches without a tourist in sight!
The Corn islands consist of two small islands 70km off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, aptly named Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island. Big Corn, the larger of the two is more populated, developed and with many more amenities. Little Corn, with no cars or paved roads and reachable only by boat, is as rustic as it is beautiful.
How To Get There
This is where you bring your sense of adventure! Navigating the process of travelling to the corn Islands can seem challenging but with a bit of planning, it’s a breeze! There are two methods of transport to arrive to the Corn Islands. After first arriving in to Managua International Airport (Nicaragua’s capital), you can take a domestic flight straight to Big Corn Island, which takes about an hour or alternatively take a boat from the coast (Blue Fields). I strongly recommend the former, it’s so much faster and more reliable than the boat which takes many hours and can be cancelled without notice.
The airline you will need to book is called La Costena – there is a discount if you book by phone, just make sure you brush up on your Spanish! I booked my tickets online, and at the time of booking there was only one flight a day so make sure you check the times online so you can make sure your international flight coordinates with the domestic flight times. After booking, I don’t think I received an eTicket or anything (something you might expect from the larger commercial airlines), but don’t panic, just arrive to the check in desk an hour or two before with your passport and they’ll find your reservation. You will not be given a boarding pass, just ushered through to the waiting area after security. One thing to bear in mind with this airline is that they have fairly strict baggage requirements, both in size and weight. Reviews I’ve read online state that they have gotten away with bringing a larger or heavier bag, but not only will you have to pay more, but you risk it going on “standby” if the flight is full, which means it may not arrive in the Corn Islands for another day or two. Take my advice and just make sure it fits in the requirements, you may be hard pushed to find some of the items on the islands that you have packed with you.
Once you have arrived on to Big Corn Island, you have two options to get to Little Corn Island – private boat charter or by public boat (panga). The private boat is obviously more expensive but might be worth it if there is a group of you. Again, at the time I went (just after Covid requirements were easing), there was only one public panga a day. If you choose the latter, you will need to grab a cab to the marina where the pangas leave from. There will be plenty sat outside the airport terminal, and rates are 20 Cordoba’s per person to anywhere on the island. It is worth arriving at the marina at least an hour early to pay for your ticket (which cost about $5 USD) and join the crowd waiting to board (I’m told they sometimes leave early).
If you have a good few hours before the next scheduled panga, I recommend taking a cab to Arenas Beach hotel and purchasing a day pass – the cost is $10 which can be redeemed against your food and drink bill during your visit. It is set on a beautiful beach, with a selection of sun loungers and shaded palapas. There is a full bar set in a boat and a good restaurant that starts serving food early in the morning. Your day pass rate includes the use of towels and non motorised watersports, like SUP. A good place to sit and watch the world go by while you have a few hours to spare. It also makes for a wise accommodation choice if you choose to stay on Big Corn Island for a day or longer.
Where to Stay
$$$ Yemaya Reef Little Corn Island – by far the most luxurious of the accommodation options – all suites have air conditioning (often a rarity in the corn islands), and some have private plunge pools overlooking the ocean. The location is a little more secluded than some of the other accommodation options (a plus for some), but it is just a short 30 minute walk into town if you wanted to explore and try some local restaurants. Staff from Yemaya can pick you up directly from the airport at Big Corn Island and transfer you straight to the hotel by private boat. There is a superb onsite restaurant, through which you can purchase meal packages through which may not be a bad idea, especially for dinner as there are no cars on the island to take you to or from town. That being said, there is a superb bar and restaurant next door called the Fish Fry Bar which is not to be missed, serving some of the freshest seafood on the island.
$$ Little Corn Beach And Bungalow – once the leading accommodation choice before the arrival of Yemaya, Little Corn Beach and Bungalows is a great choice – incredible value for money, wonderful location close to town and on a beautiful stretch of beach whereby guests have reserved sunbeds and the staff regularly maintain the beach area, including raking up any sargassum, which has seemed to be a problem in the Caribbean and Mexico these past few years. The bungalows are rustic, but incredibly clean and functional. It is worth mentioning here that electricity from the village is turned off between the hours of 6am and 1pm, so plan accordingly when charging devices – book the superior bungalow and it has additional power from a generator so will not lose electricity in the morning. Cabins do not have air conditioning, but there are multiple fans allowing you to stay cool during the night. The hotel has a good restaurant onsite, that (during the time of writing) was only open for breakfast and lunch, and the bar until 6 or 7pm. The cocktails are fantastic, as is the breakfast fare, and all very reasonably priced.
Where To Eat
Fish Fry Bar – located at the tip of the north of the island, this restaurant requires a bit of an walk to get to from the village (unless of course you are staying next-door at Yemaya Reefs), but it really is not to be missed. Patrons can sit at rustic tables with their toes in the sand with a marvelous view of the ocean. With a delectable list of cocktails, and a superb seafood menu, you would be hard pushed to find fresher fish.
Tranquilo Cafe – a favourite amongst tourists, this eatery serves all the western classics if you are feeling a bit homesick. If you are looking for more authentic dishes, I would stick to just the drinks menu here, as the food options tend to cater to Americans. The drinks are strong an the happy hour is worth a visit for.
Turned Turtle – onsite at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow, they offer an expansive breakfast menu with daily specials – only open for breakfast and lunch, but well worth a visit!
Restaurant El Bosque – blink and you will miss this small family owned and operated restaurant serves some of the best value meals you will find on the island – and why you will always see this place busy! For the equivalent of about $4 will get you a three course meal and drink, with enough food to satisfy the largest of appetites.
La Cantina – serving some of the most authentic Mexican cuisine I have tried south of the border, this waterfront restaurant offers an appetizing selection of tacos and other Mexican delicacies. The drinks were nothing to write home about, but the street tacos definitely warrant a reason to visit. Also open for breakfast.
Where To Drink
Tranquilo Cafe – as mentioned above, they run a fantastic happy hour, and although not ocean front, there is a great atmosphere here with lively music every night! This establishment is always busy and for good reason!
Turned Turtle – onsite at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow, a little off the beaten path if you are not staying here, but well worth a visit for one of their famous margaritas that you can enjoy beach side! At the time of writing, they were not open for dinner, and last drink orders were around 6pm so plan ahead if you decide to visit!
Things To Do
Scuba Diving – although not a diver myself, I’m told it is some of the best diving in the Caribbean. We were about the only two people on the island that had not come for the scuba diving! There’s no shortage of people to take you out on their boat, you only need to walk down the beach and I guarantee someone will offer scuba diving for the following day for you! There’s also a fantastic dive shop in the main village called Dolphin Dive, which I’ve heard is fantastic.
Relax on one of the many unspoiled beaches – being still pretty far off the tourist run, and partly because of the extra steps you have to take to get here has allowed Little Corn Island to stay fairly underdeveloped for the most part – which gives for some of the best beaches I’ve seen in the Caribbean. From my experience, the best beaches are at the north of the island near Yemaya and Fish Fry Bar (Otto Beach). Make it an adventure and walk the beaches back down to the main village if you want to check them out!
Sport Fishing – there are plenty of fish to be caught not far from the Corn Islands, and also excursions from Little Corn are a lot cheaper than some of the other game fishing trips you might experience in some of the larger Caribbean islands
Paddle Boarding – many waterfront accommodations will offer paddle boards for rent, and when the waves aren’t too bad it’s the perfect way to spend the afternoon!
Hike To Fish Fry Bar and relax on the beach – In my opinion, one of the best beaches on the island lies right outside Fish Fry Bar and Yemaya at the north of the island (Otto Beach). You can walk from the main village through the jungle (there is a path, although not clearly marked the whole way!) Or you can walk along the beaches all the way back down to Little Corn Beach and Bunglows at the south of the island. The island is small enough you can walk the whole circumference in one day!
Join the Locals and cheer on the baseball games on a Sunday – most weeks the locals all join together to watch the local baseball games which are hosted on one of the playing fields in the middle of the island.
Tips and Tricks for your first trip to Little Corn Island
Bring lots of mosquito repellent and your patience! If you’ve ever heard of the phrase “island time”, this is where it’ll apply. The island is incredibly relaxed, no one is in a rush, service might be a little slower than what you are used to, but you are on vacation, order another drink and just relax! The sand flies and mosquitoes were rife here when i visited, and especially abundant after a rain shower. Bring generous quantities of bug repellent and keep applying it throughout the day, with special attention to dusk and dawn. This is when an air conditioned room can be beneficial, as it does work to keep the mosquitoes at bay during the night. Unfortunately there are not too many accommodation choices with AC – Yemaya offers it, as were a few guest houses in town that I walked past, but for the vast majority it is not a common modality.
Pay attention to the baggage size and weight restrictions for La Costena airlines, as mentioned above. If you go over, you risk your possesions being labelled as “standby” and not arriving to the island for a couple of days.
Bring cash! There is only one ATM that I know of on Big Corn Island and is frequently out of service. Most places accepted both USD and Cordoba, however your money will likely go further using the local currency. If you use USD you will be given change in Cordoba’s and it will be whatever rate they decide. There were a few places that accept credit cards, but I wouldn’t rely on this. They also charge upwards of 10% for the use of credit cards.
Bring a bin (trash) bag for your belongings if you are travelling by the public panga. Our return journey was incredibly calm and I didn’t get one drop on me during the journey, however on my outward journey was an experience I will never forget! There was a huge thunderstorm at the scheduled time of the public panga, and after bailing out the majority of the water, the captain decided it would still run. There is no cover to the boat and if it rains, you will get wet. And during the storm we were in, the 6-10 foot swells made for somewhat of an uncomfortable journey by which time we arrived 30 minutes later looking like drowned rats, but with the adrenaline high you might experience after a ride down the rapids at Disneyland! There was a plastic tarp that we used for a bit of dry relief from the splash from the waves, however it wasn’t too effective and more laborious to hold the tarp over everyone! It might also be worth adding here to take motion sickness tablets for this journey too if you suffer from it. As previously stated, my return journey was very pleasant, but the outward journey was enough to turn even the strongest of stomachs.
Pack a small torch or flashlight – there are no cars on the island, so you will likely be walking everywhere; therefore it’s essential that you bring a torch or flashlight to direct your path after dinner at night. Leave your phone in your room at night, as using this as a light is just a walking advertisement to some of the less fortunate who might seize an opportunity.
Don’t pack fancy clothes – the island is incredibly casual and you will likely spend your days in swimwear, shorts, t-shirts and flip flops.
The Corn Islands are not for everyone, but if you have a sense of adventure, a bunch of patience and a love for the “off the beaten path” destinations, this is for you! It requires a bit more planning to travel there, but as I have always said, the best places are always the hardest to get to!
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