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The Corn Islands in Nicaragua, Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island, are two Caribbean islands approximately 50 miles (70 kilometres) off the east coast of Nicaragua. They were once ruled by the British but are now considered part of the Autonomous Region of Nicaragua and are largely self-governed. The islands are still unspoiled by major development and cruise ship-style tourism that you might experience in other popular Central American islands.

One of the charms of both islands is that they are very undeveloped. You’re not going to find any condos or big resorts here. There is one fancy resort on Little Corn Island that is way out of my budget but other than that you can’t expect much by way of accommodation or perfectly manicured beaches. The term "rugged" comes to mind, especially on Little Corn.

One question I get a lot of is which island people should visit when they go, Big Corn Island or Little Corn Island. Usually I suggest both but I started writing this comparison to help see the main differences between the two islands. This turned into a massive post so to prepare you for the beautiful place that you are hopefully about to visit, here’s a video with some drone footage over Little Corn. Enjoy!

Contents

  1. Culture and vibe
  2. Amenities
  3. Accommodation
  4. Eating
  5. Activities
    1. Snorkeling
    2. Diving
    3. Other Activities
  6. Getting there
    1. Boat to the Corn Islands
    2. Flight to the Corn Islands
    3. Boat to Little Corn

First things first, if you’re heading to somewhere like Nicaragua then you’re definitely going to need to think about Travel Insurance. Check out World Nomads which I use personally. They’re flexible and you can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Check out my full list of why they’re my favourite here.

Culture and vibe

Big Corn Island is definitely less touristy than Little Corn. This was probably my biggest driver for writing this comparison because most people completely discount Big Corn Island as an option and head straight to Little Corn.

You can do very similar things on each island but the difference is Little Corn has a tight knit community of under 1,000 residents and Big Corn has about 7 times that. What that means is with the huge popularity of Little Corn over Big Corn and the fact that most of the tourist spots are along the main strip there will be times where you will look around and only see other tourists on Little Corn. 

Little Corn Island is the more pristine and less developed of the two and is free from pollution by cars as there aren’t any roads. At some parts of the island you’re likely to find yourself without any light pollution at all. It’s the perfect place to star gaze or stumble around in the dark pretending you’re on a desert island.

Corn Islands in Nicaragua
Corn Islands in Nicaragua

Since tourism is so low-key on Big Corn you could really go for days without seeing another tourist if you stay away form the wharf. There aren’t any souvenir shops or people harassing you to buy anything. Big Corn has a couple of long stretches of beach but the attraction is really the chance to experience the unique mix of cultures without feeling like you’re just another tourist. On Big Corn Island, people are friendly and usually up for a chat.

Prices on Big Corn are about 1/3 less than on Little Corn, including your day to day grocery items and restaurant prices. You do tend to get more variety by way of Western food in Little Corn. The difference in costs is negligible though, as both of the islands can be consider cheap when you compare it to tourist host spots in Costa Rica or Belize.

The Corn Islands could not be considered fancy. There are some nice places to stay but it would be very difficult to actually splash out if you wanted to, especially on Big Corn. This adds a nice element to your trip because most tourists you meet will have very similar travel styles to you. It’s impossible to walk away from Little Corn Island without making a bunch of new friends. I stayed on my own in a hotel room and still managed to have a great time with a bunch of people that I met regularly, either at the dive shop, one of the cafes or exploring the island.

Big Corn Island

Amenities

Little Corn's electricity can cut out unexpectedly and is available only from 2 pm to 6 am. Which means you need to be mindful about charging your devices when you can and if your hotel doesn’t have a generator then you probably won’t have wifi during the down time. If these things are important to you, there are a couple of cafes that have generators (Tranquilo Café and Desideri Café) and a handful of hotels offer 24/7 wifi as well.

On Big Corn you will find faster internet speeds and electricity 24 hours. Most hotels should offer wifi and some of the bigger restaurants as well.

There are no roads on Little Corn and of course no cars which is lovely and this along with the no internet make for an ideal place to really disconnect. What you will find, though, if you’re staying on the far east side of the islands and need to head to one of the two dive centres, for example, you could be looking at up to a half hour walk. Not really a deal breaker but it’s good to know. There are also no lights on that side, outside of the houses dotted around so if you’re wandering around after dark, make sure your phone is charged or you have a flashlight.

Big Corn has one main road that circles the island and a couple of smaller side streets. There’s a small bus that goes around both ways and also shared taxis are available. Both will cost you less than $1 to ride and it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to get where you need to go. You can also rent a bike while you’re there either by the day of by the hour.

There is no ATM on Little Corn Island and most places do not accept cards for payment. Make sure you have enough cash when you’re heading over there or you will have to make a long trip to Big Corn to withdraw money. There are a couple of places that will allow you to do a cash advance on Little Corn but you’ll be charged around 10% for the convenience.

Little Corn Island
 

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Big Corn VS Little Corn
Big Corn VS Little Corn
 

Accommodation

Neither place has much on the higher end of the scale, with most accommodation falling under $100 per night.

Big Corn has a few more hotel offerings and a couple of smaller guesthouses. I strongly suggest Los Escapados Corn Islands http://www.losescapadosecocabins.com/ if you’re in to glamping or Hotel Casa Canada or Arenas Beach Hotel for a regular style hotel.

Little Corn offers more rustic style accommodation as well as a few hotels and one $500 a night resort at the far end of the island. I suggest  Sunshine Hotel Little Corn Island or  Little Corn Beach and Bungalow for a mid-priced stay or Lighthouse Hostel http://thelighthouselci.com/shop/ for both private and dorm options.

Airbnb is a great choice on both islands. You get to choose your place before you get there and will still get access to some of the more locally owned options. There are single rooms, cabins and you can even rent a whole place with all the amenities right on the beach.

Use my personalised link for $35 USD or $50 AUD/CAD off your first stay. Check them out here.

Los Escapados Corn Island

Los Escapados Corn Island

Vegetarian food Nicaragua

Eating

The main difference between the two is Little Corn has many more Western style options for meals, like popular Tranquil Cafe right near the wharf. If you’re ever craving a burger or spaghetti then you’re covered. They even have live music nights and it's definitely a fun place to hang out with all the perks of a typical gringo cafe. This is one benefit of the influx of tourists.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan then Little Corn is going to be a haven for you. Cafes are usually well versed in special dietary requirements (thank you gringos that came before me!) and a couple places, like Rosa’s Restaurant even have a vegetarian section on their menu with yummy local options.

Food and drinks are pricier than over on Big Corn but if you’re careful you can still get some great value options. I personally ate at Rosa’s for breakfast and dinner most days. Breakfast with a main, coffee and a side of fruit was $3 USD and dinner with salad and dessert is around $4 USD. Rosa’s Restaurant also offers the popular local dish “rundown” as well as many great Nicaraguan classics.

On Big Corn meals are about a third less but you’re not going to get as much variety. You also need to consider that because the island bigger, everything is further away so the shared taxi or bus will need to be used if you want something across the island. If you like fresh seafood then you’ll be a happy camper as most places offer several dishes, including whole fish, lobster and shrimp.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian most places will still be able to accommodate you but be prepared to eat a lot of pasta and potatoes. As produce and fresh vegetables are harder to find on the island and needs to come over by boat, salads will be small and expensive.

Make sure you try “pan de coco” or coconut bread from one of the small, home based bakeries scattered around the island. This is a good place to stock up on things like buns, cakes and patties.

Pan De Coco and other treats from a home run bakery, Big Corn Island

Pan De Coco and other treats from a home run bakery, Big Corn Island

Snorkeling Nicaragua - Snorkeling Corn Islands
Big Corn Island Snorkeling

Activities

Snorkeling

On both of the Corn Islands snorkeling is a popular activity. You can snorkel very easily on Big Corn but there are only a couple spots off Little Corn that I would consider easy to access. You can also arrange a snorkeling tour through one of the dive centres or your hotel.

I had a lot more luck with the bigger underwater creatures, snorkeling off of Little Corn but I probably didn’t give Big Corn as much of a chance since I was diving so much. The best snorkel spots on Little Corn can get very choppy so just be careful if you’re not a strong swimmer.

Corn Island Diving

Diving is a great option and it’s a good place to learn if you’ve never tried it before. I visited the Corn Islands in the off season so I was able to negotiate some really good deals for multiple dives but even during the high season prices are some of the lowest I’ve seen. The water is a constant 27-28°C (81-83°F) making for a very pleasant dive and visibility is usually great.

Some of the sea life you can spot are lobster, schools and schools of barracuda and other larger sport fish, eagle rays, nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, and even some hammerhead sharks if you’re very lucky. I spotted a loggerhead turtle at one of the best dive sites, Blowing Rock, which is a must do if you can manage it.

I dove with Dos Tiburones on Big Corn and they were amazing. Super friendly and very knowledgable. They also took some shots while diving and sent them to me for free! 

On Little Corn Island, diving is just as great. I dove with Dolphin Dive Little Corn Island  and the staff were always lovely and made the dives really fun. For some reason, it’s also really easy to spot sharks breaching near the shore on this side of the island so keep our eyes peeled when wandering around.

Corn Island diving
Corn Island diving

Other activities

On Big Corn Island you can rent a bike to get around the island and it’s a super fun to explore. There are two big beaches and lots of little ones dotted around the island. There are usually baseball games and a soccer game on Sundays and they’re both a great place to spend time with the locals.

Hiking is also an option with some pretty hills in the centre as well as an art instillation at the top of Quinn Hill.

On Little Corn there is a lot less to see but you might be able to rent a bike and it is a good idea to spend at least a couple hours exploring inland where you’ll see where the locals live, shop, and go to school and church. An old, run-down lighthouse sits at the north-west of the island next to the huge cell phone tower. If you’re game, it’s claimable and you can get an amazing view from the top.

Kitesurfing has officially arrived to Little Corn where the east side offers a nice steady wind with an average of 18 - 20 knots.

If you’re into yoga there are a couple spots on both islands that offer practice in season. On Little Corn you could even try your hand at SUP yoga!

The beach, Little Corn Island

Getting there

You have to get to Big Corn Island first before you go to Little Corn. You can either fly there via La Costeña Airlines or take a cargo ship.

Boat to Big Corn Island

I’ll get this one out of the way first. The boat option is really only for people who are flexible and have some time on their hands. The boats leave only once or twice a week from Bluefields and before that you need to take a six hour bus ride to El Rama and a panga to Bluefields. You’ll also have to factor in at least a night in Bluefields or El Rama. The cost is about $45 one way all up and it’s going to take you a minimum of 30 hours if all the stars align for you.

You also need to consider that the boats don’t run in rough weather or if they do go you could be in for a rocky trip. I met some people who had such a tough time that they decided to fly back instead. One poor couple got stuck on the boat for three days. There’s also not a lot of definite information on the trip so if you’re up for an adventure then check out this post with more information. It is from 2014 but it does have the most details of the route that I could find.

Flights to Big Corn Island in the small La Costeña plane

Flights to Big Corn Island in the small La Costeña plane

Flying towards Big Corn Island

Flying towards Big Corn Island

Flights to Big Corn Island

Most major airlines should get you to the capital of Managua quite easily and from there La Costeña have direct flights to Big Corn Island. There are usually three flights a day to the Corn Islands. The last one leaves at 2:30 pm so if you arrive in Managua after 2 pm then you will have to spend a night there before you can fly out the next morning. I recommend either the Hilton Princess Managua ($$) or La Bicicleta Hostal ($).

Flight time is around 90 minutes including a stop in Bluefields. You are allowed up to 35 lbs (15.88 kgs) of checked baggage and every pound over is charged at $1.20 per lb. Check out La Costeña’s website for current prices and full travel info.

The boat to Little Corn Island

Once you get to Big Corn Island you need to take an open panga to get to Little Corn. From the airport take a taxi to the wharf. It’s less than 10 minutes and should cost around $1. The panga leaves daily at 10 am and 4:30 pm, returning from Little Corn at 6:30 am and 1:30 pm. The trip is about 20 minutes and can get quite wet and bumpy. Personally, I didn’t experience any issues except having to get up to catch that 6:30 am panga to meet my morning flight.

Once you get to Big Corn Island you need to take an open panga to get to Little Corn. From the airport take a taxi to the wharf. It’s less than 10 minutes and should cost around $1. The panga leaves daily at 10 am and 4:30 pm, returning from Little Corn at 6:30 am and 1:30 pm. The trip is about 20 minutes and can get quite wet and bumpy. Personally, I didn’t experience any issues except having to get up to catch that 6:30 am panga to meet my morning flight.

Top tip: Try to sit at the back for a more comfortable ride, the middle for a drier one and bring a couple of garbage bags to put your luggage in in case it rains or gets wet on the boat.

So….Big Corn or Little Corn?

Little Corn is beautiful, isolated and an ideal place to unwind. You’ll still have access to Western food and can have a lot of fun having a cocktail or three and partying the night away at the reggae bar or over a bonfire on the beach.

Big Corn has more to explore, with some hills and isolated coastal areas. You have a better chance of experiencing life in a small Caribbean town with access to great views and some long stretches of beach.

To be honest, I would strongly recommend you spend time on both islands. I budgeted for two weeks and I split my time evenly between the two and was glad I did. They’re both so different while sharing a lot of similarities and it would be a shame to go all that way and just see one side of the coin.

 
Big Corn vs Little Corn
 

Got any thoughts to add on this comparison guide? Let me know in the comments if you've visited and which was your favourite spot!

Disclosure:  Please note that some of the links included are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.

Nicaragua Corn Islands
Big Corn VS Little Corn
Big Corn VS Little Corn

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