The Corn Islands in Nicaragua are a special place to visit. Even now, several months later and many islands later, and I still look back fondly at my time there. It’s a bit out of the way and I think for that reason you don’t get the swarms of drunk backpackers like you can find at Utila, Honduras but there is still plenty of quality and inexpensive diving available.
I wasn’t sure which I would like best so I spilt my two weeks between the two islands evenly. I actually enjoyed my time on both islands and would recommend either but here are some of my observations between the two which might help you choose where to spend your time.
At Big Corn, it’s not as easy to meet other travellers because the island is quite big and all the hotels are spread out, there’s no central hotel zone. If you’re here with a friend or partner and just want to relax on a beautiful island without seeing hundreds of other tourists, then this is the place for you.
On Little Corn, even if you don’t meet people where you are staying it’s so easy to just walk down the main road and meet other travellers hanging out at the various bars and restaurants. The local to tourist ratio is definitely off here but you can still find some tranquility by going for a walk out of the main strip and exploring the island.
One common activity that many visitors to the islands share is diving! You will also meet so many people on your various dive adventures! The most popular dive site is a little way from both islands (40 mins from Big Corn and an hour from Little Corn), Blowing Rock. This site is incredible. As soon as you jump off the boat and peer down you will spot many large schools of fish.
Snorkeling at both islands is incredible but I found it a lot easier to find sites on Big Corn. There seemed to be good snorkelling at many places around the island. On Little Corn there are five or six specific spots where you can snorkel and they may not be that close to your hotel. There are still, however, spectacular! I spotted a spotted eagle ray very close to the shore at one of the sites.
Little Corn has a very chill vibe. Every afternoon if the sky is clear, you can spot foreigners and locals alike taking some time to check out the amazing sunsets.
On Big Corn I really enjoyed catching the collective taxis and sharing in the conversations with spanish-speaking and creole-speaking locals.
Little Corn has great vegetarian options. Even the little restaurants have a vegetarian section on their menu! On Big Corn I often struggled to get a decent meal with vegetables. I ate a lot of pasta while I was there and used my breakfast for dinner trick quite a few times. On both islands it’s all about the seafood so if you’re looking for cheap lobster, you’ve found the place!
On Little Corn I had a couple of special places where I liked to swim and lie on the beach to read a book. As it’s a small island, you would think that it would be inundated with people but I was often surprised at having great stretches of beach all to myself. You can really live out your Deserted Island fantasy here.
If you want quality beach time on Big Corn, you might have to do some walking or get a taxi. There’s only a couple spots on the island where there is genuinely nice stretches of sand. Although, If you just want to go for a dunk in the water then you can really do that anywhere.
There are two main ways to get to the islands, flying or by land and sea. Flying is by far the quickest and most painless option and from Managua it will cost you about $180 USD return with La Costena. It’s slightly cheaper to purchase a return ticket but if you get in touch with the office, you can purchase an open ended ticket. The flight is approximately 70 minutes.
By land and boat it will take about 20 hours but you can stop over in Bluefields. I opted for the flight so don’t have much experience with this method but I did meet a few people who braved the trek and heard mixed reviews. Most people got along fine while one couple got stuck out in the ocean for a couple of days.
Where to stay
On Big Corn I stayed at Los Escapados, which is run by a lovely Aussie guy and his sweet dog. It’s kind of like glamping, where you stay in semi-permanent structures but it’s all lovely and well taken care of. He also offers breakfast for a very reasonable price which includes yummy treats like fresh coconut and fruit and tamarind juice.
Because I visited on the cusp of low season, there weren’t a lot of accommodation options on Little Corn. A lot of the food and hotel option were starting to close for the rainy season which meant that I didn’t have a lot to choose from. I wouldn’t recommend the place I stayed, Sunshine Hotel. It was adequate and kept clean and included air-con and breakfast but it was on the pricey side and breakfast was the same thing everyday, rice and beans and eggs with a small bowl of fruit.
If you’re visiting during the low season I’d suggest visiting a few places around the island to see what might suit you. There are some very basic cabins on the far side that offer you direct access to the beach and I heard some really great thing about the Lighthouse Hostel. Some of the hotel also offer discounts with the dive centres on the islands.