The Corn Islands, Nicaragua: The Caribbean on a Budget
You don’t have to be rich, famous or old to enjoy a slice of Caribbean Paradise – you can find all of the fine sand, clear water and Caribbean culture you could ask for on the Corn Islands, Nicaragua.
Little Corn Island
Little Corn Island is the more relaxed, backpacker friendly of the two islands. Most budget travellers spend the bulk of their time there, drawn in by deserted beaches and lack of cars. You can walk everywhere, from the windswept northern and western beaches to the laid back township where most of the shops and restaurants are located. Accommodation is spread out among the beaches, the town and the paths connecting them. We stayed in town and walked to various beaches from there. Our favourite was Otto Beach; the water was nice and blue but it was usually quite rough. Rainy season probably isn’t the best time to visit the Corn Islands!
The beach in town is pretty good but there are a lot of rocks in the water; it’s one of those beaches that are better to look at while drinking a cold beer. We tried to scramble around a few rocky headlands to reach some other beaches which Lonely Planet said were the best on the island, but we either couldn’t find them or they weren’t that good. That brings me to the main problem with Little Corn Island – the beaches aren’t quite as amazing as they once were. Apparently there is a serious erosion problem going on and that, mixed in with lots of seaweed and gray, rainy season weather made for a scene far different than I’d seen in photos. The beaches are still good though, and the laid back DNA of Little Corn Island makes it worth the arduous journey (more on that later). Snorkeling and diving is popular on Little Corn Island and we had planned to do a snorkeling tour, but the weather made visibility poor and we heard some bad reviews from others who had done it. If you avoid rainy season this shouldn’t be a problem. You can find hostels in town for around $20. There was also a cheaper option called Three Brothers but our room was tiny and had no ventilation so we had to move. The good thing about that place is that it has a kitchen, so it’s definitely your best bet if you’re on a strict budget.
Big Corn Island
Big Corn Island gets a bit of a raw deal from backpackers – most see it as nothing more than a short stopover on the way to its more fashionable little friend. We only stayed 2 nights on Big Corn Island and wished we had longer. The beaches are actually better than the ones on Little Corn and prices are lower. We went to two beaches – Picnic Beach (I don’t think that’s its official name) and Long Beach. Long Beach is perfect for a romantic stroll and it was completely deserted – we couldn’t believe there weren’t any people there. The water was a bit too rough to swim in but you won’t find better sand anywhere else on the islands.
Picnic Beach is a little more built up but we still only saw around 5 other people on it. The sand was soft and the water was perfect for swimming. Big Corn Island is easy to get around – for 20 Cordoba you can take a shared taxi to most places on the island. We stayed in a hostel close to the port and paid around $15.
Getting to the Corn Islands
Have I convinced you to visit these budget Caribbean islands yet? This next bit probably won’t help – they are a real pain to get to (or just expensive if you fly). We took a bus from Managua to El Rama, stayed the night in a depressing hotel and then jumped on a ship the next afternoon. We waited on that ship for 24 hours (the engine broke) without even leaving port. We then spent another 17 hours on the boat while it slowly made its way to Big Corn Island via Bluefields. We then crossed between the 2 islands in a tiny panga (motorised boat) in rough seas in the pouring rain. We finally made it to Little Corn Island, 3 days after we left Managua. Obviously we had some bad luck, and there’s a quicker option involving a smaller passenger ferry, so don’t let our experience put you off from making the journey (looking back on it now, it was actually quite a memorable experience).
Further reading: Here’s my post about the long journey to the Corn Islands
A budget Caribbean Experience: You get what you pay for
Visiting the Corn Islands is one of your best bets if you’re looking for a budget Caribbean getaway, just keep your expectations in check. The beaches are good without being mind-blowing and there’s not really a lot to do, but if you’re looking to relax while travelling through Central America you should definitely check out the Corn Islands.
Further reading: Check out the post that made me so keen to go to the Corn Islands – it looks a little different to what I saw!
Would you like to visit the Corn Islands? Have you been to any more upmarket Caribbean islands? Let me know!
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