Little Corn Island is one of the most exceptional places in Nicaragua – it’s their best kept secret! It’s a challenging adventure trying to get there (unless you are flying). But in this post I’ll describe how to get to the island and all difficulties you may experience while trying to reach this paradise.
Little Corn Island - best kept secret!
Yes – Little Corn Island is an absolute paradise. Be aware it might turn into a horrific journey experience but never in this world miss the opportunity to travel there! It’s worth getting to the island, although getting there may bring a number of unexpected situations as well as difficult to deal with. Patience is the key here 😉
Overall, for the two of us it was one of the most extraordinary but difficult journeys. It was also a great chance to explore pure and totally unspoiled parts of Nicaragua. You should know it is going to be much harder to travel in Central America than traveling solo in Asia, there’s no doubt about it.
But it’s also highly exciting and if you are not under time pressure just flow with the adventure. I’m going to describe different routes to get to Little Corn Islands – but not all of them will be doable.
Getting to Little Corn Island?
These two small paradise islands – Little Corn Island and Big Corn Island are on the east of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. *Did you know that some sources say that geographically there is no such a thing as Central America? 🙂 There’s South America and everything above Columbia is North America.
I searched the whole internet for information on how to get to Little Corn Island and guess what? Not a single proper post about it! Each site was saying something different and it was confusing which information was true and which overdue. All we knew that we were desperate to reach the island in a possibly most adventurous way.
This post will have trustworthy information about all possible ways to get to Little Corn Island, because we have experienced and lived it all. The journey to the island took us good few days and totally unexpected turnarounds. Of course it doesn’t have to take so long. And trust me I would never imagine it would be so hard at times. Anyway – it was well worth to live this adventure.
How to get to Little Corn Island in Nicaragua?
The easiest & safest way to get to the island is taking a direct flight to Big Corn island by Nicaragua’s regional airline – La Costena. Then from there taking Panga (fast boat) to Little Corn island. Plane tickets for Big Corn Islands cost between 100-200$ /depending on when you book them/.
If you don’t want to take a flight and travel by land/sea transport the itinerary is as follow:
- El-Rama to Bluefields – by fast boat/river taxi called Panga – 2 hours trip, runs from 5 am.
- Bluefields to Big Corn Island (take a ferry – Rio Escondido, running only Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 9 am, capacity 60 people – 5 hours trip to get to Big Corn) – read more information below! Ferry is not everyone’s cup of tea!!
- Big Corn Island to Little Corn Island by Panga running few times a day (30 minutes trip).
- Please note all boat trips are often affected by the weather and sea conditions!
Get a bus from Managua to El Rama and Panga boat onward to Bluefields
We took a night bus from Managua (departs from Costa Atlanta Terminal/Mercado Ivan Montenegro) to El-Rama. The night bus leaves at 9 pm from Managua. It takes 5 hours to reach El-Rama, where you need to buy a ticket for Panga boat taking you to Bluefields. The first Panga boat from El-Rama to Bluefields leaves at 5 am.
It’s very important to buy a ticket for Panga as soon as you get to El-Rama, as there are a lot of people queuing for Panga to Bluefields. After buying a ticket you can take a short nap in the bus. The driver always allows travelers to do that. 🙂 The second reason why you need to take first Panga to Bluefields is a limited number of tickets for the ferry running between Bluefields and Big Corn Island. Panga is scheduled for 5 am but it never leaves on time.
Fast boat !
Panga is a fast boat and leaves only when is bright. The boat cannot operate in the dark on a shallow river with crocodiles having over 20 passengers onboard. To avoid any potential accidents it leaves when it’s getting bright to have a full visibility of the river. So the boat schedule/running times is dictated by the day cycle.
The bus left Managua at 10 pm and we reached El-Rama for 3 am. We quickly turned to buy tickets to Panga to Bluefields and guess what – we got last two tickets! There is a small ticket office located just few meters from the bus stop, so it’s not possible to miss it. The other ticket office is next to the fence. Our ticket had number 2 – which means we were asigned to Panga no 2. There were 7 Pangas in the harbour and all people were waiting in a long queue to go through the check point.
The soldiers were carefully searching our backpacks before letting us on-board. Finally after few hours waiting we left the harbour at 6.30 am.. And after another 1,5 hour we reached Bluefields and quickly headed off to the ferry ticket office. But we weren’t too sure where to find it!!
Panga to Bluefields
Ferry from Bluefields to Big Corn Island.
At the time we reached the harbour the place was already pretty busy. We had no idea where to find the ticket office to purchase ferry tickets to Big Corn Island. And this is where it got messy! We asked a guy who told us the ticket office is not in the harbour, that we should go back to the place where Panga dropped us off. After reaching the place people told us something totally oposite, that we have to go back to the harbour as the ticket office is located there.
By the time we got to the ticket point (which turned out it was in the main harbour!) the queue was already so long that I knew we won’t be able to get the tickets. Ferry capacity is limited to 60 people! While standing in the queue we saw that local people were passing their IDs to those who were already standing in the queue ahead of us. So one person bought 5-10 tickets for his friends. Bonkers!
Ticketing queue - a joke..!
So basically after almost an hour waiting in the queue we didn’t even move a centimeter. And a moment later we heard the lady in the ticket office saying – no more tickets! ! From this moment NOBODY was giving us correct information. Maybe because they didn’t want to help us or maybe because nobody knows ferry timetables, or maybe because the ferries don’t even exist! We were to find out later..
At first, I was a little upset by the whole situation with the ferry tickets, etc. We knew that the next ferry is in 2 days, which was problematic, as Bluefields id definitely the last place you want to have a stopover. Having plenty of time and nothing to loose we started asking around and it was very difficult to get a single information on other ferries/boats/way going to Corn Islands.
The pink lady..
Few people told us that there is a ferry to Bluefrields leaving from a nearby island El Bluff at 5pm. We also met a local lady in a pink dress (who we later called the Pink Lady), who was desperately looking to reach Corn Island. She also has been asking around how to get to Little Corn island and was told same information about the ferry from El-Bluff. There was also a Candian guy – Eithan, who joined us and all of us including the Pink Lady decided to take panga to El Bluff to catch a ferry from there to Big Corn Island.
After reaching El-Bluff we followed the Pink lady as she went directly to the harbour to ask for the ferry to Big Corn Island. The guy in the harbour confirmed the ferry is scheduled from El Bluff so we were really happy and full of hope we will eventually do it! Having few spare hours we decided to explore El Bluff island and thanks to that we discovered a pure beauty of the place, including lagoon white sand beach, abandoned bar and amazing local food.
The Pink Lady and the Canadian guy, who we met before Managua, came with us looking for some restaurant. Can you imagine the Pink lady was wearing high hills during all this time and of course she broke one on the stony path. I couldn’t watch her walking in one shoe, so I gave her my flipflops. My dearest flipflops!! 🙂
Lagoon beach in El-Bluff.
After a short walk from the harbour we saw one of the most stunning, empty lagoon beach with one abandoned bar in the middle of it serving only beer.
The see was rough and there were a lot of wooden pieces strewn around the sand. Luckily the Pink lady spoke to a bar staff, who happened to be around and filled us up with hope that we might be getting a small dinner. We spent few hours swimming in the see, sunbathing, chilling, drinking bear and eating delicious modest meal.. It all felt like we were in the lost paradise where time neither money existed.
We slowly started to get moving back at around 4pm toward the harbour to catch a ferry. Once we got there they guy told us that the ferry is coming at 10 pm instead of 5pm. Well that’s a big difference but what could we do. Having another couple of hours we decided to hang around in the closest village.
El Bluff tribe village.
El Bluff island is a very strange place. there are no tourists /which I usually adore but not necessarily this time/. There was a strange atmosphere in the air, you could hear tribe music in the background and Spanglish language everywhere. I would be normally delighted to see all this but there was some uncertinity what could happen to us.. we were the only visitors on this island, wondering through their villages, disturbing the peace and order of local life. But at the end it was ok, we bought some food in the village for the evening and came back to the harbour. And guess what?
The first thing we heard was that the ferry is coming at midnight and might leave the harbour at 2 am. There was no point in looking for the room at that stage, although we were totally exhausted after being exposed to sun all day. We decided to find the nearest bench in the harbour and get some sleep. There was 4 of us, the harbour was guided so it seemed to be quite safe. The good sign was that a lot of people gathered in the harbour at around 2 am.
We thought it’s a good sign there were many people, so we sat next to the gate to be the first to get to the ferry. Suddenly the ticket office guy came out and said that the ferry will come at 5 am. I can’t describe how tired I was, I basically fell asleep in front of the gate lying on my backpack. At 5 am the rain woke us up and all the people were queuing for the entry gate. Ooowww did I mention the Pink lady disappeared in the morning and we never saw her again?? Yes, without saying a word!
After I gave her my flip flops, after we paid for her food and drinks, she just disappeared without a notice. ;))) But that’s fine 🙂 Always give but don’t expect anything in return. Earlier we saw her talking to the guy from the harbour and we thought she might have arranged another boat for herself, but who knows 🙂 Anyway it was almost 6 am.. and there was no sign of a ferry on the horizon. After 32 hours in transit we were hopeless and had no more patience either to wait for any ferry or to believe in more lies.
We decided to go back to Bluefields taking first Panga scheduled for 6 am. The Canadian guy decided to stay in El Bluff believing the ferry will come. Our Panga left at 7 am to reach Bluefields 20 minutes later. The only thing we could do at this stage is taking a taxi to the airport and ask for flight ticket.
Taxis in Nicaragua.
Always ask for the price before taking any taxi! In Nicaragua prices for a taxi are per person and they will often try to cheat you a bit. The nice guesthouse lady told us that the taxi from the harbour to the airport should not cost more than 15 cordobas (half US dollar!). We got to the airport, bought flight tickets to Big Corn Island (they weren’t that expensive – $100 each few hours before the flight) and chilled with bear in the pub next door to the airport.
It’s such a tiny airport with a very small white terminal building. After few hours sitting in this pub we saw our Canadian guy approaching our direction! We asked him what happened to the ferry from El Bluff and he said there was one at 7 am but only took two children from the crowd gathered in the port! 🙂 He did not manage to get the tickets for the plane, as they were sold out at the time he arrived and he had to stay an extra day in Bluefields. Wasn’t happy about it 🙂
La Costena avionette to Big Corn Island.
The plane was small avionette taking 12 people on board. 12 people!! Never had a greater flight experience in my life, I was sitting just behind the two pilots, with the full cockpit view and amazing landscape through the front window. 🙂 After landing in Big Corn Island last thing we had to do is taking Panga boat to Little Corn Island, but that is very straightforward.
We booked quite expensive bungalow on the north side of the island for 3 nights (50$ a day). This was meant to be a rewarding place after this exhausting journey. I though that staying outside of the busy centre and escaping into the wild would be a good idea. The bungalows were called Dobedo – never book this terrible place!! It should cost maximum 15$ as it’s an old and neglected place, with no wifi /although stated on their website there is one/.. The only advantage is that it is located next to the magnificent – Otto beach.
The rest of the guesthouses are located on the south side of the island near Panga port. It turned out the rooms in the port are at much greater price and value and it only takes 15 minutes to reach the north side of the island. There is an amazing atmosphere in the south of the island. Lovely guesthouses, bungalows, free hammocks on the beach and plenty of cosy restaurants – and equally fabulous beach life!
Interesting history about Little Corn Island.
The islands were colonized by the British in 17th century. Caribbean see was a heaven for pirates. There are number of ship wrecks still remaining on the bottom of the see around the islands and are easily accessible for divers. Corn Islands were previously called Skeleton Islands. It was a home for tribe known for their cannibalism. On the island there is a lot of African people, who probably attempted to shipped to the mainland but crashed over the islands.
Walking late evening through the island you can hear a lot of tribe music and Spanglish (Creole)- very popular language on the island, which is a mix of Spanish and English. This is because the islands were given to United States for 99 years until 1971. The islanders are English – speaking Crede people of mixed black heritage. Recently a lot of Miskito people from Caribbean mainland have moved to stay in the islands.
Little Corn Island – useful information.
There are no cash machines on Little Corn Island /year 2018/. You can get a cash back in two restaurants (on 10% provision). There are no cars and no roads in Little Corn Island. The most beautiful beach is located on the north of the island and it’s called Otto beach. Once Panga boat will arrive in the harbour be prepared there’s going to be a lot of local people gathering and holding a sign with your hotel name. This is because they want to carry you luggage to your place for small money. Don’t bother doing that as the island is so small that it will take you up to 5 minutes to reach any of the guesthouses 🙂
Little Corn Island is so snall and undeveloped that there are no roads and no cars. You basically walk on foot to any place on the island. It’s very safe and friendly place.
After grose Dobedo bungalows we moved back south to stay in a great Tree Brothers hostel, which is very close to the harbour. Really nice and friendly place but don’t count for a WiFi 🙂 We met a nice guy from Germany who told us his story about getting to Big Corn Island by the famous big ferry running from Bluefields.
The "lucky one".
Well, this guy was the” lucky one” who manage to get ticket from Bluefields to Big Corn Island. He said that it was one of the worst and terrifying journeys he has ever experienced, which leaves him with trauma for the rest of his life!! The first thing he did after this terrifying ferry experience was getting a return flight ticket to Bluefields to avoid any sea transportation. The ferry was overloaded, as they sell more tickets than ferry capacity allows. It’s an open water cruise, and as the sea was terribly rough, the boat was swinging on a stormy sea waves!
He spent 5 hours in terrible crowd on a smelly deck along with rotten fish and oil reek. All the luggage was located in the front of the deck and was constantly covered by waves, so it ended up totally wet. The poor guy got sea sick, like at least half of the people on the boat. He said he was recovering for two days after this traumatic journey and he is still shaking when he thinks of that day ..! wow..
Things you can’t miss in Corn Islands!
Jelly cake – a coconut bread! Ask in small shops. There’s a bakery in one of the houses on Little Corn Island. Just ask anyone and they’ll show you which house it is.
Cinnamon bread is delicious!!
Pick any coconut and ask someone to open. 🙂 It’s free on the island 🙂
Panga to Little Corn Island.
Be aware that weather conditions change rapidly and it may not be possible for Panga to run between the islands. Although it’s only 7 miles distance between the two islands the sea might get really rough. People often miss their flights from Big Corn as they wait until last day to leave the beautiful Little Corn island and when boats are cancelled last minute they cannot catch the flight. Take a walk around the island, the empty paradise beaches are magnificent!