Difference between revisions of "Big Corn Island"
Revision as of 16:26, 13 March 2009
Big Corn Island lies approximately 50 miles off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.
The island was originally colonized by the British, and most native islanders have more in common culturally with other English-speaking Caribbean islands than they do with the mainland of Nicaragua. Many have English surnames.
Tourism on the island is still in its infancy. There are almost none of the things one usually associates with tourists traps (tourist markets, huge beachside developments by major hospitality corporations, time-share condos, etc.). The people are typically friendly and genuine.
Almost everyone on the island speaks both passable Spanish and English. For most of those native to the island, English is their first language, although there are many inhabitants who have come over from mainland Nicaragua and consequently speak Spanish as a first language. There are also others who speak Miskito or other Caribbean languages or dialects. The English spoken, however, is heavily Caribbean, and real communication can be far from effortless.
There is one local airline (La Costena Airlines) that flies to Big Corn Island from Managua (usually once in the morning and again in early to mid afternoon). These are 15-20 seat dual prop planes without pressurized cabins or conditioned air.  One Way flights are around 107 US and a Round trip around 165 US. Some of the planes go first to Bluefields before they continue to the Island.
Some days of the week, you can get from Houston or Miami to Managua in time to fly directly to Big Corn Island; other days, you will have to spend a night in Managua and fly to the island the following day. When you return from the island to Managua, again, you may have to spend the night depending on the timing of the flights.
The road system basically consists of a perimeter road that runs around the island. There are a few paved side roads, but only the one to Picnic Beach is of significant length.
The easiest way to get around the island is by taxi. As of September 2006, any taxi will take you anywhere on the island for 15 cordobas (about 85 cents U.S.) per person until 10 p.m., when the rate rises to 20 cordobas each. One can rent golf carts, cars, or motorcycles if one wishes, but with taxi transportation so cheap and readily available there is no need to do so unless there are extraordinary circumstances.
There is very little of historic or artistic significance, although the island itself is quite picturesque. A boat trip around the island will showcase its natural beauty. Baseball is the number one sport on the island, with even soccer a distant second, and taking in a local game will put you right in the middle of real island culture.
Snorkeling, scuba diving, and ocean fishing are all excellent. "Nautilus", an island institution, can arrange any such trips (including scuba instruction). Picnic Beach is beautiful, with fine sand and gentle waves (but beware the sand flies).
One can arrange to travel by boat to Little Corn Island, a short (easily less than an hour) ride away. Anyone with a boat for hire will gladly make the trip.
Snorkeling, Kayak rentals, and both sport fishing and fly fishing are available at "Anastasia's on the Sea." Also available is a snorkeling marine park designed to guide snorkelers to interesting coral formations.
The best restaurants on the island for typical island cuisine are Casa Canada (South End), Restaurante Sabor at Sunrise Hotel (excellent breakfasts & Sunday Bar-b-q) --right next to Casa Canada, Seva's (Dos Millas) & Paraiso. Nautilus Restaurant offers pizza, vegetarian and more gourmet island fusion dishes. Lobster fishing is a huge part of the island's economy, and lobster is on the menu at almost every restaurant. Lobster dishes cost $5, and are available at all local restaurants. Lobster is the primary industry in the Corn Islands, so lobster and conch are plentiful. Be careful of lobster tails under 5 inches long or under 5 ounces in weight because they are illegal.
It is not unusual to wait 40-60 minutes after ordering to receive one's meal. Everything is prepared from scratch after you order, so order before you get too hungry and be prepared to pass some time waiting for the results. After you place your order, typically the chef will make a trip off on his bicycle to fetch the needed ingredients for the dish you have chosen. This is typical of the relaxed pace everywhere on the island. It will be unusual to see anyone in a hurry to get anywhere or do anything.
Also, do not miss the coconut bread (pan de coco), especially the sweet (dulce) variety. It is typically sold in small shops or from their houses by the ladies who make it.
Local fruit is incredible in its variety and freshness.
The best places to sit down and have a beer or cocktail during the day are at Picnic Center on the southwest side of the island and at Anastasia's on the Sea on the north end of the island. An interesting note, Anastasia's has the most exspensive domestic beer prices found on the island, even higher than Hotel Casa Canada's. The cook at the Picnic center does an excellant job with local dishes, going to great lenth to prepare them correctly. They will take a while to be served. After baseball games and on Sundays, Island Style is very popular. On Friday and Saturday nights, Reggae Palace is where the dancing is best. And on Sunday nights most islanders head to Nico’s for after hours fun. Nico's bathroom's lack a bit in hygenic maintenance.
There are a variety of places to stay on the island, ranging from extremely basic backpacker accommodations costing only about $10 U.S. per night to clean/comfortable/air conditioned places for $30-50 U.S., to a few more upscale places (which are still usually less than $100/night). Travelers reviews can be found easily online.
South End Sunrise Hotel falls in the middle pricing structure, but the rooms are very clean and spacious, and the proprietors (Lanmar and Ina) are very friendly and helpful.
Crime on the island is abundant. It is a main transportation hub for narcotics coming from islands in nearby Colombian waters. Crack and powder cocaine are readily available. As such, many locals are addicted. Crime against tourists is fairly rare. Do not bring valuables of any kind including gold jewelery or rings. Do not bring laptops, or expensive electronics. Your hotel or guest house may be broken into while you are not there. Many locals have firearms, and they can be seen displayed openly. However, as with anywhere in the world, a little bit of common sense goes a long way. There are neighborhoods on the island where you should not be after dark--but you'd have little reason to be there anyway, as they are devoid of tourist attractions. Only walk the area of Long Bay and The Bluff with a local guide. Be careful at night, and do not travel alone after dark.
One other note of significance is the electricity, which may go out on a nightly basis for several hours, and often goes out when it rains hard. There are hotels (Casa Canada, Morgan, Martha's B&B, Hotel Paraiso, Anastasia's on the Sea, Picnic Center, Vientos del Norte) that have their own generators to cover the gaps in electric service. Verify before booking.
Officially, the Nicaraguan Cordoba is the legal tender, but most stores, restaurants, and taxiswill gladly accepted U.S. dollars as well. With dollars, however, comes this caveat: if there is the tiniest tear on the bill (or pen marks, or any other disfigurement), the bill will not be accepted.
Also of note: there is only one bank branch on the island (Banpro), and they only recognize Visa. Consequently, it is extremely rare to find an establishment that accepts Mastercard or American Express, etc., and most businesses will not even accept Visa. Cash is the only safe bet. If you need to conduct business with the bank, have your passport with you or they will smugly refuse to so much as give change or exchange currency.