Big Corn Island
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 Spanish and English to some extent. 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 are two local airlines (Atlantic Airlines and La Costena Airlines) that fly 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.
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.
There is also a ferry from Rama (via Bluefields) about once a week. This is an all-day plus overnight trip.
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 (in 5 days we never waited more than 5 minutes for a taxi--and usually less than 2 minutes), there is no need 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 fleas).
One can arrange to travel by boat to Little Corn Island, a short (easily less than an hour) ride away.
The 3 best restaurants on the island are Casa Canada, Restaurante Sabor (right next to South End Sunrise Hotel), and Seva's (aka Dos Millas). The last two serve primarily local cuisine, with Casa Canada being a little more upscale. Lobster fishing is a huge part of the island's economy, and lobster is on the menu at almost every restaurant, no matter how humble (often for $5-10 U.S. each).
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. This is typical of the unhurried pace everywhere on the island. We never ran across 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 hotel where we stayed had almost 20 different kinds of fruits growing on trees in the back.
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 for $30-50 U.S. to a few more upscale places (which are still usually les than $100/night.
Do not rely solely upon the hotels' self-descriptions on the internet. Some are seriously less clean and well-maintained than they purport. Talk to someone who's been there or do a little more research. You'll be glad you did.
Crime against tourists is fairly rare. Nobody even tried to overcharge us for anything during our stay.
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.
One other note of significance is the electricity, which went out every single night between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. and did not come back on until between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. The electricity also died when it rained hard and randomly for no apparent cause (typically being out less than an hour in such cases). This was a minor inconvenience for us, but if you have a health condition where lack of electricity might pose a risk, there is one hotel (Casa Canada) that has its own generator to cover the gaps in electric service.
Officially, the Nicaraguan Cordoba is the legal tender, but every single store, restaurant, and taxi we dealt with 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. No kidding! We had a $20 bill refused because of a tear less than 2 mm long (and the bill was otherwise in pristine condition--barely wrinkled at all)!
Also of note: there is only one bank branch on the island (Banpro), and they only recognize Visa. Consequently, it is very rare to find an establishment that accepts Mastercard or American Express, etc. Most business 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.