Big Corn Island
Big Corn 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 Big Corn Island is still in its infancy as most tourists gather on Little Corn Island. 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 for people unused to different accents and idioms.
There is one local airline (La Costena Airlines) that flies to Big Corn Island from Managua (usually once in the morning, once mid day and again in mid afternoon). These are 15-20 seat dual prop planes without pressurized cabins or conditioned air or a 42 seat planes. The larger plane usually flies to the islands for the first and last flights of the day. One Way flights are around USD107 and a round trip around USD165. Some of the planes go first to Bluefields before they continue to the Island. There is a weight limit for the plane so be careful about how much luggage you bring. They weigh each passenger with their luggage before boarding for the smaller plane. When you arrive in Managua exit the airport and go left to the small building next to the terminal. You can purchase tickets there, but need a reservation in advance most of the time. You can change the return date for your ticket with for a fee as long as there is room on the plane.
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.
Schedules are always changing. For the latest transport information on how to get to Big Corn Island, view the updated graphic Managua - Corn Islands
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.
There are many hiking trails into the centre of the island and along the shore.
Getting around the island can be done by taxi (anywhere on the island for 18 cordobas =75 cents US), by bus (anywhere on the island for 7 cordobas =25 cents US) per person. One can rent bicycles,golf carts, cars, or motorcycles if one wishes. A taxi will generally pick up other passengers along your route - don't panic, this is normal.
The island itself is quite picturesque. Hiking into the hills will bring you into tropical nature, there are two big beaches and lots of tiny and remote ones. 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. Baseball (or fast-pitch softball) is on Sundays and there are typically 3-4 games. The first game starts at 08:30 and is not very well attended. There is usually one men's game then one women's game alternating throughout the day. The final game is the highlight sometime around 3-4 depending on previous games. Soccer is also on Sundays and is just down from Casa Canada on the south end.
There is very little of historic or artistic significance except for an art instillation at the top of Quinn Hilll. It is a small pyramid in the middle of a park. It is one of 8 sites around the world. Others include: Cocos Islands (Australia), and their antipode, Corn Islands (Nicaragua) Kalahari Desert (Botswana) and the Hawaiian Islands (USA) Tierra del Fuego (Argentina or Chile) and Lake Baikal (Buryat Republic) Galicia (Spain) and the South Island of New Zealand Find out more at http://www.souloftheworld.com
Snorkelling, scuba diving, and ocean fishing are all excellent.
Corn Island Dive Center Opened November 2014, offering all new equipment, safety gear and small groups. They offer all PADI courses up to Divemaster, guided dives for certified divers, snorkel excursions, and snorkel rentals.
Dos Tiburones Dive Shop. Opened December 2014, offering all new equipment and safety gear. Focuses on small group tours. They offer PADI and SSI courses up to Divemaster, guided dives, day trips to Blowing Rock Dive Site and Little Corn Island, snorkel gear rental and boat tours. Ideally located on the north side of the island, an amazing reef is within footsteps of the backdoor of the shop allowing snorkellers the opportunity to get right into the excitement. Divers benefit from all new gear and enthusiastic staff ready to show off the local dive sites featuring long winding reefs, volcanic uprisings and even a sunken statue of the virgin Mary.
Picnic Beach (the picnic centre) is the cleanest and most beautiful, with fine sand and gentle waves. There are two restaurants, the picnic centre which has thatch cabanas to sit under, and Arenas. Arenas has wonderful white cabanas and will bring food and drinks out to the beach. This beach is great when the sun is shining, but in the evening and when it rains there are tons of sand flies that bite so beware.
Most of the tiny and remote beaches are between Sally Peaches and South End.
Apart from organized fishing trips a very cheap option is to fish on the ride of a freighter to Little Corn and then again when the freighter goes back (about NIO 140 each way.)
Officially, the Nicaraguan cordoba is the legal tender, but most stores, restaurants, and taxis will gladly accepted US 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.
The ATM at the Banpro bank accepts Visa and MasterCard, and some hotels and tourist services accept those cards as well, but you had better check before arriving if possible, in order to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Life is a bit more expensive on Big Corn Island than on the mainland, but on Little Corn Island, it is much;; more expensive.
Be careful eating here if you are a picky eater or have dietary restrictions. Most of the menus have the same items (usually fish and other seafood), and vegetarian and vegan food is rare and unvaried (mostly pasta and french fries). Fresh vegetables and produce are hard to find and very expensive (salads typically are small and cost around 100 cords).
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. Paraiso has a fantastic menu including deserts, but is one of the most expensive on the island. The food rico es rico varied from pasta and bruschetta to traditional island dishes and fresh fish. They also make the best pina coladas and coco loco's ricos . They use coconuts cut from the tree. Nautilus restaurant offers gourmet island fusion dishes, pizza rico and vegetarian dishes.
No trip to this island would be complete without trying the 'Rundown'! It's basically an island stew consisting of multiple types of seafood (generally lobster, shrimp, fish), taro, yucca, and plantain, and is cooked in coconut milk. Some places will require you to order it 24 hours in advance, which is a good idea anyway as this allows them to get fresh fish. A good place to go for this is Comedor Maris (Danet's house), here you will receive great food and better yet, great hospitality. You can find her on the north end, and you can ask any taxi driver, she is well known.
The cook at the Picnic centre does an excellent job with local dishes, going to great length to prepare them correctly. Lobster fishing is a huge part of the island's economy, and lobster is on the menu at almost every restaurant. When the lobster are in season, lobster dishes cost $5 to $8 (as of 2012, you will only find ceviches and cocktails at those prices, any main dish will be USD10 and up), 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. When the season is closed in early March time frame, the lobster dishes tend to go up slightly in prices, but are still reasonable in prices. For a very inexpensive lunch or dinner check out one of the little taco jannae stands on the beach on the south end near long bay. They have fried tacos with salad that are excellent. There isn't a name on the establishment, but a taxi driver told us the locals call it "specitos" because the owner wears glasses.
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. You can get coconuts and mangos almost anywhere for free. Ask someone at your hotel to cut one down and you can drink the milk straight from the nut.
The best places to sit and have a beer or cocktail during the day are at Picnic Centre on the southwest side of the island and at Anastasia's on the Sea on the north end of the island. Anastasia's has the most expensive domestic beer prices found on the island, even higher than Hotel Casa Canada's. 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 bathrooms lack a bit in hygienic maintenance.
Nightlife, as anywhere else, is mainly on weekends. Weekends here run from Thursday night till Monday morning. Hot spots are Bamboole and Sky.
Renting a golf cart is a great way to see the island at your own pace. You can get them near the picnic centre, and at the Sunrise Hotel. If you go to more remote parts, off the main road, be ready for kids to try and catch a ride with you. If you have the time it is a delightful experience to give them a ride and hear their laughs and excited comments.
There are a variety of places to stay on the island, ranging from extremely basic backpacker accommodations costing only about USD10 per night to clean/comfortable/air conditioned places for USD30-50, to a few more upmarket places (which are still usually less than USD100/night). Travellers reviews can be found easily online.
The island is relatively safe, and few travelers encounter problems, but you should definitely take the normal precautions and not let the peacefulness get your guard down. Violent incidents are rare, but have happened in the past.
It's wise to take a taxi after dark, because there are no street lights. Most locals seem to be friendly, but alcohol use in the evening sometimes causes tourists to get harassed.
The electricity is fairly regular with outages for maintenance purposes on a fairly regular basis. There are hotels (Casa Canada, Morgan, Martha's B&B, Hotel Paraiso, Anastasia's on the Sea, Picnic Center, Vientos del Norte, South End Sun Rise) that have their own generators to cover the gaps in electric service. Verify before booking.
You 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.
Snorkelling, Kayak rentals, and both sport fishing and fly fishing are available at "Anastasia's on the Sea." Also available is a snorkelling marine park designed to guide snorkellers to interesting coral formations. For a more personal touch find Dorsey right next to Cevas, (look for the sign on the beach that says "First class snorkelling, First class guide.) He is a great local guide and some of the best snorkelling on the island is right in front of his house. He will take 2 people out at a time for snorkelling and has great knowledge of the area. He also sells jewellery that he makes and some fruit. He is a wealth of information about the island.