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Big Corn Beach from planeBefore we had even eaten the free cookie and coffee, the captain had already turned on the fasten seat belt signs and just 50 minutes after the flight took off from Managua International Airport, we were landing on an air strip set in green fields dotted with tin houses, palm trees and Caribbean English speakers. We had arrived on Big Corn Island, one of two Caribbean islands of Nicaragua (the other, smaller island is very appropriately named Little Corn Island).

There is no feeling like stepping out into the Caribbean. No matter where you are – The Dominican Republic, Barbados, Belize, or here on the Corn Islands, the air, the white sand and that easygoing feeling hit immediately and from the time your feet are on solid Caribbean ground, your hand feels empty whenever not clutching an alcoholic beverage.  However, if you are looking for an all-inclusive beach getaway involving hours on a sprawling white sand beach, swim-up bars and all night dancing, the Corn Islands are not for you.

Palm trees at sunsetWhat are the Corn Islands?

The Corn Islands are two dots in the ocean 70 kilometers (50 miles) east of Nicaragua’s (in)famous Moskito coast. Their population, combined, is just under 8000 people, with Big Corn being home to over 3/4 of the total. Although tourism plays a major economic role on both Corn Islands, both Big Corn and Little Corn maintain a well-kept-secret feeling. Hotels don’t line the shores but rather dot them, and while there are four-star hotels, none are over-sized or even large and there is plenty of budget accommodation on the Corn Islands as well.

Beach shacksDrinkers can stay out late on either island, but are stuck with tiny tiki bars or hotel rooms, as there are no nightclubs on either island. Upon landing on Big Corn we couldn’t help but giggle at the arrogance of this place calling itself ‘big’. Upon returning from the 45 minute boat ride back from Little Corn a week later, however, Big Corn’s paved streets, horn-honking taxis and larger hotels felt like the big city next to Little Corn Island, where there are only paths, no paved roads at all, no cars, no golf carts, not even many bicycles. The island is so small and relaxed, the only gear you need to get around are your two feet and fins and a mask should you decide to dive or snorkel while on the island. Little Corn just got electricity a few years back, and still only comes on for half the day.

Sure, Big Corn has 24 hour electricity, but this doesn’t make it the luxurious island destination you might imagine before booking tickets. Life on both islands is quiet, people don’t have much and no one really seems to care. The remote location means that many times things don’t work, or they run out. This makes the holiday to the Corn Islands more venturesome, but in the end, especially on Little Corn Island, there is nothing more to do than read a book, snorkel or dive, and relax in the 30 C / 85 F year-round temperature.

Little Corn deserted beachWho would find the Corn Islands worth a visit?

Holidaymakers

The Corn Islands really are the perfect get-away for stressed-out city folk, but only for those looking for an exotic, off-the-beaten path location reachable only by a flight to Managua, short flight over to Big Corn, and then a 40 minute boat-ride to Little Corn and back again. For families with kids in particular, Little Corn island seems a great option, as the hotels on the far side of the island are remote, have plenty of space, and the kids can play all day. At the Little Corn Beach and Bungalow, we watched two families with a combined total of seven kids tie coconuts to ropes and make up games which required dragging them around a makeshift racecourse for at least five hours. Bet they were in bed early that night! For all-inclusive types, the Corn Islands are a no go, you might rather look into Barbados holidays where you can find plenty of inexpensive vacation resorts.

Visitors to Nicaragua

For those who visit Nicaragua’s well-worn tourist sites, we would definitely recommend adding the Corn Islands to your itinerary. Sure you might get enough beach in San Juan del Sur and island like on Ometepe Island, but the Corn Islands are a bumpy five to eight hours boat ride off the coast, and offer a Caribbean side of Nicaragua that can only be felt here. If you are a fan of Nicaragua, then the islanders living out in the middle of the wide ocean are an integral and irreplaceable piece of the Nicaraguan cultural identity puzzle. We met a great Alaskan couple who chose Nicaragua as their honeymoon destination, and they chose the Corn Islands as the beach getaway portion and spent the rest of the time exploring Granada, Leon and a couple of country/lakeside locations. In their case, the Corn Islands were the perfect relaxation part of an exciting three week getaway.

For city breakers and culture vultures, the Corn Islands are not recommended.

Big corn beach`Backpackers and Budget Travelers

Despite the silver-haired tourists that flood the mainland town of Granada, Nicaragua most tourists in Nicaragua appear to still be young backpackers or budget travelers working their way either North or South through Central America. During our time on the Corn Islands, we did not come across many of these travelers at all. Mostly couples and families who were either on vacation or were seriously into diving.

During our stay on the Corn Islands, we spent  shockingly over our budget. This was a full-blown Caribbean vacation rather than just another place to travel to, putting both Big Corn and Little Corn Island out of reach of the average backpacker.

Clear water South BeachThe journey to arrive on the Corn Islands is either complicated or generally above a backpacker’s budget. Travelers can choose to take the six hour bus ride east from Managua through the jungle and the Moskito coast to Bluefields, overnight, and then take a choppy five to eight hour boat ride to Big Corn island which comes out cheaper than booking an $170 round-trip flight from Managua to Big Corn… but not by enough to make that trip worth it. Once you get to the islands, you can stay to a strict budget, but it is a challenge. All basic supplies are flown in and therefore more expensive and hotel rates run high. Travelers on a tight budget should stick to San Juan del Sur (or all of Costa Rica) for beaches, wait until the Mexican Riviera Maya where the sand is just as white, the water just as deliciously chartreuse and there are plenty of hostels just a short walk from an easy to reach bus station.corn island hotels

In general, is it worth it to visit the Corn Islands?

The snorkeling and diving off Belize or Honduras is better, the Caribbean feel can be had in  Bocas del Toro (Panama), Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast (Puerto Viejo / Manzanillo) or on Caye Caulker in Belize for less money and with less effort. However, if you’ve got the extra cash or the desire to check off one of the 1,000 places to see before you die off your list, go for it.

If you are a frequent Caribbean traveler who is tired of the culture-less package deals, then a trip to the Corn Islands is worth it, just to see the unchanged multi-lingual, multi-cultural mix that is truly Caribbean and at the same time 100% Nicaraguan, then the Corn Islands, both Big Corn and Little Corn, could not be more worth a visit.

Little Corn bay1
If you decide to visit the Corn Islands, check out our post: Big Corn vs. Little Corn Island.

Have you heard of the Corn Islands? Are they on your list of places to see? Or have you been to the Corn Islands? Would you agree with our opinion?

Tags : big corn islandcorn islandslittle corn islandnicraragua

45 Comments

    1. Hi Lauren – the Corn Islands are not very well known at all, that makes them so interesting… a (still) unspoiled Caribbean island! You can actually stay on a budget there (lots of accommodation for $10 a night), it’s just a little pricey to get there.

    1. Thanks Ayngelina! It’s like so many places – worth going or not? Go or skip it… We wouldn’t have gone if we hadn’t been so ready for a beach vacation… and I am glad we did 🙂

    1. The Corn Islands are an unforgettable experience, for sure, but with a dog… rather difficult, I agree. We actually had a dog buddy on Big Corn, a stray dog who loved hanging out with us on the beach, especially on our beach towel 🙂

    1. Aw thanks 🙂 That’s us at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona – amazing place, have you been? Def consider the Corn Islands, we obviously had a great time but have conflicting feelings about visiting them or not…

    1. Thanks Scott, glad you appreciate the breakdown and comparisons! It can be tough for people to research and compare and read a million tripadvisor reviews, so it’s important to us to provide the kind of meaty reviews and comparisons that we are always looking for, too.

  1. Just got back from the Corn Islands! My sister and I chose to spend most of our time on Little Corn and it was well worth it. We stayed at Casa Iguana on the South end of the island and it was perfect. Thanks so much for yalls recommendations!

    1. Hi Chrissy, glad to hear that you enjoyed your time on the Corn Islands – we passed Casa Iguana on a walk once and it looked pretty nice. Were you lucky with the weather?

  2. Several big thunderstorms throughout the night, but bright and sunny during the day! The storms were kind of nice though because it cooled everything down. Can’t wait to go back!

    1. Thanks for the feedback on the Corn Islands, Chrissy! I can imagine that there were quite a few storms at this time of year, but happy to hear that they didn’t ruin your vacation 🙂

  3. I’ve been to Central America in the past and never heard of Corn Island. Well you just made my day when I learn something new. I would mention Corn Island to my friends from Nicaragua. Great post!

    1. Glad we could help! Thanks so much for stopping by and of course for sharing the article with your friends who might be interested in a trip out to the Corn Islands!

  4. SO happy I found your site as I’m planning a trip to Central America this December. Would you say these countries were pretty safe for a woman to travel alone? Great site and great info. Thanks so much!
    Andrea recently posted..Sick of being sick.

    1. Andrea – I think Central America is pretty safe for female solo travelers. We met so many women who were traveling by themselves, and there are so many female bloggers out there who also did it. The only place where we didn’t really feel safe was Honduras, but even though we felt an unease at times, nothing happened to us.

  5. Hi Jess…..

    Thank you for sharing your Corn Island travel experience. My husband and I will be traveling to Nicaragua for 19 days and the last 7 days will be at the Corn Islands. This off the beaten path appeals to us because we want to stay clear off the Gringo path. We will be spending Christmas and New Year Holidays over there. Is there any B&B you would recommend? Is the beach calm in December? We’d prefer to mingle with the locals and learn about their way of life, their cultures, food etc. Actually, if there’s a community based tourism over there that would even be better but I could not find any online. Ok. thanking you in advance for your advise.

    1. Hi Lourdes, so happy to hear that you’re planning to visit Nicaragua – one of our favorite places in the world!! About the Corn Islands – well, even they are ‘off the Gringo path’, you’ll be surprised to see how many gringos find their way there. Especially Little Corn is filled with tourists and expats who run businesses there (you can’t avoid them, the island is just too tiny) – Big Corn is much more spread out, so you can escape the gringos easier. We stayed at Martha’s B&B (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g612404-d1379752-Reviews-Martha_s_Bed_and_Breakfast-Corn_Islands_Southern_Atlantic_Autonomous_Region.html) there and really liked it. Martha & her family were very friendly and welcoming and we loved the beach right there. We heard that it would be a fantastic local experience to see a baseball game on Big Corn (there’s a little stadium) but there wasn’t a game while we were there.

      We did enjoy our time at Little Corn B&B (we wrote about it here http://globetrottergirls.com/2011/04/nicaragua-caribbean-budget-hotel-tip-little-corn-beach-bungalow/) but the place was filled with gringos, so you might not like it. We also stayed at Los Delfinos at the other side of the island (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g612406-d650295-Reviews-Hotel_Los_Delfines-Little_Corn_Island_Corn_Islands_Southern_Atlantic_Autonomous_Region.html) where more local businesses and locals are. You might like that side of the island better. We didn’t come across any community-based tourism but most of the expats with businesses there tried to employ and train locals (the people at Little Corn B&B made an effort to ‘give back’ to the island).

      We were there in January and the beaches were calm, I would expect it to be similar in December. It rained sometimes in the afternoon though and at night, including one bigger storm.

      Enjoy the Corn Islands and Nicaragua!

  6. It seems like the comparison is like Caye Caulker and Caye Ambergis – hated it. However, CC had electricity, Wi-Fi and golf carts.

    How much is the flight from Managua to Corn Island? How are by bus? Bus seems a better route to see the country. What do you think?.

    1. Hi Deb – we opted for a flight in the end because bus and boat travel to the Corn Islands because overland would’ve taken a really long time. You are right that it’s a great way to see the country, but the tales of extremely high waves on the 9-hour boat journey put us off, and we saw a boat arriving from Bluefields with blue-faced backpackers who had slept in hammocks and shared the boat with a bunch of cows. The 30-minute crossing between Big and Little Corn was nerve-wrecking enough for us and hanging out in hammocks in bad weather for an entire day is just not for us 😀 The comparison to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker is not far off, by the way! If you loved Caye Caulker, you’ll love Little Corn, too!

  7. Thanks for the review we are taking our children to Corn Island this December and staying for Xmas and New Years and we can’t wait. We have booked in at Derek’s Place and so looking forward to our beach getaway.

    1. If you and your family would like to experience the local life, I would check out Dobedo. We were there last December for a week and we had a great time. Shared kitchen is available. Fresh coconut juice, and local fruits, drinking water are free.

  8. Great overall article, but i’d have to disagree that the Corn Islands are above a backpackers budget. We are super budget backpackers and spent three weeks out there recently and easily stayed within our budget. Cooking for ourselves and panning ahead definitely saved us though.

    Having spent time in San Andres, Caye Caullker and other Caribbean locations, we would have to say Little Corn is by far the best backpacker option if you want to get out of the usual spots and have some world class beaches to yourself.

    Like any trip, you can budget for it if you’re filling to cut a few things out. We wrote a Little Corn Island Survival Guide that has some extra tips for those on tight budgets like us; http://dontforgettomove.com/little-corn-island-backpacking/

    Loving the articles! 🙂
    Jules recently posted..A Day in the Life: Big Corn Island Fishing with a Local

  9. Hi there!
    I am getting married in Nicaragua in July and want to travel to little corn islands with my parents. My fiancé and I have a dog that we found in Mexico and is now a family member. Do you know if it is possible to take my four legged daughter?
    Thank you in advance
    🙂

    1. Alexa – first of all: congratulations on getting married! I think your dog would be fine but I am not sure if dogs are allowed on the planes that go to the Corn Islands? Also, there are some stray dogs on both Big and Little Corn, so you definitely have to leave her on a leash. Enjoy Nicaragua!!

  10. Hi there! I’m planning a trip to Nicaragua this early January, I was wondering if you’re familiar with the wind at this time? Thanks

  11. Hi all, thanks for the info. Im thinking of coming down from the States, is there a u.s. city or airline that is best/chepaest to come to Nicaragua from/on? Who would know?

  12. Great article! We are planning to go to Little Corn with our little dog… Do you know if you can fly with a dog from Managua and is LC dog friendly? Thanks.

    1. Hi David, I think it’s not particularly dog-friendly.. maybe email one of the hotels to find out? I am also not sure about flying with a dog from Managua to Big Corn, I’m afraid 🙁 Would love to hear your feedback though when you’re back from your vacation. Enjoy Nicaragua 🙂

  13. I disagree about the night life. I spent the last summer there and there are certainly places to party! (Happy Hut etc..) You just have to be willing to go mingle with the locals. Also it is very cheap if you stay at hostels rather than hotels…or pitch a hammock in the mango trees. Cheers!

  14. I recently visited Big Corn island and experienced pure paradise. My trip to Little Corn was disappointing as it reminded me more of a spring break fling in Florida as opposed to the quiet little enclave I had heard about. It definately was NOT more laid back than Big Corn. Smaller yes, laid back, no.Now this is probably related to the wonderful scuba diving as well as the abundance of powder cocaine straight off the St Andres/Little Corn drug route. As i am not into a bunch of gringos running around half naked flying off of coke I will stick to Big Corn. Just an old heads observation. Party on Little Corner’s!

    1. Hi Nat, thanks for sharing! I am surprised to hear that you didn’t like Little Corn and wonder if it’s changed since I visited. Doesn’t sound at all like the little paradise I went to!

  15. Hi I am going to corn island in the middle of July. I’m now wondering if it’s not a good idea because of the mosquitos. I read that it rains most of July. Can anyone share they’re experience from being there in July?

    1. You’ll be fine, Cynthia, as long as you bring a good mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes can be annoying but as long as you use mosquito repellent, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. And the hotels on the island all have mosquito nets. Enjoy your trip 🙂

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