The Corn Islands, Nicaragua

On April 10th we took a one hour flight from Managua to Big Corn Island to start the first four days of two weeks that we planned staying between Big Corn and Little Corn Islands.

Located in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, Big Corn sits about 70 km east of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua while Little Corn lies about 13 km northeast of Big Corn and is only accessible by boat.

We rented a small house on Big Corn located right across from South West Bay. It is owned by the owner of Frumunda Travel and sits next door to their travel operation so we had a huge blue canopy in our front hard with large lettering promoting Frumunda Travel. It was a litlle bit of an eye sore for us but it provided welcoming shade during the mid day sun.

We had a functional kitchen, two bedrooms both with air conditioning and a bathroom with a reasonable shower. It was a two minute walk to the beach and about a five minute walk to the nearest bar and restaurant so it was a great location. The area beside us was also used to serve breakfast for Marthas Bed and Breakfast located nearby so we took advantage of this and had a couple of good homemade breakfasts a couple of times and for only $6 USD per person it was a good deal.

The bay is made up of Pic-Nic-Beach and Arenas Beach which basically form one very long stretch of beautiful white sand beach fronting calm crystal clear water. The two boats in the pictures below were grounded as the result of a tropical storm formed by Hurricane Julia that hit Nicaragua in October 2022.

We arrived just after Semana Santa and a large stretch of undeveloped beachside had been transformed into a huge area of pop-up bars and food shacks. It was Monday, the last official day of celebrations and the remnants of one very big party laid scattered all over the place. The operators had two days to clean up. It looked impossible but by Wednesday there was no sign of anything having been there. We were told the partying starts one week before Semana Santa and lasts until Easter Monday and the beach was so packed it was like “bumper cars”. Hard to imagine because it seemed we were practically the only people on the beach when we hit the sand on Tuesday.

We had a hard time finding much for food to stock our kitchen so we made due with Cornflakes with a banana an orange and a drinkable yogurt for breakfast and for lunch peanut butter and banana sandwiches on white “Bimbo” bread and a shared can of Original V8 vegetable cocktail. Yummy!

Fortunately as mentioned earlier there were two restaurants close by so our dinners were substantially better. We could have had lunch at the restaurants but when you are hot and sweaty after some beach time you really don’t feel like walking in the 32 degree sun and heat to go and sit in the 30 degree shade and decide on lunch. We’d rather have peanut butter and banana sandwiches in the comfort of our air conditioned place and tell ourselves how much weight we’re going to lose.

Over the next four days we aquatinted ourselves primarily with whatever was within a 20 to 30 minute walk from our house. It was too hot to walk much more than that during the day and by nightfall, aside from being very dark on the narrow road that hugs the beach, we were too into enjoying the cold cervezas sitting at the beach side bar at Pic-Nic Beach being too blown away from the sunsets and amazing location to even bother of thinking about wandering somewhere else. Taxis are cheap here, $1 USD per person so we didn’t really have any excuses but why bother really. The grass isn’t, I mean the sand isn’t always whiter on the other side.

After four days on Big Corn we headed over to Little Corn Island and our driver Elvis, who picked us up to take us to our boat told us the resupply boats were expected over the next few days so the stores on Big Corn would be fully restocked when we would return later for five more days. He also mentioned that during the Holy Week celebrations although food was tight there were plenty of resupply boats loaded with beer. You can run out of food but it is never a good idea to run out of beer!

We hired a private boat to get us to Little Corn and on the way to the dock we asked about the sea conditions. Smooth sailing we were told. It’s important to know this because our experience boating between the San Blass Islands dictated that you bag your luggage in garbage bags and be prepared to get drenched so this was welcome news.

We met Captain Peter at the dock and asked once again about the sea conditions. Smooth sailing he said.

Within ten minutes of our departure to Little Corn we were in six foot swells crashing in the waves but because of boat design (I think it was a wider boat than the San Blass boats) we only suffered a little sea spray but it was a very rough journey. I don’t know why we were told it would be smooth if wasn’t going to be smooth. Maybe to allay any fears we may have had? Maybe the conditions changed quickly but it was anything but smooth.

Prior to our departure to Little Corn we had asked a couple of people about the sargassum (seaweed) situation on the islands. Being on the west/leeward side of Big Corn the beaches were protected but last year it was apparently very bad on both islands. On Little Corn we would be staying on the east/windward side so our fingers were crossed. This year has seen the largest ever sargassum patch ever and it stretches over 8,500 km from Africa to the east coasts of Mexico and Florida.

As we came around the north coast of LC the waves subsided and the waters displayed a brilliant hue of fifty shades of of azure colours. This was looking very inviting.

Our boat slowed, turned towards shore and then we saw it. Massive mounds of sargassum lined the pristine beach we were heading towards. The water became cloudy and our hearts sank. Several men were on the beach with pitch forks tossing the weeds into long piles. We hopped of the boat and then the smell hit us. Rotten eggs. Sewer. Pick your smell.

This was not what we had in mind and we immediately started to question if we should even bother staying. It was very upsetting to say the least.

We had booked five nights at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow, a highly rated establishment with the number one rated restaurant on the island, The Turned Turtle. The grounds were beautiful and the location was on a remote tropical beach on a remote tropical island in the Caribbean so we took a few deep breaths and decided to stay. We were told (and we could see on our way to our place) there were other beaches in the area that were less affected by the sea weed. It was just bad luck that their beach got hit so hard.

We paid for a food and drink package that gave us twenty meals over five days that included beer and soft drinks and juice etc. and a good discount on other drinks. They didn’t offer full board because they wanted to encourage their guests to explore other restaurants in the relative area which I think is a good thing because you can easily get caught up just hanging around all day eating and drinking in one place and miss out on some of the other good places.

The eating at our place was fantastic!

Lobster, which you could have for every meal if you wanted, seafood omelettes with lobster and shrimp, lobster tacos, grilled shrimp, baby back ribs, unbelievable cheese and bacon burger sliders or pulled pork, ham and bacon sliders. The list goes on and we certainly agree with the number one rating. All of the food was delicious and the cooking staff were wonderful ladies who obviously had a passion for the food they prepared.

The thick jungle like vegetation on the island is crisscrossed by sand and dirt paths, sometimes with narrow paved areas to help facilitate the movement of goods throughout the island.

There are no cars or motorized vehicles of any sort on the island so everything is moved under human power by either pulling two wheeled carts or pushing wheelbarrows for smaller loads so we used these paths to access the main town on the west side of the island and a couple of sargassum free beaches on the norther portion, Tracy Beach and Otto Beach. It was bloody hot hiking through the thick forests but we really did need the exercise and the beaches were pristine.

The accommodation and the food were excellent but what really made our five night stay at Little Corn Beach and Bungalows were the serving staff.

Shira, Sadie, Eric and Chi were outstanding and we left feeling like we had left some good friends behind.

The only negative aside from the seaweed was the restaurant/bar operating hours. Last call for dinner was 5:30 pm and last call for alcohol was 6:30.

Dinner felt rushed and if the restaurant wasn’t busy you could be eating dinner at 5:45 which is too early. And, if you wanted to have more beers past 6:30 you could take a few back to your bungalow but most didn’t have a refrigerator (we did) but drinking beer on a full stomach isn’t as enjoyable as drinking pre-dinner beer in my humble opinion.

We headed back (on much calmer waters) to Big Corn with visions of peanut butter and banana sandwiches for the next five days but looking forward to the most amazing water and sand awaiting our return.

Elvis picked us up again and we pit stopped at several small stores to try to load up on more than bananas. Some cheese slices, tomatoes, mayonnaise, Bimbo brown bread, and a good selection of fruit made up our haul. There were no good bananas to be found however Elvis promised us if he came across some good bananas he would pick some up and drop them by our place and lo and behold the next morning he stopped by with two bunches of bananas! What a great man. Seriously!

The last five days on Big Corn were essentially spent doing nothing but get up, have coffee, eat breakfast, wander to the beach, swim, sun, wander home, eat lunch, have a rest, wander to Pic-Nic Beach bar, drink, watch the amazing sunset, eat dinner, wander home, listen to some music and sleep. Perfect!

We did however interrupt our laziness one day with a three hour snorkelling/fishing boat trip around the island with Jesus who is the second in command at Frumunda travel and, the snorkelling was actually quite incredible.

The first stop was a reef where a Spanish Galleon sank in the sixteen hundreds (We think). The water visibility could be classified as almost limitless, probably about 30m and the depth was no more than 10m so visibility was excellent!

The waters were calm and the view below was amazing. Steel cannons encrusted with barnacles and coral littered the sea floor and off in the distance a huge anchor just like this ⚓️. Seriously. It was a very cool sight.

Our next stop was a 60 year old oil tanker that hit a reef on the east side of the island where tankers were not supposed to go. It caused an environmental disaster then, but 60 years later the site harbours an area that seems like a mini post nuclear city. Life everywhere within the ruins.

We departed Big Corn on April 24th for two more nights in Managua before heading to Mexico City for a few days before flying home.

We will definitely be back to the islands, hopefully sooner than later.

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