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From Pirates to Paradise: Corn Islands Nicaragua

Posted by on Aug 3, 2012 | 0 comments

From Pirates to Paradise: Corn Islands Nicaragua

I got off to a rough start in Nicaragua. Still reveling in the zen from my weekend at Laguna Lodge in Guatemala, I landed back to reality in Managua. First stop, immigration. I was “welcomed” to Nicaragua by a gruff immigration officer who charged me a 2nd time for my CA-4 visa that I’d paid for in El Salvador and is allegedly supposed to cover Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Guatemala accepted it, Nicaragua wanted more money. Fine. It was only $10 and certainly not worth seeing the inside of a Nicaraguan prison for.

Next up, La Costena Airlines, the Nicaraguan national carrier. There are only two flights a day to Big Corn Island, the first is at 7am and the second at 2:00pm. Since I landed at 9am, I had a lot of time to kill before my connection. Luckily, the Managua International Airport terminal is clean, modern and has free wifi. So I camped out in the airport lobby for a few hours before going over to the domestic terminal (which is the opposite of the international terminal) to check in. After waiting in a very long line, I was told I needed to go to the La Costena office next door to pick up my ticket. Not sure why someone couldn’t have told me that before I spent 30 minutes in line, but OK. (Of course, the agent said I could come right back to the front of the line but I hate doing that because everyone in the line then gives you the evil eye.)

When I got back from picking up my ticket, I again waited patiently in line not wanting to tick off the rest of the passengers in the line. By the time I got to the counter for the 2nd time, the agent was telling people that some bags would have to stay behind in Managua because the flight was sold out and overweight. Fantastic. If your bag was left behind, she explained, it would (allegedly) be on the 7am flight the next morning and yes, they would deliver it to your hotel – even on Little Corn Island, where I was headed.

I pulled out the few things I thought would get me through 24 hours without my bag, handed it off to the agent and hoped for the best. Adding to my travel joys for the day, the weather had turned stormy and when we finally boarded the flight it was a pretty rough ride in a very small plane.

Just as I’m thinking the article in the Nicaragua Times will start something like, “…she was survived by her Tumi suitcase which, by a twist of fate, had a change of plans pre-departure and was unable to join her” we finally hit the runway (wheels first, thankfully) on Big Corn Island. Whew!

Little Corn Island Nicaragua

The untouched beaches of Little Corn Island

Arrival in the Corn Islands

In the 17th century, these forgotten little Caribbean islands just 50 miles off the coast of Nicaragua were a haven for pirates and buccaneers. Today, the local population on Big and Little Corn Islands is a mix of the descendents of British prospectors and freed slaves who primarily make their living selling lobster and fish from the prolific waters just offshore. Thanks to its colorful pirate history, shipwrecks around the islands abound as do legendary stories of forgotten treasure.

Panga to Little Corn Island Corn Islands Nicaragua

Bagging up the luggage for the panga ride

It was still overcast and raining off and on when we arrived on Big Corn but my day finally took a turn for the better when I saw my bag being unloaded from the plane…hooray! Plenty of taxis were outside the tiny airport waiting to transport passengers either to their hotels or to the Little Corn Island ferry, also known as the panga.

Little Corn Beach and Bungalow Corn Islands Nicaragua

My bungalow at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow

I’d read horror stories online about the panga ride between islands so I was totally prepared with all of the suggested safeguards. I placed my luggage in the garbage bags I’d brought (luggage will get wet) and I selected a seat in the middle of the boat. Popular wisdom is that the back of the boat gets wet while the front has the bumpiest ride, hedge your bets by sitting dead center. Pleased that I’d secured the seat I hoped for, the next step was lifejackets. The captain handed out sopping wet lifejackets from the storage hold and everyone made a face but dutifully put them on.

And we’re off! The ride actually wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was definitely bumpy and there were lots of big waves thanks to the weather but other than a few drops of rain, I didn’t get wet at all. Success!! (I posted a little video from the ride in the photo gallery…in case you want try to experience it for yourself.)

Little Corn Island

My accommodation of choice for the next two nights on Little Corn Island was the Little Corn Beach & Bungalow (LCBB). I’d been told by a fellow travel blogger who spent quite a bit of time on Little Corn that this was the best place on the island so that was good enough for me. As we pulled up to the dock, I was pleased to see a guy holding a sign with my name on it and one other.

Master Suite Crusoe Little Corn Beach & Bungalow Nicaragua

Inside the “Master Suite Crusoe” bungalow

Our luggage was offloaded from the boat and the nice young man who picked us up (me and another group of 3 ladies also staying at LCBB) loaded our luggage into a wheelbarrow – seriously – and then we were off through a jungle trail to the other side of the island. I realized then that my confirmation from the hotel never said “we’ll pick you up at the dock” it said, “we’ll meet you at the dock.” Clever.

The other 3 women and I kept exchanging nervous glances like we weren’t really sure where we were going but after about a 20 minute walk we emerged on the other side of the island on a beautiful beach. From there it was just a few steps to LCBB where we were welcomed graciously and shown directly to our bungalows.

I had reserved the “Master Suite Crusoe” bungalow and it turned out to be really lovely. They explained that island’s power is turned off from 5:00am – 2:00pm each day (which I was aware of from carefully reading LCBB’s website) but that my bungalow had a generator that would run the fans in my room until around 8:00am. That was one of the reasons I’d selected that bungalow, I figured it would give me extra time to sleep before it started to get hot in the mornings. As it turned out, I didn’t really need it. The windows in the bungalows do a great job of capturing the island breezes and other than the middle of the day (when I wasn’t in there anyway) I never thought it was hot at all. It was actually quite comfortable for sleeping – even for an air-conditioning snob like me!

Since it was dinner time by the time I arrived at LCBB, I headed to their restaurant, the Turned Turtle, for dinner. The restaurant was a nice surprise as the prices were extremely reasonable and the food was excellent. I had a 4-course dinner with grilled snapper as the main course and it was just $10. Breakfast the next morning was also delicious, as was the dinner I had the last night.

Beach hut Little Corn Island Nicaragua

Colorful huts for rent on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

The next morning I awoke early to check out the beach. It was a beautiful day so I decided to take a walk around the island. There are no roads (since there are, of course, no cars) on Little Corn so navigation is basically a system of trails around the island. I started my day with a walk from end-to-end of the island on the LCBB side and then later that afternoon took the path back across the island to walk the other side. I also needed to do a quick e-mail check at one of the only places for wifi on the island. (Note: LCBB generally has wifi but theirs has been down for several weeks and it’s tough to get such things repaired around here.)

It was a nice walk and a great way to explore the tiny island. By late afternoon, feeling like I’d seen it all, I headed back to LCBB to put one of their hammocks to good use. That night I had another delicious meal at the Turned Turtle and slept great wrapped in the cocoon of my mosquito netting around my bed (it was kind of like sleeping in a fort, ha!). The mosquito netting was definitely effective. Though I did see several mosquitoes in the room, I never had any issues with them when I used the netting. I’d also read that bugs in general were a big problem on Little Corn, but again, I had no issues. All in all, a very pleasant stay on Little Corn Island.

Big Corn Island

The next morning, I’d decided to take the 7am panga back to Big Corn Island so that I’d have the full day to explore there before heading back to Managua the following day. The panga ride on the way back to Big Corn (under sunny skies) was even more pleasant than the first ride. Although I did talk to another American girl on the boat who said that when she came over on Saturday the ride was quite traumatic – so I guess you just never know what you’re gonna get from the panga ride.

On Big Corn Island, I’d booked a room at the Hotel Casa Canada. I’d selected it from Trip Advisor reviews and it did not disappoint. After going without AC and wifi for the past two days I was happy to have both back in my life. They were kind enough to check me in at 7:30am (which I did not expect) and even let me have a late check-out the next day for my 3pm flight.

Casa Canada Big Corn Island Nicaragua

Casa Canada, Big Corn Island

The hotel’s property was very scenic with an infinity pool right on the rocky shoreline and colorful hammocks dotting the lawn. The restaurant wasn’t quite as good as LCBB’s but the price was right and it did have a great view. That afternoon I spent some quality time in the hammock and then retired to my room under cloudy skies to work on my Laguna Lodge review for Jetsetter (which is due Friday). I wanted to get out and see some of the island but since the weather had turned I decided to save the island tour for the next day and hope for sunnier skies.

The next morning, the hotel arranged a taxi driver to take me on an island tour. Though it’s bigger than Little Corn (hence the name), Big Corn can still easily be seen in an hour or two. Taxi drivers charge $10/hour for island tours and my driver’s name was David.

David was a good tour guide and was full of interesting stories about the history of the island. Especially the intriguing pirate history. According to David, there is still buried treasure all over the island. In fact, just 6 years ago, he was digging in one of the swampy parts of the island and found a few gold coins and a bracelet. He later sold them in the US for $5,000. How about that? It’s a wonder the whole island isn’t walking around with shovels.

After my very enlightening island tour, I headed back to Casa Canada for lunch before my flight back to Managua. Reflecting on my few days exploring the Corn Islands Nicaragua, this may truly be one of the few stretches of sandy, unspoiled, tropical Eden left in the Caribbean. What these islands may lack in modern amenities, they more than make up for in local charm and natural beauty. If you’re looking for a beachside hammock on your own private beach, Little Corn Island just might be your idea of paradise.

After a quick flight back to Managua and an overnight at the comparably-luxurious (it had power 24 hours a day) Hilton Princess Managua, it was time to move on.

Next up, Panama!

Click Below to View the Corn Islands Photo Gallery

    View photos at SmugMug


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