Updated September 2019
If you haven’t heard of the Corn Islands (Little Corn Island and Big Corn Island), Nicaragua, then you are not alone. These Caribbean islands are probably one of Nicaragua’s best kept secrets – but they won’t stay secret for long!
Quite simply, these are the most beautiful islands we have ever visited and we challenge you to find better!
There are two Corn islands, Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island. They are both located 70km off the Eastern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.
Boasting white sand Caribbean beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters and some incredibly friendly people, Big Corn and Little Corn have a lot to offer!
Imagine the Caribbean 50 years ago before major tourism hit – that’s what you can expect to find in the Corn Islands. If you want a pristine beach all to yourself, you might want to get a flight booked asap!
- 1 The People and the Vibe – Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island
- 2 Should I skip Big Corn Island?
- 3 What to do on Big Corn Island
- 4 What to do on Little Corn Island
The People and the Vibe – Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island
If you have travelled around Nicaragua, you will notice everywhere is different. From the colonial towns of Granada and Leon, to the volcanic island of Ometepe and the party beach destination San Juan Del Sur.
Equally the Corn Islands are unique in that the residents speak English as well as Creole and Spanish. This is derived from the heavy Caribbean influence and we felt like we were in a completely different country. There is definitely a more relaxed ‘reggae’ vibe here and the people are very friendly and easy going.
For anyone who has travelled Central America and does not speak Spanish, the Corn Islands will be a welcome relief as you can communicate in English. Ben speaks fluent Spanish which has been indispensable in Central America and I am learning!
Should I skip Big Corn Island?
When we looked into going to the Corn Islands the question ‘Should I skip Big Corn’ came up time and time again.
The answer is a firm no!
Big Corn Island is beautiful and well worth spending time on. We spent a total of 6 days and can’t say enough good things about it. Many people rush to get to Little Corn and they are definitely missing out!
Here is why…..
What to do on Big Corn Island
Big Corn may have ‘Big’ in the name, but you can cycle around the entire island in 1-2 hours. If you are not keen on cycling, a taxi from point to point is just over $1 whether you travel 2 or 20 minutes.
The Beaches on Big Corn Island
There are two contrasting options when it comes to beaches, depending on your taste.
On the east coast you have Long Beach and Silver Sand Beach. These are both out to the open ocean and are protected from the waves by coral reefs. The difference on this side of the island is the marine life. Grab a snorkel and jump in and you will be surrounded by tropical fish and rays!
On the west coast, you have beautiful calm and tranquil stereotypical Caribbean beaches. Picnic Beach and Arenas Beach both have powdery white sand and calm flat crystal clear water. We loved this side of the island as it was a perfect spot to relax. You could wade out in the warm waters quite far too! The difference here is that on this side of the island, you won’t see as much marine life.
There is another beach on the west side but it is recommended to avoid this beach as it is not a tourist beach (you will be able to tell as there will be no hotels/bars) and you are more likely to have your valuables lifted.
In any case, what was unique about all these beaches was the tourists. Or the lack of – as there were barely any! We have never before, anywhere in the world, had an entire pristine beach all to ourselves. This really is a hidden gem!
Cycling around Big Corn Island
The island is really not that big. As mentioned above you can cycle around it in 1-2 hours.
Most hotels and hostels hire bikes for around $10 per day. The rate is set and agreed between all the hotels/hostels, so no need to shop around.
We recommend downloading maps.me to keep an eye on your route. Whilst it is a simple circular route, we went off piste and ended up cycling a single dirt track and then getting stuck in the mud. Ben actually started sinking to his knees and I had to pull him out! It was quite an adventure!
There are plenty of places to stop off along the way for food and drinks. You could spend the morning on the east side of the island snorkelling, cycle to the Northern Point for some food and then carry on in an anticlockwise direction until you hit Picnic Beach to relax and watch the sunset.
Hike to the top – Mount Pleasant Hill
This is where we went off piste with our bikes! The peak of the island, Mount Pleasant Hill can be found on the southern end. Its altitude is 113m and you can hike up it in about 1 hour. Once at the top you can expect to see a view of the entire island! Well worth the effort!
Tip: Take plenty of water!
Scuba Diving on Big Corn Island
There are two scuba diving schools on Big Corn Island: Dos Tiburones and Corn Island Dive Centre. We used Dos Tiburones but were told they are both equally matched.
There are plenty of dive sites around Big Corn and Little Corn. We took two dives and saw plenty of marine life, the water was so clear you could easily see 20 metres in each direction. Given that tourism is relatively new here, you can rest assured that you will probably have the dive sites all to yourself!
Diving cost $70 for two ‘fun dives’-i.e for those that are already PADI qualified. You can also learn to dive here for $330 for a full Open Water PADI course.
Eating out on Big Corn Island
For such a small island, there is still a good range of food options!
Spekitos – Big Corn Island
Spekitos is on the east side near Long Beach. This is a special place because you will be dining with nurse sharks! Take a peek over the balcony and there are about 20 nurse sharks in an ocean pool swimming around.
The menu is cheap (meals up to $10) and they serve typical local food such as fish, rice and beans etc.
Pizzeria Italia Ristorante – Big Corn Island
We love trying local food, but sometimes you just crave a pizza! The owner of this place is Italian so you can expect top quality pizzas here. They cost about $12 but are big enough to share. We particularly loved the spicy pizza with gorgonzola cheese – something we were not expecting to find here!
Hotel Casa Canada – Big Corn Island
If you are looking for something more upscale, check out Casa Canada. This is the one of two ‘fancy’ hotels on the island and the onsite restaurant is open to the public. Fresh fish is about $12 and they have a great cocktail menu.
During the day, you can use their infinity pool for no extra cost as long as you purchase a drink or snack.
Picnic Beach – Big Corn Island
If you are spending the day on Picnic Beach you can grab lunch here. Again, they offer typical local food as well as burgers and sandwiches. We shared one portion of rice with chicken which was plenty for two people and cost $8.
Arenas Beach – Big Corn Island
Arenas is the second ‘fancy’ hotel and they have a beautiful beachfront restaurant and bar. We had lunch here and had a lovely chicken and pineapple dish. Meals here are a little more expensive at $10-$15.
If you do come here, treat yourself to the brownie! It was one of the best we had in a while! Plus, they have a great cocktail menu to enjoy whilst watching the sunset!
Nightlife on Big Corn Island
There isn’t a big nightlife scene here. However, there is one place considered ‘the place to be’ between Friday-Sunday: Nicos. We went with a few people from our hostel, the drinks were very cheap, the music was a mix of reggae and country, but there were not many people. We have heard it does get busy on other nights though!
Where to stay on Big Corn Island?
Island Roots Hostel – Budget
We stayed at Island Roots Hostel and loved it. It may be a hostel, as it does have dorms, but the private rooms are hotel standard.
The hostel is located in South End, near Silver Sand Beach. The hostel is run by Laura and Antonia and they take such good care of their guests. After our 6 day stay we had become good friends!
Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor and you will see for yourself!
Private rooms cost around $28-30 and dorms cost $12 per person.
Hotel Casa Canada – Higher end
Hotel Casa Canada is also in South End and boasts its own infinity pool. All rooms are private bungalows and start at around $100 per night. We definitely recommend taking a look!
Arenas Beach – Higher end
Arenas Beach is a luxury hotel offering suites and villas. This is on the west side of the island where the calm beaches are. It has its own beachfront restaurant and bar. Rooms start at $105 in low season and go up to $269 in high season.
What to do on Little Corn Island
Little Corn is the place everyone goes to and for good reason. It’s the kind of place you can really escape from the real world and go off the grid.
There are no vehicles on Little Corn Island. You will only see people transporting goods by cart or cycling everywhere.
It is about half the size of Big Corn and you can walk across the entire island in 20 minutes.
Here is what you should do on Little Corn island…
The beaches on Little Corn Island
Little Corn has plenty of beaches hidden along the coves, however, everyone makes the effort to come to Otto Beach.
Otto Beach is on the North West tip of Little Corn Island and is quite simply stunning. It is easily accessible from the main town, about a 20-minute walk through the forest and well worth the visit.
We stayed at Yemaya Island Hideaway and Spa which is the only luxury hotel on the island and the only hotel on Otto Beach. The beach bar, equipped with beach swings and a delicious tapas style menu is open to the public too.
Here the water is calm and also filled with marine life. We got in with our snorkels and within 2 metres saw a nurse shark, five minutes later two rays and then an orange starfish!
Scuba diving – Little Corn Island
Sharing the same sites as Big Corn island, the dive school here is called Dolphin Dive. The prices are the same as they are on Big Corn, 1 tank dive is $35, a 2 tank dive $70 and an open water course $330. It is worth noting that $330 is very cheap, you can expect to pay four times this amount somewhere like Australia!
Boat Trips – Little Corn Island
This is something you can not miss.
There are a few different operators offering boat tours on the island. You can go by day, sunset and some even offer night time boat trips. On a clear night, the stars are spectacular with no light pollution at all.
Without a doubt you will want to jump into the turquoise waters with a snorkel and see what you can find. Coral Reef Tours offers all of the above and for those that are water shy, a glass bottom boat!
Yemaya Island Hideaway and Spa also offer boat tours for their guests which are incredible. We went on both a sunset cruise including beers and champagne, and a daytime snorkelling cruise. This was great fun, especially as it was on-board their local style miskito sailing boat!
Where to stay on Little Corn island: Hotels
If you are looking for Little Corn island hotels or hostels look no further. Don’t forget, the island is very small so you should book in advance!
Yemaya Island Hideaway and Spa – high end
If you deserve a treat, then you need to stay here. Easily one of the most luxurious places we have ever stayed, Yemaya is the perfect place for an island getaway.
From the private boat transfer, to the welcome drinks on arrival, the private infinity pool, the spa and fine dining restaurant, it has everything. It recently had a $2m refurbishment so you really are staying in the lap of luxury!
Read more about it here, you won’t be disappointed!
Las Palmeras Beachfront Hotel – Low-Mid range
Las Palmeras is a small 3 star hotel offering 9 rooms. Prices here start at around £20 a night which is a great price for paradise. We ate here during our time on Little Corn and the food was cheap and good quality.
The Green House Hostel – budget
Little Corn is known for backpackers so if you are on a really tight budget check out The Green House Hostel. Dorm beds go from £8 per night and the people we spoke to said this was a chilled and friendly place to stay.
Where to eat on Little Corn Island
There are plenty of options for eating on Little Corn. There is one high end place and then lots of great smaller local places to choose from.
Rosas Resturant – cheap eats
With meals at $3-4 this is a good option for those on a budget. They offer a great breakfast, lunch or dinner and people just keep coming back. We recommend trying the french toast!
Las Palmeras Beachfront Hotel – mid range
We ate here one day while exploring. We had fresh fish in a garlic sauce and a huge mac and cheese burger. While the burger may not be a ‘local’ delicacy, it certainly tasted amazing! Meals were around $10 and you have a lovely view of the ocean.
Yemaya – Fine Dining
Each dinner was a new fine dining experience. The menu changed each day depending on what fresh local produce was available. We looked forward to seeing what was on offer and being able to try new things we had never come across before. The meal that really stood out for us was the Vigoron, this is a classic Nicaraguan ‘fast food’ option which the chef has turned into a 5 star meal with the inclusion of suckling pig. Prices here are around $20 for a meal and $15 for a starter. Portions are smaller but the quality and taste is out of this world!
Nightlife on Little Corn Island
Since Little Corn Island is the more popular place for tourists and backpackers, it has a thriving nightlife scene in the main town.
If you opt to stay in one of the hostels in town be prepared to go out every night as there is always something on. Here is what is on offer:
- Tranquilo Cafe has bonfire DJ parties, live drumming, cultural dance nights, pub quizzes and live music.
- Desideri Café offers karaoke and live music
- Lighthouse has a Sunday Fun-Day and live music.
- And the place that everyone end up at the end of the night is the Happy Hut and Aguilas (aka Reggae Bar) with DJ’s till dawn.
Getting to the Corn Islands
Getting to Big Corn Island
You can fly from Managua directly to Big Corn Island in about 1.5hours. It’s a quick journey and the views are breath-taking as you come to land. The cost is around $80 each way.
At the time of writing there are three flights a day, one at 06:30, 11:30 and one at 14:00. There have also been talks to start running flights from San Jose, Costa Rica in the future. You can check out flights at La Costena.
Alternatively, there is an overland route which involves a 10-15 hour bus from Managua to Bluefields, and then a 5-7 hour boat journey. While significantly cheaper (up to $30), can you really afford to lose time on the island to hours of travel? Also, you may have to pay for a night in Bluefields, so the cost difference is not as big as you may think.
Getting to Little Corn Island
Getting to Little Corn is easy. You take the Panga boat from Brigg Bay on Big Corn.
The great thing about taxis on Big Corn is that there is no guessing. Anywhere and everywhere costs just over a $1. Jump in a taxi and ask for Brigg Bay and you will be on your way.
The Panga boat to Little Corn Island dock costs about $6 and should take an hour. We have heard that this can be a serene and relaxing journey, or, a stomach churning experience depending on the weather and waves! It is highly recommended you take a dry bag for anything you do not want to get wet, maybe some bin bags to cover your suitcases too!
The boat leaves from Big Corn twice a day. The first at 10:00 and the second at 16:30. Make sure to get there early as once full, they sometimes will leave ahead of schedule.
The returning panga boats leave Little Corn at 06:30 and 13:30.
Alternatively, for those who deserve to treat themselves (we all do once in a while). Guests staying at the Yemaya Island Hideaway and Spa can access the fast, dry, speedboat which takes 30 minutes. This costs $80 for a round trip. This includes a pickup from your hotel on Big Corn or the airport, and takes you directly to Yemayas beachfront.
We could go on and on about the Corn Islands. Who knew that in 2018 places such undiscovered places like this still existed? We can easily see it growing into a massive tourist destination in the next 5-10 years so we would encourage you to go now while it still remains relatively untouched.
Had you heard about the Corn Islands before? Let us know in the comments below!
Make sure to check out these posts about Nicaragua for more travel inspirations:
- 10 Most ‘Instagrammable’ Spots – The Corn Islands
- What is it like to be LGBT in Nicaragua?
- Gay Friendly Hotels Nicaragua: Casa Lucia Boutique Suites & Vacation Apartments
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