If you’re not on a strict travel budget… lucky you. Spare a thought for the rest of us while you enjoy a quick flight from Managua to Big Corn followed by a short and sweet “panga” boat ride to get to Little Corn Island. The rest of us have to sign up for a slightly more arduous journey involving one bus ride and three boat trips. If you plan to take the budget route to get to Little Corn Island, don’t despair! The route is ideal for a wanderlust traveller seeking adventure.
We’ve outlined our route below with useful tips and advice based on our own experience and observations. Hopefully this will help you when planning your own route to Little Corn Island.
Step #1. Managua – El Rama (+6hrs | 174 Córdoba pp)
Buses to El Rama depart from Terminal Costa Atlantica located at Mercado Ivan Montenegro. Taxi drivers will know where to drop you off. Be sure to ask your hostel or hotel how much the taxi ride should cost because the drivers will try to overcharge you. If you are returning to Managua, consider storing non-essential items at your hostel to lighten the load for your journey ahead.
A one-way bus ticket to El Rama cost us 174 Córdoba per person. You can choose to take the more comfortable “Express” bus or what we refer to as the “chicken bus” which looks a lot like an old renovated school bus. The bus company offers two available departure times, but either way you’re buggered. The first departure time is 6:00am which means you’ll be up bright and early arriving in El Rama at around midday. We opted for the 9:00pm departure time thinking that we could sleep through the journey. If only we’d known what we had signed up for! Just when everyone was starting to settle in, the driver and conductor took it upon themselves to blast local Samba music for the duration of the trip at a volume that rendered our ear plugs completely useless.
Arriving in El Rama:
We arrived in El Rama at 3:00am and had to join in the mad rush of people heading straight for the panga ticket office to collect tickets to Bluefields. The office operates on a first-come-first-served basis and everyone is accordingly allocated to groups 1 through to 5. For unknown reasons they wanted to check our passports so be sure to have yours with you. Another tip is to be polite to the office staff. Given that it was 3:00am and we were suffering from a severe lack of sleep, Gary lost his temper with a belligerent employee who in retaliation allocated us to group 5. Group 5 was the last group to board the pangas! After collecting our tickets we returned to the bus and slept until the first pangas began leaving for Bluefields at 6:00am.
Small shops and cafés open early in El Rama offering coffee and breakfast before your departure down river.
Step #2. El Rama – Bluefields (2hrs | 250 Córdoba pp)
Pangas depart from El Rama at 6:00am and midday costing 250 Córdoba per person. Military personnel oversee the loading process and control the crowds ensuring that the process remains civilised. A local “panga” is a small boat that should safely and comfortably seat about twenty people. However, the reality is that these boats are overloaded with people, luggage, supplies and of course the odd chicken. When a boat is sitting a little too low in the water, a few bank notes are slipped to the military personnal who happily turn a blind eye. However, they counter this by refusing to let a panga leave the jetty until everyone on board is wearing a life jacket.
The trip down river takes approximately two hours. Once away from the farmlands, the river banks are heavily laden with lush green indigenous forest that makes for beautiful scenery and an enjoyable journey. Depending on the season, you might want to keep a rain jacket handy and make use of your waterproof backpack cover.
Before leaving Managua we had decided to break our journey in Bluefields. There are a few hotel options here, but we found them to be quite expensive. Through booking.com we had come across a home stay offering rooms and a shared bathroom and kitchen for US$12. Bluefields itself is a location where you want to spend the least amount of time possible. In other words it’s an absolute shithole. However, arriving here feeling tired, grumpy and hungry, we were grateful to be able to have a shower and catch up on some much needed sleep before heading out again the next day.
All supplies to Little Corn Island are brought across from the mainland. Unfortunately this tends to push up the price of food items on the Island. There are a number of supermarkets in Bluefields where you can stock up for your trip ahead. Upstairs from the central market you’ll find local restaurants offering cheap, tasty meals. Unfortunately the Nicaraguans continue their unsustainable, short-sighted, narrow-minded and uneducated practice of eating turtle meat. Turtles are endangered species! Order the chicken.
Step #3. Bluefields – Big Corn Island (6hrs | 260 Córdoba pp)
The only passenger ferry currently operating between Bluefields and Big Corn Island is the Rio Escondido at 260 Córdoba per person. You may have heard of the Captain D. Unfortunately a collision with another ship marked the end of the Captain’s seafaring career. The Rio Escondido has picked up the slack and now makes the journey twice during the week. It departs from Bluefields on Wednesdays and Saturdays and returns from Big Corn Island on Thursdays and Sundays.
The ferry sets off at 9:00am so be sure to arrive earlier to secure your tickets. If you’re arriving in the morning straight from El Rama you will have to head directly for the ferry which is just one jetty along. Arriving early will allow you to avoid the fierce competition amongst everyone to get a seat inside the air conditioned cabin. Stay put in your seat! The Caribbean mamas will not hesitate to take over any spot left unattended. The journey takes 5-6 hours depending on the weather conditions and the amount of surge. Travellers who arrived late or opted to sit outside on the deck soon regretted the decision after a few hours of intense sun followed by heavy rains. Sea sick tablets are also a very good idea!
When departing on the ferry headed for Big Corn Island, ladies will do the rounds offering empanadas and cakes for the journey ahead.
Step #4. Big Corn Island – Little Corn Island (30 min | 150 Córdoba pp)
Pangas depart from Big Corn Island at 10:00am and 4:30pm. If returning from Little Corn Island, the pangas depart at 6:30am and 1:30pm. Depending on the weather, this boat trip will either be a breeze or have you eager to get to dry land. Conditions seem to change quickly so make use of your backpack cover and keep a rain jacket handy.
The choices of accommodation on Little Corn Island are endless. From a high-end resort to mid-range hotels and less expensive hostels, there is something for everyone. We opted to stay with two instructors that we would be diving with. A private room, shared bathroom and kitchen cost us US$12 per night. There are a number of similar home stays available but few advertise on booking sites.
If you are keen to try local dishes then you are in for a treat! There are also a number of trendy beach bars and restaurants offering more Western meals. Happy hour on the island has become a ritual and everyone tends to gather to watch the sunset while enjoying a local beer or colourful rum cocktail.
There are a number of grocery shops and bakeries available if you are planning to cook at home. Unfortunately, prices tend to be more expensive given that all products are brought in by boat. Be sure not to miss out on the freshly baked coconut bread!
For more on what you can expect from your visit to this little piece of paradise, have a look at our eight reasons not to miss Little Corn Island.
Step #5. The Return Trip (17 hours)
We were able to comfortably make our way back to Managua from Little Corn Island in one day. Our day kicked off with the 6:30am panga to Big Corn Island followed by the 9:00am Rio Escondido ferry to Bluefields. Despite arriving a bit late, we were able to catch the 2:30pm panga to El Rama followed by a 5:00pm bus back to Managua which arrived at 10:30pm.
Alternatives ways to get to Little Corn Island:
One alternative is to fly from Managua to Big Corn Island and take a short panga trip to Little Corn. We would recommend flying if you are on a tight time schedule.
Another alternative way to get to Little Corn Island is to make the voyage by cargo ship leaving the mainland and bound for Little Corn. The Island receives supplies every Saturday via a cargo ship. The ship then departs for Big Corn Island either later on the same day or the following Sunday morning. This option might be cheaper than the route that we have outlined above, however running times are uncertain and the schedule seems to be solely dependent on the whims of the captain and crew.
We hope that this article has been informative and helpful in planning your route to get to Little Corn Island. Bon Voyage!