Little Corn Island is a Caribbean delight drifting in turquoise waters off of the Nicaraguan coastline. We make our approach in a small “panga” boat along with a few locals, their dogs, sacks of supplies for the Island and of course the obligatory chicken. Ahead of us lies the small island village strung out along the waters edge. A collection of bright beads on a string of pavement that winds its way between colourful shops, restaurants and houses.
From the moment that you set foot on the jetty you begin to feel an excitement building. The feeling experienced by most travellers who realise that they’ve stumbled across a very special destination. “You’re in the Caribbean man!” is the warm greeting that we receive in that unmistakable accent inspiring thoughts of tropical fuchsia pink flowers, Bob Marley and rum. While we are well aware of our geographical location, we welcome the reminder. Travelling on a budget we decided against flying from the Capital, Managua, opting instead for an overnight bus and three boat rides to get here. Having overcome a lack of sleep and a heavy bout of sea sickness, we are about to discover just how worth it our arduous journey has been.
As if the name “Little Corn Island” wasn’t a good enough reason to add this destination to your travel bucket list, here are seven further reasons to head out to this little piece of paradise.
#1. Slow Down to the Caribbean Pace of Life
While there is no shortage of modern day comforts on Little Corn Island, including Wi-Fi hotspots and Snickers chocolate bars, this destination is a throw back to a bygone era creating a unique experience that leaves one with little alternative than to simply slow down. For one, motorised vehicles are not allowed on the Island. The small village is linked to the main beaches and other populated areas via a network of pathways. These trails snake their way along the shoreline and through the lush green foliage of surrounding forests and marshlands. As you might expect, most bicycles have been commandeered by the locals. You’ll find yourself navigating the Island on foot, giving you a chance to deviate from the main paths and go exploring down old fishermen trails that lead to deserted beaches.
Another characteristic of the Island that tends to slow down productive activity is that the power is cut off during the day. This means that from six o’clock in the morning all fans and airconditioning units are rendered redundant. If the building heat doesn’t get you, the fiercely competing roosters will soon have you out of bed. Unless of course you are staying at an upmarket hotel that runs a generator. If you’ve forgotten to charge your electronic devices overnight (or decided to forgo them altogether and rightly so) you’ll find yourself passing the day with a good book on the beach.
However, the lack of any ATMs on the Island doesn’t so much add to its enchantment as create an inconvenience. Some hotels and restaurants have credit card machines but we’d advise that you arrive with enough cash to see you through your stay.
#2. Come Hungry!
An inexpensive, authentic Island culinary experience can be found at any number of locally run spots aptly named after the owner. Whether it be “Bridget’s” or “Rosie’s”, you’ll find her in the kitchen flashing a bright smile while slaving over hot coals. You might have to get your order in a few hours in advance to allow for the purchase of fresh ingredients.
Chicken, rice and beans are the staple diet on the Island at about 150 Córdobas. However, seafood lovers shouldn’t leave the Island without trying the local “Ron Don” or “Run Down” (200-300 Córdobas). Lobster is the star of the dish accompanied by fish, potatoes and cassava, all deliciously infused with a coconut broth. Of course such a dish is served with a side order of guilt to two scuba divers who just hours ago were 20 meters beneath the ocean surface admiring the lobsters and fish. At the risk of sounding like absolute hypocrites we need to insert a caveat here and state that as conservationists we generally avoid eating sea food. However, we’ll admit that while breathing in the aromas emanating from the kitchen, we soon overlooked our conflict of interest.
Irrespective of where you chose to dine, the good news is that all restaurants serve ice cold Toña. This Nicaraguan beer goes down so smoothly you’ll be lining up a few bottles. Freshly baked coconut bread is another local delight to keep an eye out for. The best loaves are made by local ladies who sell their baked goods directly from their homes. By-pass the bakery and ask a local to point you in the direction of one such house. Competition for a loaf is fierce so be sure to get there before mid morning when stocks tend to run out.
#3. For the Homesick Hungry Traveller
The variety of restaurants on the Island cater for all tastes. A few beach bars have sprung up in the main village that seem geared towards gringos, serving hamburgers and pizza to those who might be feeling far from home. During happy hour colourful cocktails fly off of the bar counters as everyone gathers to enjoy a Caribbean sunset. Tranquilo Café is one spot that seems to have become an institution for any traveller looking to trade stories or make use of the Wi-Fi to update Facebook. Unfortunately for budget travellers this experience comes with a hefty price tag.
#4. Little Corn Island is Turtle Friendly
Before leaving the mainland we had the misfortune of walking through a market only to come across a bowl of turtle flippers. Short of having a cardiac arrest, seeing this left us shocked and trembling with anger. The Nicaraguans have a long standing yet completely outdated and unsustainable taste for turtle meat and eggs. The trade of these endangered species is illegal in Nicaragua. However, measures put in place by the government remain unenforced and unregulated. As such, these regulations are largely ignored by the general population. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that there are no marine protected areas in Nicaragua. Fortunately for visitors to Little Corn Island, turtle meat does not feature on any of the menus. You can rest assured that the only turtles you encounter will be while snorkelling or diving the reefs.
#5. Embrace Your Inner Scuba Steve
The main purpose of our visit to Little Corn Island was to spend a few days diving. Despite blowing our travel budget, the dive sites were well worth it. The reefs offered beautiful arrays of corals and an abundance of ocean life and species. We didn’t see any hammerheads, but were more than content with the numerous nurse sharks lazing about the reefs. Night diving on the Island is popular when you have a good chance of turtle sightings. Read our article about diving Little Corn Island to see our review of the dive sites and conditions.
If you’re not a certified diver, don’t despair! There are two PADI certified dive operators on the Island, Dolphin Dive and Dive Little Corn. Both operators offer various courses including Open Water beginner courses. Alternatively grab a set of fins, mask and snorkel and head out to any one of the shallow reefs.
#6. Have a Snooze on the Beach
For those that prefer to pass their time on the shore, there are plenty of beaches to keep you occupied. Otto’s beach in the north is a clear favourite. The white sands, shady coconut trees and trendy beach bar tick all the boxes. Far from being overcrowded, you’ll easily find an ideal spot on the beach and it won’t be long before you find yourself bobbing up and down in the warm turquoise shallows while sipping on a rum cocktail. There are a number of more discreet beaches strung out along the eastern and southern shores of the Island for those wanting an even quieter setting. You might need to do some bush-whacking and venture down the trails less travelled in order to find these hidden gems.
#7. Accommodation Options are Abundant
Accommodation options on Little Corn Island cater for a wide range of travel budgets. Dotted around the Island from north to south are high-end resorts, mid-range hotels and cheaper backpacker hostels. Only some accommodation options are listed on popular booking sites. Others tend not to advertise on-line due to poor internet availability. However, if you are travelling to the Island during the high season, booking accommodation ahead of time is a good idea.
On our arrival we learned of numerous home-stays offered by locals renting out rooms for around US$12. This might appeal to those travelling long term on a tight budget. Another benefit is the chance to immerse yourself in the local culture and get a feel for Island life.
#8. Small Island, Big Heart
The residents of Little Corn Island are amongst the friendliest that we have come across on our travels. Of course one explanation for this might be that smoking marijuana is a popular pastime. With a population estimated at less than a thousand people, the Island has a strong sense of community. We found the old-timers to be particularly endearing, usually found sitting in a rocking chair on their porch keeping an eye on the comings and goings. Always ready with a warm greeting, they are also eager to impart a few Caribbean words of wisdom. “A chocolate a day keeps the devil away” was probably one of our favourites, especially given that the old bugger was climbing into a box of chocolates at the time. Wise words indeed.
Hopefully we have inspired you to plan a visit to Little Corn Island. Have a look at Our Budget Route to Little Corn Island to learn more about how we got to this little piece of paradise.