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The Most Perfect Island Getaway: Nicaragua's Corn Islands

Posted by Emily Henkel on 5/17/22 10:30 AM

Corn Island Nicaragua

Who knew you could find the prettiest Caribbean turquoise beaches and sandy shores in Nicaragua? 

A trip to Nicaragua is all about the most amazing vacations and adventures. Come zip line through thick forests, head to the top of a volcano to sled down the side, explore brightly colored Colonial streets and more, all on a budget. You're getting the same adventures with an off-the-beaten-path feel, for a fraction of the price. 

Our newest Nicaraguan obsession? The Corn Islands — a collection of amazingly pretty islands that you can have all to yourself, complete with crazy low prices when it comes to places to stay and things to do. Red alert, paradise has officially been found! 


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Caribbean blue water and swaying palm trees might not come to mind when you think of Nicaragua, but if you head to the Corn Islands, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Since this spot is such an off-the-radar vacation to most of the world, we've pulled together all the things you need to plan your trip. Things like how to get here for cheap, places to stay, places to eat, details on what to do, and the pros of both of the main islands (you're welcome!). 

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Where Are These Unreal Islands? 

Find the Corn Islands about 50 miles from the eastern coast of Nicaragua. There are technically two Corn Islands; one known as Big Corn and the other's known as Little Corn, though neither is very big at all — just tiny little specs found suspended in the turquoise ocean. We'll get to the details on both of these islands later, but plan on visiting both during your stay: they are quite different.

You will want to come here for a quiet, hidden getaway; neither of these islands are commercialized or built up. Little Corn just recently got electricity so you can expect days and nights crammed full of relaxation! Either island will mean lots of snorkeling, wandering between palm trees, yoga lessons, and hanging out in the perpetually 80° weather. Yes, please. 

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All About Little Corn 

As a bit of an introduction, Little Corn is a lot smaller and low-key than Big Corn; you won’t find any big resorts and there aren’t any paved roads, so it’s a lot quieter and more remote. It's very small — you can walk around the whole island in 1-2 hours, depending on how fast you walk. The little pathways here are narrow (made for bikes) and kind of help create that amazing, remote-getaway feeling while you're wandering around. 

It's about a 40 minute boat ride from Big Corn, so you can easily visit both islands even if you're staying for a couple of days (just know the boat ride can be a little rocky — if you're prone to seasickness, this is a good heads up!).

It's kind of split between where you should spend your time. Some tourists tend to stay on Little Corn for the bulk of their vacation to have a more remote escape experience —  (more locals live on Big Corn): This island is home to more restaurants, a handful of expats who have discovered this place, and a few more things to do on vacation than Big Corn, but we also love all the things about Big Corn (more on that island later). 

Here's what you can't miss on Little Corn: 

Things To Do On Little Corn 

The Beyond Beautiful Beaches 

The beaches here are amazing. Some volunteers said visiting was like living in a real-life postcard, or computer screensaver. Picture sugar soft sand and beyond beautiful water, depending on which beach you're visiting.

We have listed out some favorites below (recommended by our volunteers) just know that this island is quieter than the already-quiet Big Corn. If you venture off the path to find your own stretch of sand, you’ll most likely need to pack up your own food, towels and other beach items; it’s not likely you’ll visit a beach that has beach chairs to rent out or public bathrooms to use. When we say "rugged beaches" we're talking about ones that aren't trimmed back or combed: you'll likely find seaweed drying in the sand, no facilities around, and hardly any crowds at all on some of the beaches on the island.

It's highly recommended you spend a day walking around the whole island, with a backpack of beach supplies. That way, you're all set for a beach day when you stumble on some of the hidden coves around the island. 

However, these beaches are the ones our volunteers recommend spending a day or two!  

Visiting Yemaya's Resort Beach 

The prettiest beach on Little Corn is in front of the luxury resort, Yemaya. You can spend hundreds of dollars to stay there ... or you can just enjoy the beach in front of the hotel. They clear the sand of seaweed and other debris so you get a postcard worthy picture. 

Otto Beach 

Find this pretty beach right next to Yemaya's Resort Beach. You'll find another swing to take pictures with, along with some gorgeous golden sand. At this beach, you can sometimes find a man next to fish bar in a little shack that sells delicious coconuts (you can also get a $20 per person snorkeling tour through this guy if you can find him — more on snorkeling tours below though). 

Finding Goat Beach 

You have lots of beaches on this island, but a favorite is Goat Beach. It's rarely crowded and pretty private, with decent swimming. Score. Finding it is a bit tricky — you'll want to head to the Fry Fish Bar, then go left (if you're looking at the ocean). When you think you're at the end of the beach, keep walking ... there is a wood staircase and a remote beach waiting for you! On your way, snap a few pictures at "the swing" (you won't be able to resist).

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Go Snorkeling

There are plenty of snorkel options that are more than affordable. Some people joke that you don't find snorkeling on Little Corn, it finds you.  Most snorkel options are 2-4 hours long for about $20-$40 (so that's crazy affordable). You can easily see why snorkeling is so popular once you dip down below the waves: Little Corn Island boasts its own "barrier reef" with colorful fish and bunches of coral reefs under the turquoise water. 

Pretty much every established beach will have some vendors nearby who either rent out snorkel gear, or can arrange a tour with you (especially along the east side of the island). If you don't want to hunt around, head to the beaches in front of the Yemaya resort and the nearby Fry Fish bar: both have good off-beach snorkeling (and a handful of businesses who can rent gear out for you). 

ILP volunteers who have visited have snorkeled with Tuba, who is a well-known boat driver in the area. He does a tour for 1500 c (just ask around to find him). Others have gone with Sunset Cafe, where snorkeling is $20 per person. They will take you out to 2-3 different spots where volunteers have seen starfish, schools of fish, and even little sharks. Also, like we mentioned, you can book snorkeling at the little stall on Otto Beach. 

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Do Some Yoga

Need to relax a bit more? Quite a few people come to Little Corn Island for a yoga retreat, staying at some of the premier destinations on the island (like Yemaya Reefs or the Light House), but even if you're not staying at one of these high-end resorts, you can still unwind with ocean-view yoga. 

Past volunteers suggest asking around to see if local hostels or studios have walk-in classes for a drop-in fee. Some of these resorts have yoga exclusively for guests, but that's not the case for everyone. Just know that two of the most popular studios (Funk Yoga and Firefly) have closed, but you may have some luck asking around, and seeing if you can join a class at one of the resorts above. 

Day Trip To The Pearl Keys  - Don't Miss This! 

If you’d like to visit another fabulous Nicaraguan island, you can easily book a tour to take you over to the Pearl Keys from Little Corn Island. The Pearl Keys are a series of 18 islands (12 actually, after a handful have been covered with rising tides) that are absolutely picture-perfect  — they're mostly uninhabited, though you'll find a ritzy all-inclusive hotel on one, and another place to stay on the other. Other than those exceptions, you're gearing up for a trip to remote islands, all to yourself.

Some ILP groups said this was the total highlight of their vacation "The Pearl Cays are INCREDIBLE" ... it's a can't miss experience! You'll head out here for the day and feel like you have your very own private island. It's so dreamy. 

One ILP group mentions a few tips to help you out if you go their route — they went with Adam and Elvis (Little Corn is so small you can just ask around for these two specifically, everyone kinda knows everyone here). You can take a day trip out here, or do an overnight trip with a BBQ on the beach, just depending on what you want your visit to look like. You will take a smaller boat to get to the Keys, and leave early in the morning (plan on paying the night before so gas and food can be purchased the night before). The boat ride does get bumpy so be prepared with motion sickness medicine if you're prone to sea sickness. It's about a 90-minute boat ride to arrive. 

There were other groups who went with another company and had these details to share: Plan on paying anywhere from $50 to $70 (depending on the size the group going — but some said to be prepared for more like $75 - $100) for the whole day, transportation, snorkel gear, and meals included. However, we did find this company, that takes out a group of 10 for $70 per person, book here

In any case, the Peal Keys (or Cays) are a fantastic addition to your Corn Island experience. 

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Star Gazing

The electricity on the island isn't 24/7 (more on that later) so you can imagine how brilliant the star gazing is here, so far removed from the lights of the mainland.  Tune in to the soundtrack of the waves crashing on nearby shores and spend time gazing up at the Milky Way. 

Go Deep Sea Fishing 

Anyone here a fan of seafood? There are tours available that will take you out on a fishing excursion to catch your own dinner! Imagine bouncing through the waves to pull in the catch of the day, then having it prepped and grilled for you for a beach-side dining experience. Unreal.

You can do this at a couple of different spots. One group went with David (and his crew) and had rave reviews. "For an extra $10 he and his wife will cook what you caught and make you an entire dinner. The fish was seasoned with lemon garlic, and then they made plantain chips, salad, and rice. Seriously the yummiest fish I’ve ever eaten and I’m from Seattle and grew up eating fish." This was $50 a person, and you can reach out via Whatsapp: +505-8416-7437

You can also contact Mariano at (505)8633-9442 or go to Yemaya Beach to book a $70 tour (but they don't cook your fish for you). 

If you do book, know that the waters can be kind of rough, so it's recommended that you take something for sea sickness. 

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Places To Eat On Little Corn 

Rosa's 

Easily one of the more popular and tasty places to eat, plan on trying Rosa's a couple of times while on Little Corn. It's known for bomb seafood (try the garlic shrimp) and yummy sides (like mashed potatoes) and dessert for a great price — we're talking in the $5 range for some of the restaurant's best options, and a big breakfast for around $3.  If you want to taste the "must try local dish", order a "run down", a seafood soup seasoned with a coconut broth. 

Find it: Rosa's doesn't have a set address, Google has it pinned here

Tranquilo Cafe 

Worth a visit for the vibe and food. Found right on the beach, this cafe is serving up some favorites from home like burgers and barbecue, and of course, some fresh seafood. Come for fish tacos, plates of french fries, and loaded nachos, all served with a coastal breeze. They also have smoothies, brownies, cakes, cookies and ice cream for when you want something sweet. 

Find it: It's on the "front side" of the two dive shops on Pelican Bay. 

Miss Bridget's 

Don't miss this place! It's a fan favorite with locals and tourists. Garlic shrimp, garlic lobster, and a dish called the Frito (fried chicken piled high on a plate of fried plantains and cabbage) — this is a number one pick for lunch. The cutie Miss Bridget who owns the place also makes her own coconut oil which makes an appearance in most of the dishes on the menu. Prices are around 260c. 

Find it: Near the dock on Pelican Beach, here's their info on Trip Advisor. 

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Where To Stay On Little Corn 

Sick of all the perks about taking a vacation here? Well, get ready for a few more. The places to stay here are dreamy as heck, and so affordable. In general, you can find a couple of hotels and 1-2 hotels, and a handful of Airbnbs ... the majority have crazy low prices and are beachside to boot. Here are just a few places to check out (good luck choosing!)

Palmeras Beachfront Hotel

We've had ILP groups stay here in the past loving the perk that there's breakfast available. The staff was also helpful, providing ideas on how to spend time on the island or information about different excursions or activities. Book your room here

Three Brothers

This hostel has a killer location, within a 10 minute walk to the Palanga water taxi pier, a beach or two, and a handful of the restaurants you'll want to visit. Three Brothers also boasts a chill hang out spot complete with hammocks, a shared kitchen where you can cook some meals, and very affordable rooms, starting at $25 a night (shared with 2 people). Book your room here

This Jungle AirBnB 

This place runs on solar, is tucked away in the jungles (near the beach) creating that remote getaway adventurous travelers are looking for. There are hammocks strung upstairs, plants in the living room (growing through the floor) and no glass on the windows. Talk about a low-key vibe! The place sleeps 5, at only $44 a night. Book here. 

Sea View Hotel 

Found right on the beach, you can plan on splashing in the ocean and hanging out on chairs on this hotel's porch. Rooms are very affordable (pretty basic, but set up with all the necessities) and start at $20 a night for a double room. Book here. 

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All About Big Corn 

This is where the locals hang out — it's more built up, and less of a tourist scene, but well worth your time! Some ILP Volunteers liked the feel of Big Corn more than that of Little Corn (it's really split on where you should spend your time). One thing that is nice about Big Corn is that it's a bigger island, so you have more room to spread out and taxis to take if you don't feel like walking. Taxis are 20 cordoba per person no matter where you are going which is handy. Good to know: They pick up multiple people along the way until the car is full. 

Just know that "big" and "built up" still translates to a pretty remote and secluded getaway! 

Now that you know the down low on how to get around here are the highlights to see on Big Corn: 

Renting Bikes + This Deserted Beach

You can ride over the whole island in 1-2 hours by bike, which sounds like a pretty good way to start exploring! Some past visitors mention that you can head to the Paraiso Beach Hotel to ask around about bike rentals. There are reports of people hanging around the island who have connections with rentals — they're typically $2-4 an hour, with a possible discount if you rent all day (6 hours or more). 

Past ILP groups have also had luck renting from Webster, who used to own the Island Roots Hostel, which is now closed. He also had info about visiting a private beach pretty close to that hostel, but he has the details on that if you can track him down. 


A Few Beaches
 
Being an island, you'll want to spend some time in the waves, right? Swimming is calmest on the southwest side of the island — and we think you absolutely need to visit a place called Arenas beach. You can get a day pass here for $10, which can go towards something off their menu. If you need a little convincing, here's what one ILP volunteer said " One of the prettiest beaches we’ve ever been to in our lives. Crystal blue water, white sands, and great chairs to relax in." Think calm, clear water that doesn't get too deep and stays perfectly calm. 
 
Pic-Nic Beach. is right next to Arenas Beach if you keep walking for about 5 more minutes. It is free but doesn’t have as nice of areas to lay out in, but the water is still amazingly pretty. Plus, if you swim out pretty far, you may get lucky and find some starfish. There are huge, orange starfish that sometimes can be found if you get out far enough. Plus, the water is so clear that no snorkel gear is needed to spot these pretty things! Peek the picture below to get an idea of what Pic-Nic beach is like. 
 
Victoria Beach is most well known, found on the northeast corner.  
 
Long Bay is on the southeast side but out of the way — you'll want to take a taxi. 
 
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This "Alien" Hike 

Pleasant Hill is the name of the highest point of the island, and is worth the climb if you want the view. It's not the highest thing you'll summit if you plan to trek some volcanoes in Nicaragua, but it's nice change of pace from the beaches. One thing that makes this hike even more interesting is this alien-like pyramid that's a part of an artistic movement called the Soul of the World. It's about an hour long hike. 

Places To Eat On Big Corn 

Spekito's Place 

Found on the South East side of the island, this place has good food at pretty cheap prices. They have delicious tacos, salsa served with crispy plantains, really yummy grilled chicken with rice, and a few other favorites. ILP groups love this place! Oh, and as an added perk, you can feed the nurse shakes that lazily swim around the restaurant. 

Hours: 11:00 AM to 12:00 AM 

The Pizzeria Italia 

A total favorite, this Italian place serves up the yummiest pizza. Prices are a bit higher (around $12) but the pizzas are large enough to share which is nice. It comes highly recommended from ILP volunteers who have gone here again and again ... some even say it's the best food on the island!

Hours: 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM 

Seaside Grill 

Found on the north end of the island, this place has the best seafood (all in US prices which does make it a bit more expensive). Seafood Grill is a bit of a nicer place, but worth visiting if you want to spend a bit more. They have a bomb blackened fish, really good grilled whole fish, ceviche, as well as chicken and pasta dishes for those who don't want seafood.  Prices are in the $8 to $18 USD range. 

Hours: 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM 

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Where To Stay On Big Corn

We have a few places we think you'll just be high-key obsessed over ... because having a fun hostel or hotel is a big part of the vacation, right? As always, check before booking to see if hostels, AirBnBs, or hotels are open! 

The Wave (Mimundo) Hostel 

This place is right on the beach. No, but really, it couldn't be closer! Look out the windows and see the dreamy, aqua waves and palm fronts. Yep, it's a favorite! Head up to the second floor balcony for a killer sunset view and cook up some breakfast, lunch or dinner in the communal kitchen. Book here. 

Just so you know this place is called The Wave, but was formerly known as Mimundo just in case you see both names floating around while booking. 

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Paraiso Beach Club Hotel 

If you're wanting a more luxury experience, this is the way to go. You can book a stay on one of these very island-y cabanas, take advantage of the free breakfast,  and the nearby stretch of beach (with umbrellas and chairs). They even have a morning workout class ($2 for guests, $8 for a drop in). Sounds pretty nice to me! 

Rooms are about $70 a night, but you can split the price. Book here. 

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A Few Tips For Your Trip

This Is A Pretty Remote Getaway 

The Corn Islands are definitely off the beaten track, and you'll see all the perks of this on your trip. You'll run into stretches of deserted beaches, low prices for food and activities, and an experience not many people get to have.

That low-key vibe extends to all accommodation options (it's pretty bare bones, filled with your necessities, but not many have luxuries like air conditioning). If you're looking for a luxurious resort vacation, plan on going to other Caribbean islands. 

How Long Do I Stay? 

Plan on 4-5 days (you'll want ample time to explore both of the islands). I'd suggest sticking to one island as your base (like Little Corn) then visiting Big Corn for a day or two to check out the vibe there, on your way back (you'll need to catch the flight back home on Big Corn). You can fit everything in if you have about three full days, but this place is all about relaxation ... so best to stretch it for four or even five days if you can. 

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Bring Cash + A Quick Head's Up On Electricity

There isn’t an ATM on Little Corn island so bring enough cash for your trip (or make a trip to Big Corn — there's one ATM there). Most restaurants, accommodations, and tours only take cash, not cards. Around other locations in Nicaragua, you'll find that most places accept US cash and cordobas, but that's not really the case on the Corn Islands. Best to have plenty of cordobas available when visiting.
 
The electricity doesn't run all of the time on Little Corn, so plan on packing up a flashlight for evenings, and a battery-powered fan to help you keep cool if the power's off when you're sleeping. 

What Island To Choose? 

Most travelers stay on Little Corn. Though Big Corn is larger (and more established), Little Corn is the spot for backpackers looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience (though hanging out on Big Corn is also worth your time). Both islands offer beaches, snorkeling, walks through palm trees, lots of hammocks, and casual spots to grab some fresh seafood. 

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How Do I Get There?

The best way to get to the Corn Islands is by plane. We are huge fans of flying directly from Managua to Big Corn Island. Some adventurous travelers make it to Bluefields first then board a cargo ship that takes 7 hours where pretty much everyone gets seasick. It's adventurous: ie, not convenient or comfortable at all. Like we said, that direct flight from Managua to Big Corn is perfect.  It's a 90 minute flight (ish) and the view is absolutely stunning! 

Here's the info on flying from Managua to Big Corn.  Please double check flight times, prices, and restrictions before booking — the info here and below is for reference, but these details can frequently change! 

Fly Directly From Managua To Big Corn 

Head to Managua and hop on a small plane that'll take you to the tiny airstrip right on Big Corn Island. There are two departures per day, and La Costena is the airline to book with.

Here's their "Managua to Big Corn" schedule (though sometimes the planes leave late, on typical Nica time). 

Fare Cost  Departure From Managua Arrival On Big Corn 
$82.11 6:30 AM  7:50 AM 
$82.11 2:00 PM  3:20 PM 


And their "Big Corn to Managua" schedule (though sometimes the planes leave late, on typical Nica time): 

Fare Cost  Departure From Big Corn Arrival In Managua
$82.11 8:10 AM  9:10 AM
$82.11 3:40 PM  5:00 PM 

 

So, in total, you're looking at $164 for a roundtrip flight there, from Managua. Even when prices fluctuate, they typically hang around the $200-$240 range, which is quite affordable for this kind of beachy-getaway, especially since prices are so low once you arrive on the islands.

Just so you know, these planes are tiny,  about 12 seats, and they'll weigh you + your luggage to make sure the planes won't be overweight. Your checked bag can only be 30 lbs, and your carry-on bag can only be 20 lbs. After you check in at the counter you'll get your boarding pass, which is a laminated cardstock ticket (all the same except numbered in the corner). Next go to the window on the other side of the room to pay for a small taxi (it's about $3 USD on the way there, and $2 USD on the way back. You can pay in US cash or cordobas). Then you go through security to get into the waiting area.  There are bathrooms and a small bar for buying drinks, snacks, muffins, sandwiches, etc. 

Once you land on Big Corn, you're good to go, or head to Little Corn. 

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Getting From Big Corn To Little Corn

Remember, you'll land directly on Big Corn if you take that direct flight. To get to Little Corn, get yourself to Municipal Wharf in Brig Bay. You’ll find water taxis (pangas) to take you over, with a one-way ticket costing about $5 or $20 a person depending on your departure time.

The tickets are first come, first serve so you'll want to arrive about 45-60 minutes early to help secure your seat.   The ride takes about a 1/2 hour to an hour, depending on weather, and can get bumpy so best to bring some anti-nausea if you get sea sick. Hint: Sit towards the back of the boat for the smoothest ride, around the middle of the boat if you don't want to get wet. The front is really bouncy. 

There are two panga departures daily, so make sure you don't miss the boat! Here's the boat schedule for getting in between these islands: 

  • Big Corn to Little Corn at 10:30 AM ($20 per person) & 4:30 PM ($5 per person)
    Little Corn to Big Corn at 6:30 AM ($5 per person) & 4:00 PM ($20 per person) 
  •  

The ferries hardly ever leave on time, especially during low season, but you'll want to get there early anyway. 

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Ready for more in Nicaragua?

If you love the beaches on Nicaragua's Corn Islands, you will adore all the other adventures you can have (for cheap!). Nicaragua is still on the down-low, travel wise, so you can go zip lining in the jungle or sledding down a volcano for just a few dollars. We're sending volunteers to help out in this humanitarian program (and others); you can get more info by clicking that button: 

Discover Nicaragua

 

Topics: Central America

 


*Because of the worldwide pandemic, travel options are limited and frequently changing. You'll need to do additional research as resources + activities shared in this post may or may not be available at the time of your trip.

ILP volunteers — work closely with your Program Manager who can help you understand current country entrance requirements which will determine what countries you can visit during your semester. 


 

 

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We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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