It’s about time for a tropical beach vacation again! I knew Little Corn (La Islita), a Nicaraguan island in the Caribbean, would be a safe bet judging from my experiences there in 2008.
We arrived in Managua and stayed for what we thought would’ve been one night at Camino Real, a large, modern hotel close to the airport and not really anything else, unless you count the casino next door. They offer free airport shuttle service, though at the time it seemed like it had to be pre-arranged (maybe because it was the low season?). A room with a king size bed was 90USD with an amazing breakfast! A lot of the people there had a lot of attitude, but it was a good place to get refreshed and cleaned up.
I had assumed that we didn’t have to pre-book our flights from Managua to Big Corn via their domestic airline, La Costena, but I was wrong. The afternoon flight (they have two flights a day, 630am and 2pm) was completely booked. As we were waiting on standby in the domestic terminal, it started raining.. torrential, tropical style. This delayed the flight, and although we were told the entire flight was cancelled, we found out the next day that only the second leg of the flight was cancelled– passengers spent the night in Bluefields, on the coast of Nicaragua. I walked next door to the La Costena agency and booked for the 630am flight the next morning, about 169USD each, round-trip. To play it safe, we decided to fly back to Managua a day early instead of the original plan, which was flying back on the early morning flight and spending 4-5 hours at the Managua airport before our flight home.
After landing in Big Corn’s tiny airport, we shared a taxi with a traveler from Belgium who had been on a year-long trip. It costs 1USD (or 15 cordoba) to get anywhere on the island, including the pier. There is a pier tax (can’t remember the amount but it was pretty low). We had some time to kill so we grabbed a bite to eat at the nearby restaurant. There, we met the British couple that runs Dive Little Corn, one of two dive shops on La Islita. They’ve taken a lot of extra certification classes, including one aimed at handicapped divers.. you could clearly tell that they were in it because they love diving, not necessarily to just make money. The panga from Big to Little Corn costs 110 cordoba per person and takes about 30-40 minutes.
We had a reservation for five nights at Little Corn Beach & Bungalow (LCBB), a newer (it wasn’t there in 2008) highly rated place to stay on the ocean-side of the island. This little spot is owned by a couple from Colorado, soon to be managed by another couple that is moving from their resort in Granada (the wife is American and the husband Portuguese). They’re all super nice and accommodating. The rest of the employees are locals; I’ve had some of the best service ever at this place, including at their restaurant, Turned Turtle. Also, Turned Turtle has some of the BEST food I’ve ever had! The best filet mignon, the best lobster tail, the best butter garlic shrimp.. the list goes on– and this is compared with every other restaurant I’ve been to around the world and at home. The prices are great by American standards, 15-20USD for those meals, which include appetizer, salad and dessert. Their pina coladas and margaritas are amazing as well– I’ve been thinking about them everyday since I got home! We spent the first four nights in a 84USD/night ‘Gulliver’ level bungalow, which includes a mini fridge that works when the island has power (it goes off everyday from 5am-2pm) and the last night in a ‘Crusoe’ level which is 20USD cheaper, but has way fewer amenities (since we missed the first La Costena flight, we pushed our reservation back one night but had to switch bungalows the last night due to another booking). I would say the worst con was that the Crusoe had no fan, and even though it had windows, we still ended up sleeping with the door open. A little aggravating, considering there were a few storms that rolled in throughout the night! Overall, LCBB was an awesome place to stay. Two unique perks I really appreciated was that they have someone that will meet you at the panga and transport your luggage in their wheelbarrow, and will walk you back when you leave (you will be extra appreciative in the rainy season when the trails are super muddy and slippery). The other unique perk is that they have wifi when there’s electricity.. not that I was too attached to my inboxes, but it was convenient in terms of checking other reservations, etc.
Besides lounging around on their hammocks, eating and drinking at Turned Turtle, reading your book on the veranda of your bungalow, LCBB also has kayak and snorkel rentals. Brian snorkeled from the beach and swam all the way to the reef, but it took a lot of effort. Another morning, we booked a 15USD, 2-stop snorkel trip with some guides that stopped by the LCBB beach. We spent a lot of time playing dominoes as well. Oh, what a hard life!
If LCBB is beyond your budget, I recommend staying at Derek’s Place, on the same side of the island. I stayed here last time and fell completely in love with it. It’s more affordable than LCBB, but that also means less amenities.
A note about Little Corn is that this is not a 5-star location. Electricity is limited, and most of the places to stay encourage limited water usage since the only water sources are an aquifer and collected rainwater. There are NO paved roads– there are only a few dirt paths that cross the jungly interior of the island, though most places are on the beaches so you can just walk along the shore. The plumbing is sensitive, so all toilet paper must be thrown away, not flushed (most Central American countries are like this). Only cash is usually accepted, and even then, they have to scramble for change if you try to pay with a larger bill. There are no banks or ATMs on this island, though there is one on Big Corn with an ATM that gives you dollars or cordobas.
We spent our one night on Big Corn at Sunrise Hotel, which is where I stayed last time. Even Scott at LCBB said Sunrise Hotel was a great place to stay. Their ocean-view rooms are 55USD/night. A little old, but really clean and well-furnished, with lots of natural lighting. Big Corn is noticeably more developed than what I remember. As in, there actually is a slum there now. There used to be more Garifuna than Nicas but that’s not the case anymore. One very unexpected thing was that there seemed to be a lot of tourists from the American South here..!!?? We met one guy at Sunrise, who works on an offshore oil rig in Louisiana. He showed us some nasty looking cuts on his palm and bicep (nasty as in, fat tissue was visible), telling us he got completely drunk the night before, rented a golf cart, convinced some local woman to drive it even though she insisted she didn’t know how to (‘well, you’d probably drive it better than me right now!’), then crashed it. He flew off and the first thing he grabbed was barbed wire.. refused to go to the hospital to get stitches, was still in his bloodied clothes drinking his beer at the bar the following morning, which is when we met him. These are the Americans that give the rest of the Americans a bad reputation abroad!! I have no pity for him.
We had a couple hours to kill that morning before our flight so we ended up renting a golf cart ourselves (25USD for their 2-hr minimum) and driving around. There are still no souvenir shops, which is a good and bad thing! Anyway, I was right to book our La Costena flight back to Managua a day early. That flight was delayed by a few hours! It’s really saying something when my experience with that airline was way better three years ago. But, what can you do? That’s the only airline that services Big Corn. I highly recommend leaving a big buffer on both sides of the trip. We stayed at Camino Real for our last night in Nicaragua. Same crabby attitude, same great rooms. I love Little Corn, but it’s definitely nice to be able to take a long, hot shower with great water pressure, and then step out in an air-conditioned room with low humidity. And now, back to a fast-paced life complete with traffic jams, smartphones, rapid-fire emails and excel spreadsheets. Until next time…