A Love For Tiny Islands
There are times in life when you need to simply get away. I am not talking about a weekend trip to the city or a week's vacation packed with activities. I am talking about a tiny island, far from it all, where you can gladly do nothing. Specifically, I am suggesting Little Corn Island in Nicaragua. This teeny, tiny island has no roads, no cars, and no agenda. It is the perfect destination for disconnecting from the outside world. We loved the beautiful balance of recharge and discovery found on Little Corn Island.
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Shh... The Caribbean's Best-Kept Secret
Only 50 miles from the mainland of Nicaragua, Little Corn Island is not on most people's radar. This Caribbean island is about 1.5 square miles "big" and home to roughly 1,200 people. You will find this lush, tropical island to be full of character, sweet faces, and some of the best snorkeling I have ever experienced. It takes some effort to get here, but once you arrive, you will be so glad you did.
Essential Things to Know - Little Corn Island
Little Corn's charm comes from what it lacks. I love what this island doesn't have; however, you may not. Here is a quick list of what you can expect to find or not find on Little Corn Island.
• No Roads/No Cars - Casual strolls are a beautiful thing. Expect to walk everywhere you want to go. (Remember this island is small...)
• No Bank/No ATM - Come prepared with cash. Some places do take credit cards, but don't count on this as your main form of payment. Good news is that both US Dollars and Nicaraguan Cordobas are accepted throughout the island.
• Limited Supplies - Just to be safe, pack enough of whatever items you absolutely need and can't risk running out of. Medical supplies, toiletry items, even sunscreen and bug spray (please bring reef safe options!).
• No Electricity! - Just kidding, well sort of. There is electricity from 2pm - 6am only. However, the power can go out at any time and has been known to go out for weeks at a time. Many places have back-up generators, so it is best to check with your lodging first if electricity is a concern for you.
• No Phone Service/Wi-fi Limited - Don't forget this is an escape! Some places offer wi-fi if you find you must connect to the internet.
• Seasonal Businesses - Not all restaurants stay open year round. However, we traveled during low season or their rainy season (August - November) and found plenty to eat and drink.
• Only One Way Off/On the Island - You can only reach Little Corn by boats, called “pangas”. You get on the panga from Big Corn Island. You can only reach Big Corn by plane or an incredibly long boat ride. All flights and vessels operate on a limited schedule. So... don't get hurt, okay? It may take a while to get you back to the mainland in the case of an emergency.
• Weather Control - I realize that other places can't control the weather either. Unfortunately, here the weather can make a significant impact on your trip. Too much wind means the boats don't go out. Which means you can't get to the island or get off as planned. Maybe you will want to look into trip insurance? One way to add a little weather flexibility to your trip is by staying on Big Corn Island the night before you plan to fly back to mainland Nicaragua.
How to Get to Little Corn - Meet the Panga
I mentioned that the only way to get to Little Corn Island is by boat or really, the “panga”. Maybe you have read reviews on the panga ride and have an idea of what to expect. We had two wildly different experiences. “Wild” is an understatement when describing the boat ride to Little Corn. If there is one thing I can guarantee, it is the fact that you are going to get wet, or possibly even soaked.
Once you land on Big Corn Island, you will need to take a taxi to the ferry dock. From there you can purchase tickets for the panga. Tickets are "first come, first served" and will run about $6 each way. Get there early – pangas are not always on "island time" and might leave early.
Our first panga experience was a memorable one! The Corn Islands were two out of several stops on our whirlwind tour of Nicaragua with our good friend and her family - all of which are native Nicaraguans. They opted to stay on Big Corn Island while we visited Little Corn for a couple nights.
We were handed a life jacket and packed into the panga. The panga was full of locals, tourists, boxes of chicken meat, you name it. They then ran a sheet of plastic alongside the people sitting on the sides, which seemed strange. Then we took off. It was 8 miles (30+ minutes) of wave jumping, eh, "fun." The sea spray was so extreme I could not open my eyes. That is what the plastic was for… try to get under it if you can! As the waves came in, I spent equal amounts of time on and off my seat. We may have arrived thoroughly soaked and a little roughed up, but it was an exhilarating experience and totally worth the price of admission. In contrast, our return trip to Big Corn Island was gentle and mild on a calm sea. We got only a little wet that time.
Tips on Surviving Your Panga Ride
• Dry packs for valuables and gadgets are a must!
• Bring a garbage bag to put your luggage in.
• Sit up front for less water, or in the back for fewer bumps. Catch-22?
• Wear a rain jacket or poncho. It might help.
• Secure all your belongings. Hang on tight to hats, sunglasses, etc.
• Contact wearer? Consider taking them out. I almost lost mine.
• Have fun! Don't worry – the survival rate is very high ; )
Las Palmeras Beachfront Hotel - Little Corn Lodging
We loved our stay at Las Palmeras Beachfront Hotel! They have a great location at the end of one of the main paved walkways. The property alone is impressive – you could stay here your entire time if you wish. They have a kitchen with delicious food options and a full bar. The rooms are adorable, spacious, and clean with balconies or patios. You'll find many comfortable places to hang out for the day including decks for lounging and yoga, reclining chairs, and hammocks. Our favorite thing about Las Palmeras was their floating dock! We swam out to this dock every day and then every night for a sunset celebration (more on that further down).
Las Palmeras was very affordable, especially considering the amenities. The owner and staff were all very gracious and warm! Also, because I know you are wondering, they do have wi-fi. They also offer discounts on dive tour prices if you are certified and interested.
Snorkel the Belize Barrier Reef
If you are like me and non-stop relaxing is not your thing, Little Corn still has a lot to offer. My favorite thing to do while visiting the Caribbean is to go snorkeling! Both of the Corn Islands are located near the Belize Barrier Reef. Just so you know, the Belize Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Site and is second in length to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is also a healthy, intact reef with some of the best snorkeling I have ever experienced.
Our lodging arranged a snorkeling tour for us with a local Olympic swimmer... well, not really, but this guy could swim fast! This tour off Little Corn Island was the best snorkeling trip I have ever been on when you consider the quantity of wildlife, the quality of the reef, and the most dramatic and stunning underwater landscapes I have ever seen. But our guide was impossible to keep up with. We were absolutely exhausted by the end of our tour. At one point he swam through a giant swarm of jellyfish without hesitation. I didn't know if I should follow or risk getting stranded in the middle of the ocean as he started to vanish from my sight… I went for it and survived unscathed. What a surreal experience!
I definitely recommend you find the time to check out the reef. Hopefully, you get a guide that allows you to take a moment to actually look around instead of flying by. Despite the athleticism needed to keep up, I truly enjoyed this tour as we did cover so much of the reef and were able to see lots of sea creatures.
Other Things to do on Little Corn Island
Most of the options for lodging and restaurants are on the south side of the island; however the best beaches are found on the north side. You can easily walk the dirt path that cuts through the middle of the island to the north side. The trek alone is pretty interesting – once we arrived I was blown away by just how beautiful these beaches are. White sand. Clear waters. Gorgeous palm trees.
It is no wonder this is where you will also find the most luxurious lodging on the island - Yemaya Island Hideaway. If boutique villas are in your budget, then you might want to check these out. Also, practically next door is Ensuenos, a funky-fun eco-lodge. We stopped and grabbed a couple drinks to enjoy on their wonderfully perfect beach!
Best Places to Eat & Drink - Little Corn Island
We only stayed on Little Corn Island for 2 nights (not enough time!), which means we didn't have too many opportunities to try out the local restaurants. However, we did something we never do - we ate at the same place twice! When dining on Little Corn Island, there is one place that you must try - Darinia's Kitchen. Darinia's is precisely what I hope to find when I travel. A local proprietor, making genuine food from their heart that combines their culture and heritage with whatever inspires their own life journey. Darinia fuses Caribbean foods with Asian flavors and provides a truly unique island experience. I could go on and on about this place, but my husband Evan already has - you can read his review by clicking here.
Elsewhere on the island, we found Tranquilo Cafe to be a great place for breakfast as well as late night drinks. We were on the island for Halloween, and they had quite the party going on. Tranquilo attracts many tourists as well as locals and is often the place to be at night. During the day, this is a great place to catch a bite to eat while hopping on their wi-fi. I also loved that they carry a few unexpected items like SD cards – running out of memory mid-vacation is the worst! Evan loved that they offered beer other than Toña.
Sunset Celebrations & Loving Life
When traveling, Evan and I look forward to sunset celebrations. I think it all started after a trip to Key West, Florida where they celebrate every sunset. Anyway, sunset celebrations are a beautiful tradition and I would love for you to join in with us! It is easy to do. For example, while on Little Corn we would grab a bucket of iced beers (that our lodging hooked us up with) and paddle them out to the floating dock. From there, we would look back on our day and all the great experiences we had while waiting for the sun to set. As the sky filled with the most beautiful pinks and purples, we were reminded of how wonderful life can be. Try your own sunset celebration next time you are somewhere special - or maybe even tonight… wherever you may find yourself.
Safety Concerns on Little Corn Island
People always want to know, are the Corn Islands safe? I can testify that I never once felt unsafe while on Little Corn Island or even Big Corn Island. However, we went knowing that (like all the places you travel) you need to travel smart. Stay alert, don't leave things lying around, or your room door unlocked. Use common sense and don't compromise yourself. It is probably not a good idea to go out at night and get really drunk. I would not advise a late night walk through the middle of the island where there are no lights. We made a solo-female friend on the night of the Halloween party who asked us to walk her home when it was time to go. This is an easy precaution to make, and keeps you from walking around alone at night. But this should not deter you from a trip anywhere. You should take precautions and keep your wits about you no matter where you may roam.
Inspiration - Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
If you are intrigued by a lifestyle where the closest thing you have to a car is a wheelbarrow - then Little Corn Island might be for you. If you think that sounds bonkers then maybe you should look at visiting somewhere else. I created this incredibly high-tech flow chart to help you figure out what island is best for you. Which island will you choose?
Cheers! To Sunset Celebrations!
Freelance Graphic Designer
This trip took place during the fall of 2017. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.