An alternate reality – The Corn Islands

If Isla Bastimenos (Bocas del Toro) captured me in a dream like state, then the Corn Islands presented me with some kind of alternate reality experience.

Getting to the Corn Islands is a task. They are tiny specks of land located in the Caribbean Sea. There is an overland & boat option to get to the islands but this takes at least two days. I flew from Managua to Big Corn for a decent sum, but in only an hour.

The plane was the teensiest plane I had ever been in. Just twelve seats and a ceiling so low no one could stand up straight. Picture a mini van with wings. The journey started out quite smooth, then we hit a storm where we got shaken up a bit by lots of wind and rain. It got pretty bumpy and I needed to take some deep breaths to calm myself. We stopped briefly at Bluefields on the mainland, then over the sea to Big Corn.

Big Corn Island

Now, I only had a couple of days on Big Corn so I can’t say a lot about it, but here are my reflections.

I got a very strange vibe from this island right away. It is about 13 square kilometres, with shops and houses scattered around the island in clusters. Some areas had little or no buildings. The middle of the island is a big swamp. The names proudly displayed on the roadside.

The grocery stores are very basic and have limited supplies. There are a few fruit and veg shops as well as restaurants, comidors and little carts/stands that are dotted here and there. All the other ammenities are here too and of a basic but sufficient nature.

To get around the island, most people use taxis. It costs 20 cordobas (about 70 US cents) to go anywhere on the island, at any time. The taxis pick people up along the way and drop them off wherever. Without knowing really what was going on, I got the sense that some interesting transactions may take place frequently in the taxis and with the assistance of taxis.

The people are generally very friendly and have a relaxed nature. There are areas where it was obvious people were quite under the influence of drugs and alcohol, even during the day. My public health brain was going into overdrive, considering all the complex social and environmental factors that might contribute to these issues and the related health implications.

I had a very bizarre and slightly scary experience one afternoon on the island. I was in the balcony at the front of my hostel and some random guy walked around, just in shorts & white powder all over him. He looked pretty cooked. He was holding two bottles of liquor, stopped dead in front of me, stared, looked me up & down, kept showing me his teeth and licking his teeth. Then he looked at my stuff (my phone and iPad) then kept staring at me. I yelled out to the people in my room who came out and eventually the guy left (but not right away). I saw him go into the house next door. Apparently just after he went upstairs and started talking to a guy about crab soup, then eventually stumbled off down the road. Weird.

Thankfully, I met some great people, Sofi & Jurryt, at my hostel who were also heading over to Little Corn.


Little Corn Island

I was very excited to be going to Little Corn. I had constructed idyllic images in my mind about what I should expect. I can’t say it matched those images completely. In honesty, I could never have expected the experience I ended up having.


Being on Little Corn is weird. Weird but cool, cool but also a bit strange. Have you seen the movie The Beach? Have you ever watched a few episodes of Lost? Have you heard of the Bermuda Triangle? A friend and I decided Little Corn was a kind of a mishmash of all of that. I actually won’t be able to explain it well because I don’t understand it completely myself yet.

To start with, Little Corn Island (LCI) is incredibly beautiful. Palm fringed beaches of soft sand and clear water. Jungle paths so quiet you can hear a coconut drop. No cars; bikes and pedestrians only. No ATMS, limited wifi. Just a little speck in the Caribbean sea, miles from anything resembling civilisation.

The moment you get off the panga (boat), there is a different feel, energy. It’s quite beautiful, but strange.

I spent my days doing what one should on a tiny tropical island: walking around, napping under coconut trees, reading in hammocks, swimming & soaking up the sun. Sofi and Jurryt did their PADI course, which I considered momentarily, then decided on no. There are snorkel tours, kite boarding and other water activities. My mantra was ‘Eat, beach, read, sleep, repeat’ and I was very committed to it. Other than a stack of walking and some workouts, I didn’t do a whole lot more.

It seemed like each evening, everyone on the island congregated in one place. At Taco Tuesday, everyone I’d already met on the island was there, plus some new friends. One evening a cafe had a Nica drumming band perform. I’m not joking when I say everyone from the island was there.

This made LCI really fun. Once you meet someone, you will 100% bump into them another five times that day. Whether it be on a deserted beach, a jungle path or in one of the two cafes with wifi.

After five days on the Corns, I had my fix of beach bummin’. Although a bit of an effort to get to, I was glad I got to see the islands for myself.


I’m now off to León, which will be my last stop for Nicaragua!

Until then,
Mel 🙂


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