Big Corn Island – Nicaragua – A Beginner’s Guide & Where To Stay

Bluefields - Boat Loading

DECEMBER 2017:

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OVERVIEW:

I tried to get from Greytown to Bluefields to catch the boat out to Big Corn Island. I had to abandon this route and make my way from Greytown to Bluefields by land via Rama. This added 1 week to my timeline.Big Corn Island Location Map

I wanted to compare Big Corn Island to the Bay Islands in Honduras (Roatan Island and Utila Island).

I arrived in Bluefields on a Monday and booked myself into the Mini Hotel y Cafetin Central (MHCC) at N$400 / night for a Fan Double with Private Bathroom. I booked 2 nights.MHCC - Room Entry

The room was decent and came with in-room wifi and Cable TV.MHCC - Room Furniture

It was only about 150 meters from the boat dock …MHCC - Ensuite Toilet

… so, it was nice and handy for getting to the boat to Big Corn on Wednesday morning.


BLUEFIELDS TO BIG CORN ISLAND:

I went down to the boat dock on Monday hoping to buy a ticket in advance.

A man (speaking Creole English) told me that I could only buy my ticket after 2pm on the Tuesday from the Office in town … or by queuing at 7am at the boat dock on Wednesday morning. I couldn’t find the office in town, so I had to come back and queue up on Wednesday morning.

DIYTRAVELHQ do an excellent write-up on how to handle the boat trip. In summary:


Rio Escondido Ferry: Bluefields to the Corn Islands:

Assuming you want a semi-reliable option, the Rio Escondido ferry remains your best bet to get to the Corn Islands without flying …

They do not sell tickets in advance, so it is best to begin lining up at the office near the port entrance at 7 am. The line progresses verrrrrrry slowly with each local buying multiple tickets. The cost is C$255 and takes 6-8 rough hours. Simply hand over your passport & money to purchase your ticket and processing.

Buying Tickets for Ferry from Bluefields to Big Corn Island

Getting a Seat on the Rio Escondido ferry:

You have very few comfortable options:

  • Air-conditioned seats inside
  • A few seats (outside but under cover) near the luggage at the back
  • Seats along the sides
  • Top deck

The seas were very rough the day we went & you really want to be inside even if you are sitting on the ground. Many people got drenched just as we were entering the open ocean. Others were severely sunburned on the return …

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Ferry

Tips for Getting a Seat:

First priority inside the air conditioned compartment goes to parents with young children. Assuming you don’t have little ones, here is Rio Escondido’s boarding procedures so you can choose your own strategy …

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Ferry with Passengers Inside Cabin

Claim your seat & don’t budge for anyone. Move unattended luggage if you have to.

(A) Save your seat in advance

The locals tend to arrive early & place something without value on each seat that they want saved. You can try this method & hope that they honor the system, or maximize your chances by gaming their procedures. Around the departure time, almost everyone is escorted off the boat so that tickets can be checked. The first on at that point is sure to receive the seats they already saved. Simply wait by the boat’s side entrance around the departure time for the best placement. Sheena also was allowed to stay on the Rio Escondido both times by just providing the ticket when the conductor went around after evacuating most people.

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Rio Escondido Ferry

If you want to guarantee a seat, stand by the entrance to the Rio Escondido Ferry around departure time.

(B) Take over the life vest seating

When boarding make sure to grab a life vest as you never know with these boats. If you are slightly late getting on the boat or your saved seat is taken, see if the spot previously occupying the life vests is now open. Your next best option may be sitting on the ground in the front.

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Ferry Life Jackets & Interior Seats
(C) Sit with the luggage

When you first board, you are instructed to put your big bag at the back of the boat … Another option is moving luggage off the seats in the rear & claiming them for your own. The area is covered so you will be out of the sun (and rain).

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Rio Escondido Ferry Luggage & Seats

Rio Escondido Ferry Experience: What to Expect:

It was awful! I mean really awful! It is a very painful 6.5 hours & not a pleasant experience with rough seas even with anti-nausea sea-bandsGetting to the Corn Islands without flying is not for the faint-hearted! Probably half the boat was puking, including me. Sheena just happens to be tougher in this regard. Either way, the smell combined with the sounds is not fun. The boat is not that comfortable to begin with, but it was made even worse with people sprawled out on seats & the floor trying to get comfortable. They give you bags to puke into, but anything on the ground is covered with slime by the time you arrive at Big Corn Island!.


MY EXPERIENCE:

Armed with this (above) information, I turned up at the boat dock at 6:45am.

The night before, I prepared my small beach-day backpack to use for claiming my seat. I filled it up with non-valuables such as snacks and water. When I arrived at the ticket office, there were only about 10 people in front of me.Bluefields - Dock - 0645 Queue

The ticket office opened at 7:15am. There was only 1 person doing the ticketing. You give the Ticketer N$255 for your ticket with your Passport or ID. She puts your details onto the ship’s manifest.

Locals just head straight to the front and hit the Ticketer from the sides (by-passing the queue). Some of these were families with young children – which I don’t mind … but all of the locals tried to do it. They aren’t stupid … they were crashing the queue so that they could get to the inside seats first.

Even though I started as #10 in the queue, I didn’t get my ticket until 7:50am!Bluefields - Dock to Boat

I went straight to the boat, dumped my suitcase at the back and headed into the aircon area. I claimed a seat against the window next to the door so that I had plenty of legroom in front of me … I knew that I was going to get knocked a lot by people coming in and out but it was worth it for my long legs. I also had my main backpack that contained my laptop and electronics – I padlocked this up and put it safely under the seat in front of me.

Getting on the boat was chaos. People who were only sending freight scrambled their goods onto the boat to get them into the hold – blocking the way of passengers trying to get on for a seat. Cargo was thrown at the back and onto the roof. One really big bit of furniture ended up occupying the life raft … I was hoping that we wouldn’t need that raft!.Bluefields - Boat Loading

Sure enough, the locals were claiming the aircon area seats – many for there friends (and family) who hadn’t arrived yet. In the whole of the aircon area, only 6 tourists got a seat – all 6 of us were part of the first 10 waiting at the ticket office.Bluefields - Boat - Aircon Seating

At 9am the crew came in to tell everyone to get off for a ticket check. I did a ‘Sheena’, played dumb, stayed in my seat, and didn’t move. There was myself and about 10 other locals that did the same. The crew gave in, let us stay, asked for our tickets, and threw us life jackets. Everyone else boarded again and we set off at 9:30am.

I ended up sitting with the rudest people on the boat – no lies! A big fat woman with a 6-ish year old child took the 2 seats to my right. She took up half of the bench seat – she was fat, but she wasn’t that fat! Just selfish. She took up so much room that you could see part of the bench seat on the far side of her. Her child fidgeted like a little bugger … jumping on and off the seat, treading on me, kicking me, and knocking me without any parental control. He didn’t even touch his mum on the other side – only me. After over 30 minutes of this, I had to give him a stern word (with a smile) and, thank God, he calmed down a bit.

The woman behind be also had a child of about 4-ish. He insisted on knocking and hitting me from behind. She insisted on trying to claim the back of my seat so that she could rest her head and go to sleep. They both insisted on throwing their luggage under my seat and pushing it forward into my legs.

The people coming in and out of the door just trod on my feet without any acknowledgement nor word of a sorry.

After about 1 hour, we arrived in Bluff. We stopped here for 15 minutes to exchange cargo and passengers. Then, we hit open sea. I would say that the seas were ‘average’ on this trip. I say this because we made it to Big Corn in 6 hours (the best time) and not the 8 hours that it takes in bad seas.

Within 30 minutes, the children next to me and behind me started crying and throwing up – they didn’t always manage to get it into the sick bag. It hit our seats and the floor. They were kids – I was OK with it. After about 1 hour, the boy next to me decided to lie down on the floor and go to sleep. Soon after, the boy behind me was doing the same. Over the next 4+ hours several people thew up and quite a few had to shoot past me to get outside to throw up over the side.

With the boy next to me gone, the fat lady next to me decided to slide down the seat, claimed 2/3rds of it, spread out, and pinned me against the window. I woke her and asked her to move up a bit.

The people outside were fine until we got to open sea past Bluff. After that, they all got soaked. I saw one girl, as we docked, wring herself out.Bluefields - Boat - Side Seating

People cleared the bow – it wasn’t possible to stay there comfortably.Bluefields - Boat - Approaching Big Corn

I have excellent sea legs. I have never been sick on a boat – and, I’ve been on worse seas than this … but, with the smell of sick and the enclosed area, I was starting to feel a bit ‘queezy’ 1 hour out from Big Corn Island.

PLEASE NOTE: I noticed that almost all of the locals slept for the whole journey. When the children were sick, their parents told them to go to sleep. I suggest that trying to sleep helps to avoid sea sickness. The ones that tried didn’t seem to get as sick as everyone else.

As we approached Big Corn, the children around me got up. The one next to me was covered in sick (after sleeping in it). He proceeded to throw up on the seat next to me again. This time, I went to the bow to see our final approach into Big Corn Island.Bluefields - Boat - Approching Big Corn Dock 2


IN SUMMARY:

The boat to Big Corn Island is for Backpackers – NOT GRANDPAckers. It is long, uncomfortable, and boring.

MY ADVICE: GRANDPAckers should fly. A return flight from Managua is less than US$200 each. A return flight from Bluefields is less.


ABOUT BIG CORN ISLAND:

Big Corn Island was, originally, colonized by the British … and most native islanders have more in common culturally with other English-speaking Caribbean islands than they do with the mainland of Nicaragua. Many have English surnames.

Tourism on Big Corn Island is still in its infancy as most tourists gather on Little Corn Island. There are almost none of the things one usually associates with tourists traps (tourist markets, huge beach-side developments, time-share condos, etc.). The people are typically friendly and genuine.Big Corn Island Map

Almost everyone on the island speaks both passable Spanish and English. For most of those native to the island, English is their first language, although there are many inhabitants who have come over from mainland Nicaragua and (consequently) speak Spanish as a first language. The English spoken is heavily Caribbean and communication can be far from effortless for people unused to different accents and idioms.Bluefields - Boat - Approaching Big Corn Dock

You land at Brig Bay.Big Corn - Unloading

Brig Bay is the main township on the island.


WHERE TO STAY :

Accommodation is expensive for GRANDPAckers … if you rely solely on the internet, it will be unaffordable.

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find within GRANDPAcker price range … this is for 1 night in mid December 2017 … December is the first month of ‘Shoulder Season’ … they still have a bit of rain every day.


HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:Big Corn Booking Map Big Corn Booking
EXPEDIA.COM:

Expedia had nothing within our GRANDPAcking price range.

AGODA.COM:Big Corn Agoda

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites sometimes display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 18% to the displayed price to get the final price.


VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … please note that these prices are in US$s …

TRIPADVISOR:

Tripadvisor had no vacation rentals for under US$40 / night.

AIRBnB:Big Corn AirBnB

Vacation Rentals are, usually, displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any Security Deposit (if required). BUT, the displayed price may be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Service Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, in Central America they are worth a look.


FURTHER RESEARCH:

As with Roatan Island, I knew that I couldn’t LIVE on Big Corn Island to GRANDPAcking Standard without getting ‘inventive’.

In Roatan, a search of Google Maps and Facebook pages helped me find a monthly rental … the same is true for Big Corn. I found a link to Corn Island Rentals (CIR). One place was listed for as little as US$280 / month. I emailed all of those listed for under US$600 / month (but still looked decent) to enquire about availability.

I got some responses for US$600+ / month excluding electric and /or taxes … that was over my budget. Some people just didn’t bother replying.


LULUS:

Offered me a room in an house including electricity, internet, private beach, hammocks, lounging chairs and use of a shared kitchen for US$30 / day. It was located in the North End. At US$900 / month, this was over-budget.


MARY DOWNS ALLUM:

Mary sent me pictures of her 1 bedroom place on the beachfront in the North End for US$450 / month (excluding electric). Big Corn - Mary - North End - FrontBig Corn - Mary - North End - SideBig Corn - Mary - North End - Bedroom Big Corn - Mary - North End - Kitchen Big Corn - Mary - North End - Lounge Big Corn - Mary - North End - View

BUT, it was Christmas / New Year and I didn’t want to be in such a remote location.

I decided that I wanted to be in and around Brig Bay (the main port) where there should be a larger selection of restaurants and bars.


IN SUMMARY:

PLEASE NOTE: Experience told me not to waste my time in a cheap hotel. I was going to be there for a month … I needed a long term rental.

I decided to focus on Brig Bay and the South End … the South End is said to be where the best beaches are.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

Muriel (on CIR) offered me a 2 bedroom house in Brig Bay. It normally rented for US$100 / night … she offered it to me (including electric) for US$500 / month. It sounded too good to be true … but, there again, it was only ‘Shoulder Season’ and places weren’t full …

The pictures looked nicer than everything else that I found in the under US$600 / month price range. The only ‘down side’ was that it was on Passion Street – a 600 meter walk from Brig Bay township and a 200 meter walk to the nearest beach. I don’t mind walking … when I’m on an Island I go for a 2 hour walk along the beach every day anyway …

When I landed at the Brig Bay Boat Dock, it started to rain. So, I caught a taxi to Muriels for N$20. Muriel was waiting for me. The house was as per her pictures on the internet.Big Corn - Muriels - House

You entered into the downstairs lounge area.Big Corn - Muriels - Downstairs Entry

There was a spacious kitchen with a Breakfast Island.Big Corn - Muriels - Downstairs Kitchen

It had a small downstairs Dining Area.Big Corn - Muriels - Downstairs Dining

And a downstairs toilet.Big Corn - Muriels - Downstairs Toilet

There were 2 bedrooms upstairs. The 2nd Bedroom had 2 beds.Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs 2nd Bedroom

The Main Bedroom had a Queen Bed.Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Main Bedroom

Both had their own access to the upstairs Ensuite.Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Ensuite ToiletBig Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Ensuite Shower

Both had a built in wardrobe.Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Main Wardrobe

Both had aircon and Cable TV.Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Main Bedroom Furniture

Both had access to the upstairs Balcony.Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Balcony

The Balcony had outdoor seating and a washer / dryer.Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Balcony Furniture

From the front, you had views out over the town and sunset.Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Balcony View Right Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Balcony View Straight

There was a yard at the back.Big Corn - Muriels - Back Yard

The view from the back Balcony seating area was over natural bush.Big Corn - Muriels - Rear View

The wifi was good and fast throughout the property.

There was no doubt that I had chosen a real home-from-home … it was, now, down to what sort of lifestyle I could create using Muriel’s as a base …


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


AROUND BRIG BAY:

I walked out of Muriel’s to have a look around my new neighbourhood.Brig Bay Map

Left was a quiet street continuing down Calle Passion.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Left Down Passion

In front of me was the Via Principal (main road) back into town.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Straight Down Via Principal

To my right, the Via Principal continued west … with a view of the beach in sight.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Right Down Via Principal

I headed west towards the beach.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 1

And I continued west past the beach.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 2

Past Hotel Morgans.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 3 - Hotel Morgan

Past (what looked like) a little cafetin on the beachfront (possibly my local watering hole?).Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 4

Past a good spot to swing my hammock.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 5

And, far enough to realise that I was just going to get more of the same.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 6

I doubled back past an interesting little shack on the beach.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 7

And continued along he coast down Muelle Mun.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Muelle Mun East 1

This road was very quiet.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Muelle Mun East 2

There wasn’t much along it at all.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Muelle Mun East 3

Even as you enter Brig Bay township it’s a bit featureless.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Muelle Mun East 4

Eventually, you get to the boat dock.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Boat Dock

And the start of the Via Principal leading back inland towards Muriel’s. I had already gone up this way to Muriel’s when I first arrived … and knew that there was nothing of interest.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Up Via Principal

So, I continued south along the Via Principal waterfront. Along here, I hoped to find restaurants and bars …Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal South 1

There was the odd ‘rustic’ cafe – mostly selling Fried Chicken and Gallo Pinto (beans & rice) at inflated prices (N$130 for 2 pieces of chicken, gallo pinto, and a hint of a salad). No nice bars. I turned back inland up Park BB to head for home.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Park BB 1

Perhaps I would find a nice little restaurant or bar down here?Big Corn - Brig Bay - Park BB 2

No. All I found was residential properties.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Park BB 3

The road opened up into farmland before running parallel to the airport runway.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Park BB 4

It wasn’t long before I could see Muriel’s again in the distance.Big Corn - Brig Bay - Park BB 5

 I was back to where I started.


CONCLUSION:

OMG … what the hell have I done!?

I have seen a lot of the world and, over the past 3 years of solid GRANDPAcking, I have been to many islands. Brig Bay was NOTHING like what I was expecting.

I came here to spend Christmas and New Year and have a bit of fun getting into the Big Corn Island ‘scene’.

I found no restaurant scene. No bar scene. No beach scene. Nothing.

A month on Big Corn was going to be ‘interesting’ … it now boiled down to what I could make out of the place over the coming weeks …

I wonder what the rest of the island is like?

I’ll tell you more about that in my next post.

TTFN


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