DECEMBER 2017 / JANUARY 2018:
Why not read our Retirement Reviews.
In my “Beginner’s Guide” to Big Corn Island, I provided information about:
- How to get from Bluefields to Big Corn Island
- Why I chose Brig Bay
- What Brig Bay looks like
- Where to stay
- What ‘short term’ accommodation I found
- What ‘long term’ accommodation I found
In this post, I will tell you more about what it is like to actually live on Big Corn Island and a lot more about everyday costs.
I couldn’t afford to live in hotel rooms on Big Corn … the cheapest rooms start at US$30 / night and, some of these, still have Shared Bathrooms. I needed to break GRANDPAcking Standards and find a monthly rental … this helped me keep my costs down in other ways too …
The detail is in the Beginner’s Guide but, in summary, I ended up staying in a 2 story house on the outskirts of Brig Bay: Muriel’s Rental Home. Muriel’s was not listed on the normal online search engines (but, now, you can find it in Tripadvisor Vacation Rentals).
The wifi was good and fast throughout the property.
I paid US$500 / month (all inclusive) which worked out to be US$16.25 / day. This was less than 30% of my daily budget of US$58 / day.
ABOUT BRIG BAY:
For more detail, read my Beginner’s Guide.
Brig Bay is the main town on Big Corn Island. About 4,000 of the 7,000 people (57%) who live on the island live in Brig Bay.
BRIG BAY – PHOTO GALLERY:
If you continue south from the boat dock (along Via Principal) hugging the coast, you will be in the main part of Brig Bay town. There’s nothing of interest here either … just the odd local cafe. No nice restaurants. No nice bars.
To finish up back at Muriel’s. That’s it! VERY uninspiring.
NORTH END – PHOTO GALLERY:
I followed the Via Principal past Hotel Morgans.
Past my local bar.
And just kept going.
To end up back at Hotel Morgan’s.
SOUTH END – PHOTO GALLERY:
But, on the other side of the peer, you hit the start of Arenas Beach: The best beach on the island.
You walk up Long Bay to join the Via Principal to cut back across the middle of the island to the airstrip.
WHERE TO STAY :
Brig Bay is in desperate need of a decent restaurant(s) and a decent bar(s). As the main town, it is very disappointing. It is boring … the whole island is!
If you are here between May and January (the ‘Wet Season’), I suggest that you stay (in the green-shaded area) close to Arenas Beach. By being in this area during ‘Wet Season’, you can take advantage of the variable weather and you can go to / from the beach more easily during the day … as and when the sun comes out.
Around Arenas Beach, you get the best out of what Big Corn has to offer: You have the shops on the southern tip of the airstrip, you have a larger selection of restobars to choose from (some on the beach), and you have access to the best beach.
Stay anywhere else and you are likely to be isolated, limited to just a couple of restobar options (within walking distance), on a poor beach, or all three.
If you are here between February and April (the ‘Dry Season’), I suggest that you can stay anywhere around the island. You can catch a taxi to Arenas Beach for the day and return to your ‘hideaway’ in the evenings.
Cost-wise, the formula is quite simple … You either:
- Pay a ‘premium’ price to stay in accommodation in the green-shaded area near Arenas Beach
- Expect to pay US$750 / month in an Hotel for a Fan Double with Private Bathroom; or
- Expect the same (if you are lucky enough to find one!) for a 1-Month Rental property (including electric)
- Pay a cheaper price elsewhere on the island for a Rental property BUT budget the extra cost of transport to/from Arenas Beach each day
- Expect to pay US$650 for the rental property (including electric)
- Expect to pay about US$100 / month in transport
MY ADVICE: Stay in Arenas Beach … at least, then, you have a lot more choices of where to go in the evening.
Big Corn Island has a paved road about 12 kilometres long which runs around the coastline of the island. Automobiles, motorbikes and bicycles are the primary means of transport.
It costs N$20 each to go anywhere around the island during the day. This rises to N$30 after 10pm.
You can rent a bicycle for US$10 / day.
A bus circles the island clockwise and costs N$10 each per trip.
INTERNET / WIFI:
I bought a Movistar SIMcard in Jiquilillo. I top it up as and when needed with N$100 and buy a new 7 Day MegaPack: which comes with 500MB of data, 20 minutes of call time, 20 SMSs, and unlimited Facebook / Whatsapp. I arrived on Big Corn with enough credits to keep me going for the first week.
I had a signal everywhere on Big Corn Island.
However (despite stores displaying ‘Movistar’ signs all around the island), it is almost impossible to find anyone who tops up Movistar. In over 2 hours of searching, I found one man in a small store who wanted a 20% fee to do a top up. It was a Quintruple Day and I wanted a N$300 top up … he wanted a N$60 fee … I refuse to sanction such things and declined.
There is a Claro Store about 50 meters up the Via Principal going inland from the boat dock.
They sell a new Claro SIMcard for N$60 which includes N$50 in credits. Claro do a 15-Day Internet Plan that comes with 1.5GB of data, free Whatsapp, free Facebook, some SMS credits and some call credits. It costs N$230.
I was in luck, it was a Quintruple Day at Claro as well (Claro and Movistar seem to match each other’s promo days). I bought the SIMcard, gave them another N$180, and they configured me up with a N$230 Internet Plan. I got Quintruple ‘call/text credits’ worth about N$30. You do not get any extra data.
These N$230 15-Day Plans aren’t very well known (and, I had learnt my lesson back in Jiquilillo – where I abandoned my first attempt to use Claro): they are not easy to top up. The lady at the Claro Store gave me good advice … she told me to always top up exactly N$230 thereafter … and that his would automatically buy me another 15-Day Plan.
One downside of being on Claro is that their miClaro app is not very easy to use. Personally, I hate it!
My first 15-Day Plan was due to end on a Sunday. The Claro shop is closed on a Sunday. So, on Friday, I went to the Claro Shop and topped it up with another N$230 … expecting it to ‘queue’ and automatically buy my next 15-Day Plan when my current one finished on the Sunday.
WRONG! My plan did not automatically renew. On Monday, I used the miClaro app to check my balance. N$60 had been deducted from my balance … I was now paying for internet usage by the megabyte …
I went down to the Claro Shop on Monday morning to sort it out. It seems that, as soon as you add money to your account, Claro start using that money regardless of whether or not you have an active plan.
HOW TO TOP UP YOUR CLARO: You MUST wait until your current active plan expires BEFORE you top up with any more money. Claro send you an SMS Message to tell you when your plan has expired. ONLY THEN do you top up with EXACTLY the right amount of money for the package that you want to buy. In my case, I have to do this in a store because the miClaro app only allows you to top up with N$50, N$100, and N$150 (not N$230). IN ADDITION, the miClaro app does not update your information properly … EACH TIME that you top up, you are best to uninstall the app and reinstall it … this fixes the problem.
MY ADVICE: It is obvious that CLARO dominates the Corn Islands. If the Corn Islands are a major part of your Nicaragua trip, buy a Claro SIMcard. But, be prepared to be frustrated.
PLEASE NOTE: Movistar & Claro run regular promotions (usually at least 2 per week) that can as much as Quintruple your top up credits. This only applies to call and text credits – not to data. Try and top up on a Promo Day. If you are a sports fan, they also do regular N$30 Promos that give you unlimited internet for 24 hours … great for streaming weekend sports from back home.
PLEASE NOTE: When you top up in a store / tienda they usually charge you a 10% fee. If you top up for more than N$100, they usually charge you a flat rate fee of N$20. To avoid these charges, try and top up at a proper Movistar / Claro Store or Street Stall.
FOOD & DRINK:
Food & Drink is, generally, about 25-50% more expensive than on the mainland.
EATING AT HOME:
Groceries are relatively expensive. Many shops close between 12 noon and 2pm.
- 1 Egg = N$6
- 1 Banana = N$3
- 1 Plantain = N$8 (large) / N$5 (small)
- 1 Coconut Bread Bun = N$10
- 360ml Cooking Oil = N$20
- 150gm Presto Instant Coffee = N$160
- 200gm Nescafe Instant Coffee = N$220
- 90gm Margerine = N$8
- 1/2lb Local Cheese = N$40
- 1lb Tomatoes = N$30
- 1lb Potatoes = N$25
- 1lb Carrots = N$40
- 1 Pumpkin (Medium Sized) = N$80
- 1 Chili = N$4
- 1 Ginger Root = N$5
- 5 Gallon Water = N$115
- 360ml Big Cola = N$12
- 3L Coca Cola = N$70
- 1lb Smoked Bacon = N$250
- 200gm Salchicha Sausages = N$35
- 200gm Chicken Sausages = N$30
- Whole Frozen Chicken Wing = N$50
- 1lb Frozen Beef Mince = N$100
- 1.75L of 5 Year Flor De Cana Rum = N$362
- 200 L&M Blue Cigarettes = N$385
- 480gm Chiky Chocolate & Peanut Butter Biscuits = N$60
- 150gm Cheese & Jalepeno Nachos = N$25
- 250gm Macaroni = N$40
- 400ml Bug Spray = N$140
- 140gm Washing Powder = N$10
- 1 (BIC-type) Razor = N$15
I asked Muriel where I could buy some fish direct from the fishermen. She said that I should go to the dock next to the CAF (on Muelle Mun) at 8am when the boats come in. She went herself the next morning and brought me back 2lbs (1kg) of Yellowtail for N$80. N$40 / lb.
He went into the restricted factory area and returned with my fish. I bought 10lbs / 4kgs of smaller Yellowtail (15 fish in total) for N$300 (N$30 / US$1 per lb).
Something like a Ron Don (a famous local island seafood soup dish) in a ‘tourist’ restaurant (like the Seaside Grill) will cost about N$600.
I didn’t dine out much.
In the cheaper bars a 350ml Tona beer is N$25 and a 1 liter Tona N$55. In the more ‘in’ bars around the island, you pay N$35 for a 350ml Tona. In the ‘westernised’ places you will pay N$40 + 8% Tax.
Half way down Via Principal between the boat dock and Hotel G&G, you will find a liquor distributor. Here you can buy a 1.75 liter bottle of 5 Year Flore De Cana Rum for N$362. The main Flor De Cana distributor is Janery’s which is found 100 meters south of the Banpro ATM.
On the north-west coast just past Hotel Morgan, you will find a beer distributor. Here, you can buy 24x 350ml Tona for N$440 (with a deposit on the beer crate & bottles) or 24x 350ml Twist-top Tona (throwaway bottles) for N$540.
MONEY / BANK / ATM / MONEY EXCHANGE:
The Banpro Bank and ATM are located 800 meters south of the boat dock where Via Principal meets the airport runway.
I was able to withdraw US$600 from the ATM in a single transaction (equivalent to about N$18,000). I was, also, able to withdraw N$20,000 in a single transaction. The bank charges a 4% Fee.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
There is no reason to feel unsafe here. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America.
Muriel told me not to leave anything unattended on the beach whilst swimming. She said that some locals walk the beach and pick up anything that they find.
Muriel also told me to be careful on the East Coast at night. She said that men turn up that nobody knows and that there have been some ‘incidents’. The rumour is that they are ‘drug trade’ related. The West Coast is safe to walk at night.
There were mosquitoes around but they weren’t a problem.
WHEN TO GO:
There is a drier period from February to April, but the trade winds ensure that (unlike the Pacific coast of Nicaragua), rain still falls frequently during this period.
For the rest of the year (when tropical low pressure dominates) rainfall is extremely heavy.
I arrived on the 20th December and stayed for 1 month through to 20th January. The weather was a 1/3rd 1/3rd 1/3rd. One third of the time we had strong winds with showers. One third showers amidst some sunshine. One third sunny days. Two thirds of the time it rained at night.
Big Corn offers very little to do anyway … on bad days you just sit around in your hotel.
In addition, the weekly ferry to / from the mainland and the daily boats from Big Corn to Little Corn are cancelled. This can leave people stranded for several days (or forced to fly). When the ferry is cancelled, groceries on the islands run low and some items become hard to find / expensive. In bad weather, the Corn Islands are not very nice places to be.
To get the best out of Big Corn Island you need to come in March (plus/minus 1 month). If you come at this time, you are coming in Peak Season and you will be paying full rate for your (all ready over-priced) accommodation.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO DO:
The Dos Tiburones Dive Shop (on the north-western tip of the island) runs a Quiz Night at 6pm each Wednesday. Beers are N$40 and Cocktails are N$90. Prices exclude 8% IVA Tax. It’s a fun night and they give out shots of Rum for round winners during the course of the night. The winner gets a 1 liter bottle of Rum.
BIG CORN vs ROATAN:
Big Corn Island compares poorly to Roatan Island in almost all respects. The costs are very similar but:
- Roatan has a better selection of restaurants, bars and nightlife
- In Roatan, you can meet people and there is a much bigger expat community
- Roatan has more fun things to do
- Roatan has better beaches
I really missed that beautiful beachfront walk in Roatan from West End to West Bay. Big Corn has nothing that comes close to it.
MY ADVICE: Go to Roatan. Simply put, it offers a much better ‘LIFE-style’.
From Big Corn Island, I will be going to Little Corn Island. It will be interesting to compare Little Corn Island vs Utila Island.
I am expecting (and hoping) to find somewhere more similar to Gili Air Island, Lombok, Indonesia than Utila Island, Honduras. If I am right, I will enjoy a few weeks of ‘beach bum’ lifestyle in the Caribbean … another ‘Zipolite‘ or ‘Langkawi‘ or ‘Koh Phayam‘ would be very welcome right now …
The boats between Big and Little Corn Islands are small 12-seater ‘pungas’. The journey takes 20-40 minutes depending on the tide and swell. These boats leave in the morning and afternoon … and, there is usually one waiting for the Wednesday afternoon ferry to arrive from Bluefields.
As with the Big Corn to Bluefields ferry, these boats can be cancelled if the seas get too rough.
I will let you know how I got on in my next post.
GRANDPAckers cannot afford to LIVE on Big Corn Island to GRANDPAcking standard.
However, it is such a unique destination that it is worth showing how GRANDPAckers can LIVE on Big Corn Island with only a few ‘minor’ adjustments to lifestyle.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
A detailed breakdown of my costs is unhelpful.
I did not live on Big Corn to GRANDPAcking standard. Also, I was there for Christmas and New Year, so my ‘entertainment’ costs are slightly ‘skewed’.
My accommodation cost at Muriel’s was N$490 / day (US$16.50).
Even though I had good internet at Muriels’, I still spent N$540 over the month on a basic Mobile Data Plan.
I rarely ate out. I bought groceries and ate at home.
My COE worked out to be about N$625 / day (US$22).
COST OF LIVING (COL):
In / Out Costs: It cost me US$8.50 / N$255 to get from Bluefield to Big Corn by ferry and N$20 (US$0.70c) for a taxi from the boat dock to Muriel’s.
Living Costs: I spent an average of N$135 / day (US$4.75) on other living costs.
My total COL was US$30 / day (51% of my total budget).
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE:
You will need to deviate from GRANDPAcking Standard …
Accommodation: Book yourself into something for the first 2 nights at about US$30 / night (including Breakfast). Anywhere around town will do. Martha’s B&B on Arenas Beach is worth a look. Once here, look around … get yourself into a decent budget hotel for US$25 / night thereafter for a long-term stay. Alternatively, get yourself a Monthly Rental for US$750 (including electric and daily transport costs to Arenas Beach).
Transport: There is a budget for 2 people to go on a weekly day trip to somewhere else on the island (an average of N$20 per person each way).
Communications & Fees: Your budget includes a N$60 Claro SIMcard and 2x 15-day Internet Packages (N$180 for the first and N$230 for the second).
Food & Beverages: Your budget is N$725 / day. This is to eat all of your meals in a Comedor Economica.
Your COE is US$51 / day (87% of your total budget).
COST OF LIVING:
This leaves you US$7 / day (N$210) to LIVE on.
You will NOT be able to LIVE on that. To LIVE, you will need to buy groceries and eat at home each day. You can eat at home for about half the price of eating out.
Big Corn Island DOES NOT make it into my Retirement Reviews.
HOWEVER, it is possible to live on Big Corn Island if you get a monthly rental and eat at home. Being able to ‘live’ is not the same as being able to ‘LIVE’.
MY ADVICE: Whether you can afford to come to Big Corn or not, don’t bother. Even if you do want to be a ‘recluse’, there are many much better places to be than Big Corn Island for the same amount of money. Go there instead.