Nicaragua

Getting to the Corn Islands: to sail or not to sail?*

Getting to the Corn Islands

Aug, 2016: Don’t let the beautiful Caribbean sunset at the start of this post fool you. Getting to the Corn Islands was a MISSION! During our horrendous six hour ferry ride out to Big Corn island we vomited around 30 times due to sea-sickness. It was so rough and we were so sick that we vomited overboard, onboard and on each other.  It was awful. As we collapsed gratefully onto the cement peer at Big Corn we vowed that under no circumstances would we be repeating that journey.

If you’re considering heading to the Corn Islands (and you should, they rock!) here are some options to consider….

Getting to the Corn Islands: Option 1 – bus and slow boat

Being tight arse travellers we decided that this route couldn’t be as bad as some of the reviews we’d read. Oh, how wrong we were! First is the 9pm ‘express’ bus from the Mercado Ivan Montenegro in Managua**. This gets you to the river port of El Rama at the highly unsociable time of 3am. Our bus was packed, had zero leg room and rattled so much we thought it would fall apart before arrival. The driver also had his awful Nicaraguan pop music blaring at sonic boom levels. To top it off, our poor friend Emma had a drunk and sleezy old local dude who thought it would be alright to stroke her head. Her husband sorted that out fairly quickly though.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed at the start of the Managua to El Rama bus trip.  Looks comfortable but this was actually the bus drivers seat! Getting to the Corn Islands

Bright eyed and bushy tailed at the start of the Managua to El Rama bus trip. Looks comfortable but this was actually the bus drivers seat!

 

After waiting for dawn we eventually boarded a packed panga (speed boat). This took us a further 2 hours down river from El Rama to Bluefields. If it hadn’t been so uncomfortable and if we hadn’t been so exhausted this part of the trip would have actually been pretty cool. The river was like glass and thunderhead clouds loomed in the distance as we zoomed past little riverside villages and cattle farms. It was all rather beautiful.

Enjoying the comfort of a jam packed panga on the way from El Rama to Bluefields. Getting to the Corn Islands

Enjoying the comfort of a jam packed panga on the way from El Rama to Bluefields

 

In Bluefields, we waited another hour before boarding the Rio Escondido ‘fast ferry’ for the final leg. The Rio Escondido leaves Bluefields each Wednesday morning around 9am and we had read that it was a more comfortable and faster option. To start with it was all good. Unfortunately as we left the calm safety of the river estuary we realised that the ocean beyond was choppy and rough. Almost immediately it became apparent that our herbal seasickness tablets were grossly inadequate and not long after that the vomiting began. I was first, then Fi and finally Emma was overcome until all three of us were feeding the fish. After a while we were spewing on top of each other and it was all we could do not to come firing out the other end. It was awful. And, that lasted for six whole hours.

Obviously you might get lucky and have a smooth day but based on our experience, it’s not worth the risk.

In summary:

  1. Bus from Mercado Ivan Montenegro in Managua to Rama: Depart nightly at 9pm, 5-6 hours, ~USD8 one way.
  2. As soon as you arrive in Rama buy your panga ticket to Bluefields to ensure a seat. Then get as comfortable as you can and settle down for the wait till dawn.
  3. Pangas from El Rama to Bluefields: Depart at dawn, 1.5-2 hours, cost ~USD8 one way (the pangas run all day back and forth but you want to get the first one of the day in order to be in Bluefields in time to catch the Rio Escondido)
  4. As soon as you arrive in Bluefields buy your ticket for the Rio Escondido.
  5. The Rio Escondido departs 9am each Wednesday, 5-6 hours, costs ~USD10.

Getting to the Corn Islands: Option 2 – bus and slower boat

Option 2 is basically the same as Option 1 except you get a slower, slightly larger supply boat, the Captain D all the way from Rama to Big Corn. For this you need to arrive in Rama Tuesday evening to secure a birth on the boat which then leaves very early on Wednesday. Timing of this departure can apparently be a bit sketchy. It’s at the whim of the captain and when he feels his boat is ready to sail. The apparent benefit of this option though is that the Captain D is a bit larger. Allegedly this enables it to handle the rough weather better. It is slower though.

Getting to the Corn Islands: Option 3 – plane

FOR GODS SAKE just pay for a ticket with La Costeña airlines and FLY! La Costeña has multiple flights each day from Managua to Big Corn with a quick stop in Bluefields. The whole trip takes about an hour from memory. We have read that they can be a little unreliable but when compared with the unreliability of the various connections of options one and two you should be fine. Check out their website for an idea of details and prices.  We have heard though that you get cheaper prices by just calling their office at the Managua airport on +505 2298 5360. On Big Corn you can just go to the airport and buy tickets there. It’s worth noting that the baggage weight limit for La Costeña is only 13kg. Never fear though as you can buy extra baggage relatively cheaply.

Getting between the Corn Islands

All of the above options get you to Big Corn only. From our understanding there isn’t any direct route which will take you straight to Little Corn. Instead there are open topped pangas which take about 30mins (depending on weather) and cost around USD5. During our stay Big Corn to Little Corn left around 10am and 4:30pm and then back from Little Corn around 6:30am and 1:30pm.

*DISCLAIMER: This article has been written based on our experiences from August 2016. Departure times, costs and travel times may have since changed. As per our experience, weather can also have a major impact. To get the most up to date information, we would recommend contacting one of the hotels on either island to get advise e.g. www.littlecornbb.com or casaiguana.net/cms/.

**NOTE: We read that there is another express bus service running from the same Mercado Ivan Montenegro terminal at  6am. We also heard about other public services running throughout the day. We didn’t find evidence of either.

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Nathan
    April 10, 2017 at 6:24 am

    When I went to LC I flew to BC and then took a panga. Flying La Constena they are very strict about the baggage allowance. You had to get on a scale holding your bags so they could calculate weight for the plane! We still had to take a panga from BC to LC and the girl sitting next to me got seasick and threw up on my shoes!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 11, 2017 at 7:49 am

      Yeah, we were a little put off at first by the baggage thing with La Costena but the cheap price of extra baggage made the decision easier. Bummer about your shoes! We were lucky with our panga rides as the water was like glass!

  • Reply
    Cai Dominguez
    April 10, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Wtf! you vomited around 30 times due to sea-sickness. That’s really serious. I would really consider flying if that will be the case. Thanks for sharing your story. 🙂

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 11, 2017 at 7:49 am

      Yep, there’s no other way to describe it…it was blo*dy AWFUL!!!

  • Reply
    Brown Gal Trekker
    April 10, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Wow – after a while of reading you encouraged me to go for the flight! But then seems the adventure is quite a unique experience in its own right. Hmm.. tough one – glad there are quick and slow options though. The vomiting sounds horrendous – I remember doing a lot of boat rides in the Philipppines but luckily they were all manageable.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 11, 2017 at 7:51 am

      We thought exactly the same about the adventure of the slow option. To be fair it’s probably totally fine a lot of the time but for us it was just plain terrible. Taking the flight back was like a dream compared to the boat.

  • Reply
    Siddharth and Shruti
    April 10, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Unfortunate that you got sea sick 🙁 Probably flying is a better idea for us, considering Siddharth also gets motion sick easily. Thank you for your honest and open review. Will keep it in mind for the future.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 11, 2017 at 7:51 am

      Yup, if there is any chance of succumbing to seasickness you definitely want to fly!

  • Reply
    Elena
    April 11, 2017 at 6:45 am

    Based on your account, plane option sounds like a much better idea. It was an educational reading, but I do not envy you. Even mild seasickness is not fun under any circumstances. I would probably swear off any ocean adventures after a trip like this.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 11, 2017 at 7:52 am

      Seasickness is the worst as once you have it you can’t escape!

  • Reply
    Sara Broers
    April 12, 2017 at 12:20 am

    This sounds horrific! It looks like it was rather beautiful, sorry you were sick. If I were to travel here, I would definitely follow your advice and fly!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 12, 2017 at 11:06 am

      Thanks a bunch. Definitely fly. Usually, we’re all about the adventure but that trip very nearly broke me.

  • Reply
    Micki
    April 12, 2017 at 1:41 am

    That sounds awful, I am so sorry! We take the ferry from St. Thomas to St. John, but thankfully it is only about 20 minutes long and is relatively peaceful. By the way, that first photo is incredible!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 12, 2017 at 11:05 am

      Don’t know either St Thomas or St John but will have to check them out! Glad you liked the photo. Was a stunning evening.

  • Reply
    Elaine J Masters
    April 12, 2017 at 4:12 am

    Didn’t know about the Corn Islands, still feel I don’t get the need to go but I’ll trust your expertise. So sorry to hear about the sea sickness. Not.Fun.At.All. I’ll fly thank you very much.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 12, 2017 at 11:04 am

      They aren’t your stereotypical Caribbean islands but we loved them for it. Loved that they were a little rough around the edges and devoid of bulk tourism.

  • Reply
    Jean
    April 12, 2017 at 5:28 am

    I’m so sorry you were so sick but on the upside it’s made a great story. I too suffer from sea sickness so I totally felt you pain as I was giggling. Thanks for such a great article. I think I’d definetly fly rather then try boat it around.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 12, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Ha, thanks! So often the worst experiences make for funny stories. Very glad this one is in the past and hopefully not to be repeated!

  • Reply
    Jazzy
    April 12, 2017 at 6:48 am

    We had the chance to go to the Corn islands two years ago but opted not to because it required too much travel time to get there not to mention there was a boat and sea involved (I get super seasick) so we didn’t want to chance it and at the time we were way to cheap to fly there. In the end we regretted and decided that if we ever go back to Central America we will go to the Corn Island!

    P.s. so sorry to hear you got so sick, I know how it feels and wouldn’t wish it on anyone!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 12, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Bummer! Well we hope you get there at some point as we really love it. Totally agree that seasickness is the WORST!

  • Reply
    Charlena
    April 15, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Very good written post. It will be beneficial to anyone who utilizes it, as well as myself. Keep doing what you are doing – i will definitely read more posts.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      April 24, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      Glad you liked it! Hope you keep enjoying.

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