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.
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.
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.
- Bus from Mercado Ivan Montenegro in Managua to Rama: Depart nightly at 9pm, 5-6 hours, ~USD8 one way.
- 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.
- 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)
- As soon as you arrive in Bluefields buy your ticket for the Rio Escondido.
- 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.