Visiting the Corn Islands
Nicaragua’s Corn Islands are located in the Caribbean sea, a very unique part of the country. The majority of the population is of African descent with an English based Creole as their first language. Coming from mainland Nicaragua, I was always tempted to try to greet people here in Spanish. While most people speak English as their first language, they’ve had a large number of mainlanders move in which is driving English out and making Spanish more and more common. The two islands that make up the Corn Islands are both small, with a combined population of less than 10,000 people. The photo above shows an aerial shot of the more developed Big Corn Island. The Little Corn Island is about half the size, and is so small it doesn’t have any motorized vehicles!
To me, even though Central America has a lengthy Caribbean coast, I tend to view places like Cuba, Dominican Republic, Trinidad etc as the real Caribbean. Despite the Corn Islands belonging to Nicaragua and being only 40 miles off the coast, they actually have a lot more in common with places like Jamaica than the mainland. On the left is a nice man I met that was nice enough to let me take his photo. In the store behind him I heard a funny argument between two locals in English creole. I think most people wouldn’t know the difference between parts of the Corn Islands and Jamaica to be honest. On the right is a photo of the Caribbean sea. It may not look like it, but a large nasty storm is just off the beach, and it came in hard in less than ten minutes after taking this photo.
Like many other places in the Caribbean, baseball is the most popular sport in the Corn Islands. It even beats soccer! I know there are several organized baseball games that occur throughout the week, but even walking around you’ll see people playing it for fun. These kids were having a little game right by the beach.
The Big Corn Island seemed to have its fair share of abandoned buildings. I’m pretty certain that this church on the left is actually under construction rather than abandoned. There wasn’t any information on it, but because the center tower that has been painted red doesn’t look weathered out, a nd the rest of the building looks to be under good condition I assume it’s going up rather than coming down. Many other buildings along the water are definitely abandoned. This included a pretty large two story building that actually extended out into the ocean. This smaller building on the upper right was being taken over by bright green grass.
Most of Corn Island’s infrastructure isn’t too pretty to look at. This place is definitely a combination of natural beauty and humble houses. I walked past the house on the left, which was much nicer than most on the island, and saw a large family making lunch. While this house was much nicer than the rest, the majority of the island lives in much worse conditions. As a traveler though, you can find your mix of dirt cheap hotels and restaurants, and even a little bit of luxury here. My place was definitely more on the expensive side, but well worth it. The place was owned by super really nice Italians who made amazing food. The rooms were in pretty close to the main town center, and only a dozen feet or so from the ocean. You get to sleep here while hearing the waves crash all night as if you’re camping on the beach.
You won’t find any chain restaurants or stores here, which is a good thing. I stopped by a local ice cream store to get a shake, and they delivered this giant beast photographed on the left! I’m not into seafood at all, but if you are then there is plenty to choose from. I met some other Americans on this trip and we went out for dinner one night. The restaurant was another humble building, but located on the water with a perfect breeze at night is all you need. I believe this fish was a yellowtail, I ended up with some type of jalapeno chicken dish was hit the spot for me!
Tourism definitely brings some money to the island, but beyond that I’m not sure what most of the locals do for work. Fishing is the only obvious money maker for the local economy. You can see small boats and large fishing boats on all sides of the island. I had tried to take the ferry to Little Corn Island but never made it. Others had tried but the ferry was full, so you actually have to get there early and plan to spend at least one night there, since a day trip using the ferries are not possible. Nearly all of the fishing boats are up for hire though if you want to take organize your own private transportation to either island and back. It’s going to be a lot more expensive than the ferry of course, but at least you’re free to come and go as you please.
The most popular activities in the Corn Islands are swimming at the beach, snorkeling or scuba diving. A few times during my walk around the island I saw signs that warned of private property along the coast, but for the most part, you can jump in and swim wherever you’d like to. These two photos above were taken from different sides of the island. The left hand photo was from the west coast and the right hand shows the east coast. The photo on the right is from Long Bay beach, a popular place to swim at on the island. I had stopped during another downpour to have lunch at a little taco shop right before Long Bay. As soon as the rain stopped I continued to the beach and was greeted with hot sunshine. Other remote parts of the beach that I walked along had the same common wildlife I see around the world; the white crane hunting for food on the lower left, and this crab sunbathing on along the shore.
It wasn’t until after I left the Corn Islands that I realized I took no photos of the towns and developed parts the island. I seemed to have been more focused on the nature along the shore and the central areas. Corn Island actually has multiple swamps inland, each of them seems to be protected. The swamps that I saw were all named with a large sign that also says the area and mentions fighting climate change. I didn’t see any wildlife in the swamps, but the scenery was amazing and made it worthwhile. I was under the impression one of these swamps had some kind of hiking trail through it, but if that’s true I wasn’t able to find it even though I did look for it.
There were a few other things I wanted to do on the Corn Islands, but I guess I just got lazy. Essentially all I did here was enjoy the nice weather, randomly explore the island, and go on scuba dives. I’ll be honest, I’ve dived in a few places around the world and the Corn Islands certainly weren’t the best. The visibility wasn’t too good which drastically reduces color. On the left is how most of the dive looked to my own eyes and my camera. When I got close up to objects and fish, I could see some amazing colors much better than my camera could. The photo on the right shows some colorful coral near the surface, that otherwise would look like the photo on the left from a distance or at a greater depth. Below are two more shots of some color that came out closer to the surface.
I’ve seen plenty of sting rays before while diving, but this was the first time I actually came up to one that laid down on the ocean floor and used sand to camouflage itself. For those that remember Steve Irwin, this is exactly how he died. He hadn’t noticed a sting ray in the sand and as he swam over it, it swung its tail up hitting him in the chest. The chance of being killed by a sting ray like this is probably one in a million, it was a freak accident that hit him with the perfect amount of force right around his heart. The dive master I was with actually went up and poked the string ray for some reason. This sting ray slowly got up and glided away.
Some of the colors and designs of the color here were really amazing. I seriously think that this might be my last scuba trip without nice a nice diving camera. The photo on the right I think could have been a great shot if it was better quality. I saw lots of this species of coral and fish on both my dives in the Corn Islands.
We dove down to a depth of about 70 feet. Even though these photos are bad quality, they came out pretty decent considering the depth, poor visibility and low lighting. I’m not sure what species of fish this is on the left was, but he didn’t mind me getting close up and personal to take his photo. These two giant antennas sticking out on the right belong to a fairly large lobster. I actually got eye level with him but myself or the lobster kicked up some debris so the other photos were too cloudy.
The photo on the left came out decent of this fish surrounded by some colorful coral. The photo on the right however, is painful for me to look at. This was one of the most unique crabs I’ve ever seen, and I found him hiding between some tall tubes of coral. Without light the camera automatically put itself into a lower aperture mode which allowed low depth focus. In person however, I can tell you he had a unique looking head, was very slender, and had some bright blue pinchers. The video on the right shows my go-pro perspective from the dive. This was my first time diving with it, and I didn’t realize until after I viewed it that not everything I see the camera sees. For example, the lobster was eye level with me, but my Go-Pro was on my head so it recorded the coral immediately above him. Also on this dive, I saw a medium sized nursing shark from a distance.