Diving into Caribbean yesteryear The Corn Islands,
Author: Bill Mashek (More Trip Reviews by Bill Mashek)
Date of Trip: November 2016
Corn Islands Nicaragua
The Corn Islands are located about 50 miles east of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Little Corn is an interesting place; it is only about 1.5 sq miles in size, no cars, motorcycles or golf carts, but full of amiable folks, great diving, diverse cuisine, and lots of charm. You can walk an Island loop in about 45 minutes. Little Corn was the only destination where I experienced gregarious encounters with “friendly” nurse sharks on every dive.
I am a multi-sport type person and a “budget” excursionist, so when I travel someplace, I don’t go to high end “resorts” and I like other options besides diving. Nicaragua is a great location for adventure sports. There is spear fishing, and great surfing on the pacific, even an accessible whitewater run . Going inland you have the colonial cities of Leon and Granada which is bordered by the imposing, Lake Nicaragua with the Volcanic Islands of Omatepe and of course The Corn Islands on the Atlantic. The Corn Islands have always been on my “bucket list” as a dive destination. When I got invited to a wedding in Nicaragua I got my excuse to go. We spent 6 days on the pacific, 2 inland and 8 days on the Corn Islands.
Getting here: First of all, travel in Nicaragua is situated out of Managua. All domestic flights and buses are based at the international airport in Managua as well. You can use a travel agency to get to Managua, (I just made my reservations online) but you have to book your own domestic flight to get to Corn Islands. It is recommended to do this a couple days in advance online. The cost at the time of this writing was approximately $184/person round trip. Hard core photographers should go light on your gear as there is a 30 pound limit On stored luggage. I just took my Cannon g-12 in an Ikelite case, no strobe, it fit fine in my carry on and I got great shots.
Though I had no problems with flights, I have been informed that La Costena airlines can be subject to delays, and on occasions your bag may arrive the day after you do! In other words don’t have a tight schedule. Allow for chaos, as anything can happen, especially during busy season (December to May). You will hear stories about saving money by taking a 6-8 hour bus trip to Bluefields and departing by freighter across the channel to Big Corn—don’t do it.
Tip: I found about this online: Domestic online booking fees can be expensive and they are going up. The fees were, 18/person when we were there. To get around this and to get the cheapest prices you can call La Costena’s office in Managua airport on (505) 2298 5360 (option 2) to get the standard fares without online fees.
As with most of Nicaragua, you can use either the local Cordoba currency here, (cheapest) but US dollars are also accepted everywhere, provided they are in good condition with no rips, tears or defacing. There is one ATM machine on Big Corn Island. Many places including our hotel, some of the restaurants and the dive shops accept credit cards however you will have a 6% Nicaraguan fee plus what every your local bank charges for international use. I used both cordobas and US dollars. But mostly US dollars as I didn’t want to come home with useless cordobas. I also booked with the hotel directly instead of going through the 3rd party sites. It was actually cheaper.
Once we landed in Big Corn, we took Taxi ($1.00/person for anyplace on the island)to our “guest”house and next day to the harbor and Catch the ponga ($6.00/person) to Little Corn. Check out: https://youtu.be/3UUNUNKY7i8. Again, plan for delays; If the ocean is too rough, you may not get across that day. And it can be a “wet and wild” ride, I would recommend bringing a garbage bag to cover your personal gear.
I was told that they are soon going to have a bigger enclosed boat which will handle the larger swells but this is a poor country and who knows when.
Big Corn has 2 dive shops, I only talked to one. It is called Dos Tiburones, (http://divecornisland.com/) We spent the night on Big Corn at Comedor Maris Danet’s Phone: (+505) 2575-5135, A very good location, excellent food ($9.00 lobster dinner) and only a couple hundred yards from Dos Tiburones. There is also a quaint little bakery next door with savory treats and great coffee. There are several dive sites off Big Corn including the infamous Blowing rock. If for some reason you can’t get to Little Corn you have other options.
Little Corn: I was watching the weather with anxious anticipation (mistake) and it looked like hostile conditions, I even called Adam at Dolphin Divers to see if they were going out. His response: “of course, we have great conditions, a little wind and bump but all is fine”. Unless there is a hurricane or 35 plus knot winds, you will still dive.
I made advanced reservations with Sunshine Hotel. The website said “only 2 rooms available. I think there were only 4or 5 other folks staying in this 20 plus room hotel. During busy season it is probably a good idea to make advanced reservations. ( www.sunshinehotellittlecorn.com ) Our stay at the Sunshine hotel included a simple but classic Nicaraguan breakfast each morning and 5% discount with Dolphin Divers ( http://dolphindivelittlecorn.com ). Sunshine is also the only hotel I found that had air conditioned rooms. The folks who run the place were nice and at $55/night a bargain. They also had the only (mini) “farmica” on the island. I would recommend staying here. There are several “rustic” piquant eateries nearby and It was less than a five minute walk to Dolphin Divers from the hotel.
Every day, After my second dive I would go to Havanas , a Cuban cuisine, between our hotel and Dolphin divers and get a delicious ham and cheese sandwich or fish sandwich on coconut bread.
Dolphin divers offer up to 3 dives per day and night dives. Since there are only a couple of dive shops on the island, I would recommend making advanced reservations during the busy winter season.
Because of all the weight restrictions and the extensive traveling we were doing. The only dive gear I brought was my Sunto “zoot” wrist computer, underwater camera set up, a mask and snorkel. Dolphin Divers supplies all equipment including wetsuit, if needed at no extra cost. They did not supply computers; –I think you can rent one. Their regulators and BC vest were well maintained and in good condition. For photographers, the boats are too small to hold heavy gear but they do have a shower and dunk tank at the shop.
The Diving:. Because of the underwater topography in Corn Islands, we dived reefs and small canyons but not walls. Subsequently, most dives are between 50-80 ft, except for Blowing Rock which is a small volcanic seamount, about an hour boat ride away.. It is considered the best dive site on the Corn Islands primarily, because of its’ preponderance and variety of fish. There are no deep channels and spectacular walls like Cozumel . The water temperature was a consistent 84 degrees F, making wetsuits optional.
I never prepaid for my dives, just showed up every day at the shop. However, the more you dive the cheaper the price is. A two tank dive is 65. And a 10 dive package is 280. I had 12 dives and at the end of the trip paid 28/dive plus my 5% discount. The boats launch from the beach less than 50 ft from the shop. The divemasters loaded our tanks and BCs, we were only responsible for carrying them back after the dive. Dive times varied, though usually 45 minutes unless folks were low on air. When it was just our group, we stayed down longer, especially in the shallower dives.
There were many good sites but my favorite was Suenos, It was about a 15 minute boat ride to get there. It was our last dive, the ocean was calm and pellucid blue-green. Visibility was well over 150ft. Here we saw several reef sharks. They were not as friendly as the nurse sharks and didn’t want to be approached. They did however, provide for interesting encounters. I saw several eagle rays, and a goliath Grouper the size of a wine barrel. We saw Parrot fish for the first time and more trigger fish. Also saw a hawksbill turtle here. Surprisingly, I saw only 2 turtles. I guess they don’t nest here.