Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Nicaragua part 2 - Little Corn Island

We arrived at the La Costena Airlines check in area (a small, smelly, and very crowded room in a building separate from the main part of the airport) and spent the next 45 minutes hoping the long line was not going to make us miss our flight. This fear was unfounded, though, as the flight did not actually take off until 7:30 (in talking to a pilot, this "delay" seems to be pretty typical for this airline/route, as he laughed when we told him the original departure time we'd been given). Note: you do need to pay a small fee (I believe it was $2-$3USD/$40-$60 Nicaraguan Cordobas per person) before going through security, so it's good to have some small bills on hand. Once you get through security, there's a small waiting area with 2 stands selling drinks and food (prepackaged snacks and some "fresh"--I use this word loosely--pastries/rolls).

We finally boarded the plane for the hour or so flight (including a short stop in Bluefields on the Caribbean coast) to Big Corn Island.
The flight was reasonably smooth and fairly scenic. Upon landing on Big Corn, we went to get our bags and go through security (they write down the passport information of everyone arriving on the island), then grabbed a taxi to the pier from which our boat to Little Corn would depart ($1 per person). We arrived about 9:15 and the boat was not scheduled to leave until 10:30, so we grabbed some breakfast from the restaurant next door and chatted with fellow travelers while we waited. Also checked out some of the local sealife, including a nurse shark and moray eel.

We headed to the panga (boat) about 10:15 to try and get a good seat. We'd tipped one of the boat attendants when we left our suitcases before heading to breakfast, and it turned out that he'd already saved us seats in the middle of one of the back rows--ideal for staying reasonably dry! The panga was designed to hold maybe 40 people, but the operator ended up filling it with more than 60. The local police actually would not let us leave Big Corn with so many people, citing safety issues. But apparently the money subsequently paid to the police by the panga owner magically made it safer.
I don't usually get seasick, but felt pretty nauseated the whole ride, thinking we were going to flip over or that the boat was going to snap in half as we slammed down over large waves in the very overcrowded boat! The ride from Big Corn to Little Corn took about 40 minutes, and luckily the rain did not start until right as we stepped off the panga.

Little Corn has no roads and no motorized vehicles, so the hotel where we were staying had arranged for someone to meet us at the pier with a wheelbarrow for our luggage. He filled it with our suitcases, and we set off along a dirt path past some colorful local homes.

The path then led into the jungle...

 before opening onto the beach adjacent to our home for the next 3 nights, Little Corn Beach and Bungalow.


15 minutes after getting off the boat, we arrived at LCBB, a small property, with just 8 casitas and a restaurant/bar. All of the casitas are named after famous shipwreckees; we stayed in Wilson (after Tom Hank's "buddy" in Castaway), a Gulliver category accommodation.

Gulliver casitas feature a sitting area and kitchenette, small bedroom (just large enough for a queen sized bed and wall-mounted fan), and bathroom on the main level, plus a loft with another bed.

The front porches are just big enough for a couple of adirondack chairs, but make up for a lack of size with a great view!

In the movie "The Beach" Leonardo di Caprio describes his new community as "a beach resort for people who don't like beach resorts". I think the general idea behind this line could apply to LCBB (although I personally love almost all beach resorts!). While LCBB is probably the nicest place to stay on Little Corn, neither it nor the Corn Islands in general will appeal to those who want Barbados or even Belize-type luxury accommodations with all the amenities.

The casitas are very rustic, and due to conservation efforts, linens are only changed every few days (a housekeeper does come in and make the bed/tidy up daily, though).  The resort collects and uses rainwater whenever possible, so the shower water tends to be cool and a bit on the trickly side.

This actually did not bother us too much, as it was so hot outside that a chilly shower was quite refreshing, but if you must have a hot shower with good water pressure, you may want to choose another destination. Our only real complaint about LCBB (and this would have been an issue almost anywhere we stayed on the island) is that the electricity only runs for part of the afternoon/night. When the fan stopped running in the bedroom every morning around 6AM, it got very hot very fast (there's no a/c in the casitas). Not a huge deal, but just something to keep in mind if you're considering a stay at the resort!

LCBB is located along the longest stretch of beach on Little Corn, an expanse of driftwood-dotted white sand backed with palm trees and fronted by calm, clear aqua and turquoise water. The water can get a bit murky after a heavy rain, so we did not end up doing any snorkeling (plus, we're lazy), but the snorkeling and diving off Little Corn are supposed to be excellent. We were there smack dab in the middle of rainy season, but lucked out and had gorgeous weather for all but a few hours of our first day!

The menu at LCBB's Turned Turtle restaurant is a bit limited, but the food was excellent.

If you're looking to have a more secluded meal, you can also enjoy it under one of the palapas!

The Island Benedict was our favorite breakfast order, but the Southern Scramble and Mushroom omelet were also delicious.

You can see the lunch menu here; Bob still dreams of the "Porker" sandwich, and I highly recommend the fish tacos.

Since we got there the very first day of lobster season, it was not on the menu til the 2nd night, it was worth the wait! The shrimp and parmesan-crusted fish or chicken are also very good (but really, you just can't top lobster). All dinners came with a salad, rice or potatoes, garlic bread, and dessert - a fantastic value at under $15!

While I'm usually a fan of wine with dinner, nothing goes better with seafood in the tropics than rum! One taste of Nicaragua's Flor de Cana and I was hooked on its smooth, mild taste (and the fact that it somehow does not induce hangovers, even when one is drinking it in, shall we say, pirate-esque quantities).

The LCBB staff is very friendly and eager to please. Service can be slightly slow at times, but overall is more efficient than we've experienced in many other tropical/rustic areas, with not a single incorrect food or drink order, and someone coming around regularly to our casita or hammock to see if we needed anything.

As animal lovers, one of the deciding factors in our choice of LCBB was the fact that the owners Scot and Kristine had started a spay-neuter program and veterinary clinics on the island. You can read the very touching story of "Minnow's Legacy" here.

We got a chance to talk with Scot and Kristine a good bit during our stay, and loved hearing stories about the adventures that come along with opening a resort on a far-flung island! Minnow and the owners' dog Georgie love to visit with the guests, as do a couple of other furry locals. We fell especially in love with this little girl...

LCBB even has a resident parrot named Lola, who stayed quiet for most of our visit but will occasionally join in the discussion!

A large part of our time at LCBB was spent just relaxing in the cozy hammocks or in the small lounge area of the Turned Turtle, sipping rum drinks (Caroline) and beers (Bob - he was a big fan of local brands Tona and Victoria).

But we did manage to fit in a few other activities as well!
The very best part of our stay at LCBB was meeting the other guests. We made fast friends with a young couple from Canada traveling around central American during the summer break from their teaching careers, another from Colorado celebrating their honeymoon, and an adult family of 4 from Boston. The 10 of us had a great time hanging out on the beach, grabbing cocktails in the evening, and eating dinner together a couple of nights.

Bob was delighted to discover that a deep sea fishing excursion here cost only a fraction of what it would in more developed areas. While the boat and equipment were not fancy, at $50 per person for about 4 hours of fishing it was still a major bargain!

I had originally offered to go with him, but it turned out that one of our new friends also wanted to go (and also had a wife who would prefer to just read and relax beachside), so they went together and hooked several fine specimens, including two large jackfish and a barracuda! The resort will cook the fish for you if you choose, but as lobster was on the menu that evening, they offered the barracuda to their guide and the jacks to one of our favorite LCBB staffers instead.

Other than that, we did not take any tours/excursions, though we did walk through the lush jungle to town a couple of times.

There's not much to "town"- just the waterfront with a couple of dive shops, a church and a few small hotels, restaurants, and shops selling basic necessities and/or local handicrafts, but we really enjoyed the laid-back feel.

   This one wins my vote for most creative and best use of recyclable materials!

A little further down the sidewalk was one of Little Corn's waterfront neighborhoods.

We ate lunch one day at Hotel Los Delphines' restaurant overlooking the water. Both the fried lobster and grilled lobster were excellent, and we made yet another new feline friend. One note: many of the restaurants on Little Corn do not take credit cards, and there is no ATM on the island, so be sure to bring plenty of cash (there is a bank/ATM on Big Corn if you forget to get money before you arrive in the Corns).

We'd hoped to eat at Casa Iguana one night, but did not make reservations in time (they apparently only serve dinner if there are a certain number of reservations, so it's best if you can plan ahead). If you do plan to eat there, take your flashlight for the very dark walk down the beach between LCBB and CI!

There are a couple of other small, backpacker-type hotels with restaurants/bars on the beach (though we did not find any of them as charming or peaceful as the Turned Turtle) if you're looking for a change of scenery or some new faces.  From what we saw, prices at these were very similar to those at LCBB.

On the last day of our stay, we had originally planned to go over to Big Corn on the 7AM panga and spend the day exploring the island by golf cart. However, we ended up not wanting to leave LCBB a minute earlier than necessary, so decided to take the 2PM panga instead. We walked to town a bit early, in order to grab lunch at Little Corn's most well-known restaurant, Habana Libre.
Sadly, they were out of mint so I was unable to enjoy one of their famously delicious mojitos and had to settle for some version of a caipirinha, but the incredible jalapeno shrimp helped make up for the disappointment.

Two full tummies (and a photo of a soldier toting a machine gun...interesting) later we boarded the panga back to Big Corn. This time it was only about 1/2 full, so the ride was much more pleasant than it had been on the way over.

Overall, we really enjoyed Little Corn Island, and were very happy that we'd chosen to stay at Little Corn Beach & Bungalow. Both are worth a visit for those looking for a very laid-back, off-the-beaten-path island and resort!

Note: During the planning stages of this trip, I read a lot about safety concerns in the Corn Islands. For what it's worth, we never felt unsafe, and it seems that as long as travelers take some basic precautions they are unlikely to have any issues. It's not recommended to walk through the jungle at night, to buy drugs (the dealers often sell to tourists, then wait for them along a secluded path and rob them of the just purchased drugs and any other valuables) or to leave belongings laying on a secluded stretch of beach while you play in the water or nap in the sand. Also note, that while Little Corn does now have a couple of police officers (there were none until a year or so ago), who also help keep the island safer!


Kathy Browning said...

Great trip report and wonderful pics. We're traveling to LCI in April with our two kids so I was very excited to read your post. Thanks!

jamie allison said...

This is such a great report, can't thank you enough for all the info and pictures! Solidified our decision to go there this April. Thanks!

Caroline said...

Thank you both--I always love hearing from readers, and am so happy that the report was helpful Hope y'all both have amazing trips!

Joy said...

Thanks for posting this. I want to go here for my honeymoon and the website doesn't look half as good as your blog! Thanks, I'll check it out with my man.

Joy said...

Thanks for posting about your adventure! The website doesn't give this place justice, but your blog does. We're looking into it for our honeymoon!

Caroline said...

Thank you so much for the kind words, Joy! And congratulations on your upcoming wedding! LCBB really is a special place - perfect for a romantic, off-the-beaten-path honeymoon!

legalbear said...

Finally posted the video I made from your blog post about your stay at Little Corn Beach & Bungalow island resort: http://youtu.be/JpgVAHD1Cqw

I linked to you from it. Hoping you like it. :-)

Caroline said...

Thank you so much, legalbear!! That is awesome! Will post it to the Blonderlust facebook page as well!!


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