Went for a Week, Stayed a Year: Falling in Love with Little Corn Island

By on January 23, 2015 in Latin America, Musings with 32 Comments

Went for a Week, Stayed a Year: Falling in Love with Little Corn Island

From the moment I got off the long wooden boat and walked up the mini jetty onto the sandy soil, I fell in love with Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. I simply knew this was a special place for me.

Looking and feeling like something out of a Caribbean travel brochure, palm trees laden with coconuts swaying in the breeze and crystal blue waves lapping the clean white sand, I felt like I had just landed in some sort of tropical dream.

I’m not given to superlatives – and definitely not the exotic clichéd ones – but the truth is I was blown away by the paradise of Little Corn Island (LCI) from the first moment I stepped ashore. Maybe it was something to do with being so pleased the 2-day+ journey I had endured to get here was over, but deep down in my toes, I knew immediately that I was going to be here longer than the week I had planned.

Relax

In fact, by the second day, I knew I would probably be here more than 2 weeks.

This was confirmed by the British Boy and Greek Girl I was currently traveling with at the time. We’d all met Wwoofing on Isla de Omotepe, Nicaragua and decided to hope over to the Caribbean coast of the country to quickly check out the Corn Islands on our way down to Costa Rica and beyond.

Getting from Isla De Omotepe to the capital of Nicaragua, Managua is a feat in itself via 2 buses, a boat and a taxi that journey takes the good part of a day. From the capital, we then changed terminal and hoped on another bus that whizzed us from the Pacific west of the country across to the more remote Caribbean side. Our destination was the town of El Rama, from where we had learnt you could pick up a boat that journeyed down the river to the coastal town of Bluefields and then sailed across the Atlantic to the isolated Las Islas del Maíz, as they are known in Spanish.

Translated as the Islands of Corn, or the Corn Islands, this tiny archipelago made up of two islands is generally referred to by its English name.

Don't Trow Garbage

The reason for this being that, despite politically belonging to Spanish-speaking and Latin-living Nicaragua, the inhabitants of these islands identify – culturally, ethnically and linguistically – much more with their more distant Caribbean neighbours. A local creole based on English forms the population’s everyday dialogue, Jamaican colourings adorn buildings and the sound of reggae fills the air. Local diets are constructed around the freshly grown mangoes, bananas and coconuts, supplemented by the world-class lobster many of the local men fish everyday from the sea. The vibe of the whole place is very relaxed and punctuated by a ‘no worries’ attitude the heat only exacerbates.

But arriving that morning in March, a little green in the gills and a little uninformed about the place, I had no idea what I would find.

Reaching Big Corn (needless to say the larger of the Islands) after the 18-hour boat ride from El Rama, I was delighted at the thought of finally ditching my sea legs. I soon learnt, however, that I actually had to catch yet another boat, known as a panga (essentially a long wooden, open air boat with a motor attached), in order to reach my intended destination of LCI…. And the next one wasn’t until late afternoon in 6 hours time!

Caribbean Bliss

Despite what you might be thinking, 6 hours is a) hardly anytime to a seasoned Latin American backpacker waiting for a ride and b) even less of a big deal when set against the multi-day journey I had already endured! I think part of me was even pleased to have a few hours to stop swaying before getting on another boat, and so the 3 of us managed to pass the time sat in the shade of the pier, shoes off, bags down, chatting away.

When I did finally make it onto LCI therefore, you can perhaps understand my initial reaction a little better! Clambering out of the boat with a handful of other tourists, as well as local people and a mound of bags, boxes and baggage, my travel friends and I were quickly touted for some accommodation and, ever clear in our demands, specified it must have a kitchen. And so we were led to the brilliantly cheap, beautifully clean, incredibly welcoming and wonderful hostel that is 3 Brothers

Little did I know, at that stage, this would end up being my home for 6 months and its owners, Lucilla and Randy, my adopted Nicaraguan parents!

But that’s a story for later on. At this point, it’s only the first day and after all that travel, the 3 of us were severely beat – it was straight to the cold shower to cool off and then straight into bed for us.

Little is Big

We awoke the next morning with the sun glaring in the window and the sweat already running off us.

So up we got and hurried out to explore this new wonderland.

The clue is in the name, but Little Corn Island, is small, really small. At just 1 sq km, it sits like a tiny pearl in the ocean. Road-free, bank-free, car-free, shop-free, it is indeed a rare and precious gem, the ultimate getaway paradise. Having to walk everywhere, and at the same time having nowhere to really walk to, time drips slowly past in here in a way that brilliantly and irreverently illuminates much of the hilarity in our scheduled western to-do list lifestyles. On LCI, by way of the necessity of ‘lacking’ the island imposes, and the lacking of ‘necessity’ it grants, you are forced to wonderfully engage in some ‘real’ stuff: interesting conversations, lazy beach walks, long ocean swims, hours of readings, endless games of bananagrams! Timetables are non-existent and so is their need. The local answer to “How are you?” is “Right Here”.

LCI

Still on traveller time, however, by the end of the first morning I think the three of us had pretty much covered the whole Island!

From the Eastern side where we were staying and where the ‘town’ with its few cafes, bars and mini-stores are situated, round to the long beach that runs the length of the western side we’d seen it all. And what we saw, we liked! The picture-perfect white sand beaches, the lush green tropical foliage, the azure blue sea and the stingray we’d spotted in just knee-deep water. For this is what brings most of the few, but increasing, numbers of tourists to LCI.

Really only visited by backpackers and divers, LCI is a haven for scuba-fans and beach lovers with balmy sea temperatures and perfect weather conditions almost year-round.

Night Diving on LCI

Divers can spot dolphins, turtles, and several types of shark through awesome visibility, and experience some of the best night diving available. For those not experienced, there is also the ability to get qualified while you are on the island through a number of professionally run dive schools who offer PADI courses. Beach lovers can sit back under a palm tree with a good book from the local library and a super coffee from Tranquilo Cafe while watching the world go by. And that, my friends, is the simple joy of it all.

A simple joy indeed and one that is made even simpler by the price ticket.

LCI Bliss

For while this is essentially a Caribbean island, LCI is remote, hard to get to and dogged by the economic problems of its mainland ruler. The second poorest country in the northern hemisphere, after Haiti, Nicaragua has been beset by civil unrest and political corruption for decades, stumbling blocks from which its economy has simply not recovered yet. Many, many of its inhabitants eek out a meagre existence and life here is cheap.

The Corn Islands, always famous for their fabulous lobster which is now exported round the world, have always had a micro-industry that has allowed them to fair slightly better than the rest of the country. Nevertheless, the infrastructure and development on the islands is limited to say the least and this keeps costs down.

If you’re willing to live simply, then LCI offers you a Caribbean paradise for a fraction of the usual cost.

LCI House

And this, I think, is exactly what began to draw me into this incredible destination; in short, it’s why I fell in love with Little Corn Island. Simple living is what I longed for and with decent coffee (compared to the rest of Latin America), a roof over my head, a cold beer, snorkel adventures, sunshine and all the time in the world, I was in heaven! I didn’t care that the choice of food was limited or that the island source of electrical power didn’t run after sunrise. I didn’t care that the internet connection was poor or that I couldn’t access an ATM – the incredible, unspoilt beauty of the Island overpowered me. It swallowed me up and didn’t spit me out.

My extended 2 week itinerary was now being revised to a month!

Especially as I grew to know the island community more and more. 2 weeks doesn’t seem like a lot of time to get to know a whole island, but believe me, when its 1 sq km and nobody has much to do, it’s plenty of time! Seeing people 3, 4, 5 times a day as you cross on the footpath or go to get lunch is the norm and as I took diving lessons and went out at night, I easily began to call many people there friends. Within weeks my travel companions and I were all lucky enough to be working on the island, fortunate enough to find jobs bartending, painting hostels, spinning fire and producing handmade jewellery. And the best thing about the community and these jobs? – they involved local islanders.

Local Ladies

Unlike so many tourist destinations, where ex-pat communities and locals live 2 vastly different lives, one hardly recognising the other, let alone interacting much, in LCI, that is simply not the case.

The local people are very welcoming and (for the cynics around who think this may be just a ruse for financial handouts) genuinely enjoy have tourists come to their home. There is no trace of the resentment so often found when ‘gringos’ are around and everyone on LCI attends the same bars, the same beaches, the same bakeries. This maybe helped by the fact that English is the common tongue between locals and most tourists, and communication is therefore easier, but whatever the reason, it stands true.

All the businesses, even those owned by foreigners, employ many locals and I was lucky enough to work alongside  a few Nicaraguan women, to hear their stories and share in their daily lives – a cross-cultural exchange on the most authenticate level. The people who owned the hostel where I stayed also became good friends of mine. I’d go into their house to see them some afternoons and listen to stories about the Island’s and their own past. Then, when I had to go to work, Lucilla would send me off with a little package of food she’d cooked or an item of clothing she wanted me to have. Eventually she began calling me ‘hija’, which means daughter in Spanish.

Hija

And so life on LCI continued for me, working, diving, reading, being happy!

I took on a volunteer project at the local school, helping to teach English reading and writing, and worked on a local recycling scheme. I also sorted out the library in the café and helped re-design the bar’s cocktail menu. I went out snorkelling, attended yoga classes with a friend who had just set up a new business and read books I’d wanted to for ages. One day, when I was with some newcomers to the island, I bumped into some locals I knew. After a few moments conversation, I realised, from the puzzled expression on the tourists’ faces, that I had grown to understand the local creole!

School Project

Slowly my other two traveling companions decided to move on from LCI, dreams of South America calling them, but I stayed on likkle island, as it’s known, a feeling of being at home deep inside me. I had built up a circle of close friends around me, so when one said she was returning to the US for a bit and would I like to rent her place I agreed without a moment’s hesitation. I’d been there 6 months. Instead of getting on a plane back to the UK, as I was meant to do, I ripped up my ticket moved into an island house and got a dog instead!

Dog's Life

I can’t remember all the different ways that year in LCI changed me, because to yourself, you are always just who you are at that time.

Looking back however, comparing how I was before and after being there, I know my time in LCI made deep impressions on who I was and how I lived my life. For one, that tiny island gave me the huge opportunity to experience life ‘on the road,’ a life somewhere else where I wasn’t just a tourist. LCI opened a window for me and gave me the courage to jump through it, showing me what I really wanted. That’s really why I fell in love with Little Corn Island. Indeed, I remember waking up one day, months after I missed my flight, and realising I was living my dream existence – working a great, fun job on Caribbean island, running a volunteer project, practicing yoga and swimming in the sea everyday! It was a great feeling.

When people asked me “what I was doing with my life”, spending a year of it on LCI, I just laughed!

Little Corn Love

Being there for that year, with the simplicity of it all, experiencing the lack of ‘necessity’ and the necessity of ‘lack’, gave me the time to realise what I really wanted in life. It gave me the space to realise that in actual fact I just wanted to travel, to experience the world from as many different places as possible. So that is what I’m doing and have been doing ever since.

Thank goodness I stayed longer than a week!

Check out the BWSP Nicaragua Destination Guide Here

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 32 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Rob says:

    I loved this post!!! Greetings from the second floor at 3 Brothers on Little Corn Island! =)

  2. Dieter Schreiterer says:

    Hi, Fellows. Do you know, if I can rent a nice house on Corn Island or LCI for 300 to 400 USD monthly?
    Greetings, Dieter

    • Steph says:

      You would certainly be able to rent a house for that amount on Corn Island – but do be aware facilities can be basic and town-provided power only runs between 5pm and 5am (if at all!) I don’t have any specific contacts for you, as things are not very official over there, so you’re best bet would be to just go and spread the word that you’re looking for something to rent. Somebody is sure to help you out. Hope that helps!

  3. Emily says:

    This is such a beautiful, honest post. It reminds me of what I experienced during my two years in the mountains of Costa Rica (we have now relocated to the Netherlands). I can see that LCI holds a serious space of “home” in your heart… isn’t it a little hard to stay away?

    • Steph says:

      Sounds like you understand Emily and I hope you enjoyed Costa Rica while you were there – Netherlands must be quite a change! LCI will always be a special place for me, but sometimes it’s about leaving the loved ones and spreading your wings – I’m sure you can relate!

  4. Julie says:

    I’ve yet to really travel this part of the world, but this place looks fabulous…! Am adding it to my list! Awesome post, thanks for sharing!

  5. Nikita says:

    This is beautiful! I’ve heard great things about Little Corn Island, but now I feel like I simply MUST visit. I’m all about that laid-back island life, with nothing to do but jump in the ocean and have long conversations with people. And it’s so cool that you started understanding Creole! What a beautiful, unexpected home you found. <3

  6. Nikki says:

    How you describe falling in love with corn island, reminds me so much of how I felt when I went to Tanzania. I ended up returning there for three months because it had such an impact on me. I still long for the simple life! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Steph says:

      Hey Nikki, glad you can relate. Yes sometimes special places just speak to our heart for no discernible logical reason. It’s great that we can listen to them 🙂 You’ve got me all excited about Tanzania now!

  7. Ula says:

    Hey Steph! Awesome post. I’m on San Andres Island now which rocks the same island culture as Corns but defo more touristy and crowded. That’s why I was thinking about relocating to the Corns. Could you please tell me what is the VISA situation for EU residents?
    As well.. whats the dogs name? 🙂

    • Steph says:

      Dog’s name was Karaje – sadly she has passed now. I can’t speak for every EU resident, but as a Brit I was given a 90-day visa for Nicaragua (including Corn Islands) and then able to extend this for another 90-days at an immigration office. Things change frequently however so it’s hard to give exact visa info – your government immigration website is probably the best source

  8. Elton says:

    Hi Steph,
    I really enjoyed reading your article, quite lovely indeed! My wife and I are thinking about (and have been for a few years now) just throwing ourselves out there into LCI.We have 2 small children and are very adventurous to say the least…we just want to move there to experience the intensity of the change. We have done this before a few times through out our life, so we are sort of like veterans with the exception of having two small children this time around. Simple living is very easy for us without the need for amenities as such,so no problem there. I am a chef (by trade), a carpenter, a bartender, and a jack of all trades. My question is this, how difficult would it be if we decided to just ‘wing it’ and showed up on the island to make a go at it? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Thank you in advance 🙂

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Elton, so glad you enjoyed it. I definitely know a few families who have lived there off and on for a bit – I guess education is a pretty big determinant in how long they stay. How old are your kids? Are they in school yet? I just turned up on LCI, so am living proof that it can be done, but it might be wise to reach out to a few local ex-pat owned businesses just to discuss employment opportunities if that’s what you’re looking for. There are seasons on the island which are better for finding work than others for example. Have you visited the Island yet? I’d strongly recommend doing that first too. Best of luck 🙂

  9. Marta says:

    Hi Steph, where do you suggest me to stay for low budget/individual room in LCI one week? And… Is there activities to do such as bike tours? Yoga retreat? I am afraid it is too calm. Can you help me understand the mood there if I go by myself? Thanks!!

    • Steph says:

      Hi Marta, there are plenty of options, but I love the 3 Brothers Hostel. The owners are wonderful and the place is safe and clean. No bike tours as the place is only 1sqkm and you can walk around it in a morning! There are daily yoga classes however, as well as snorkeling, fishing and SUP activities to enjoy. It is a very relaxed vibe, but plenty of fun people to meet and things to do! 🙂

  10. Paola Sotelo says:

    Hi Steph! i was recently certified to teach English and decided to move to Nicaragua. My first stop was little corn and I felt the exact same and went back and forth about whether I should stay or not. I ended up leaving 🙁 to explore some more but always end up thinking about it. I was wondering how you went about volunteering and helping out with English classes.. And if from your experience it’s something that is needed over there (since basically everyone already speaks English) I met a lot of locals that have tried to help me out with families there but I haven’t heard anything yet. Thanks!!

    • Steph says:

      Hi Paolo, thanks for your questions and so glad you loved LCI too. I just approached the school directly and things went from there. I was also volunteering with an NGO that happened to be working on the island at the time too, so things just materialised really. The kids do all speak English as you know, but because all their “textbooks” etc come from the mainland they have only Spanish-learning resources and a lot of them can’t read or write English – that was my role. In my experience with volunteering you almost have to be approached by the communities to find out what you can do to help. Your idea of what they need, might not be anything like what they think! Good luck 🙂

  11. Georgia says:

    This is such a great post! Isn’t that the best, finding a place and feeling at home with the locals! My favourite kind of travel experience. I can’t wait to check out LCI when I backpack central as of next month. Should get to Nicaragua around mid May 🙂 I also read your list of beaches to see in central- I’ll check them out! As most of my trip will be beachy destinations and I plan to spend 3-4 weeks in Guatemala, do you think it is worth checking out the coast, or dedicate my time to the mountains and the rest of the country as my other 4 or so months will be beach related? Thanks, Georgia xx

    http://Www.bohemianbythesea.com

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Georgia and so glad you enjoyed the read – LCI is a magic place and definitely worth checking out on your trip. In terms of what to do, I think that if you have 4 months for the rest of Central (certainly Nica and CR will be beachy for sure) then perhaps you would be better to stick the highlands in Guatemala and see some more of the diversity of this part of the world. That said, Guate is a small country and a trip down to the coast for a few days there need only be a bus ride away if you do want a sea fix!

  12. Coral says:

    Hey lovely girl. Right now I am trying to decide if I want to spend a month on little corn as an opportunity has just came about for me to do so. I’m looking Into january right now and I’m wondering if you have any idea if that is a good month to be there, weather wise? I know it is part of the dry season but I’ve gotten mixed reviews. Let me know what you think.

  13. Jo Symo says:

    Hi. Great post. Heading there soon for a month or so. I want to volunteer, I’m an English teacher but can’t afford the GIVE scheme – do you know how else I can start volunteering? Thanks. Jo

    • Steph says:

      Wonderful news that you’re heading to one of my favourite places in the world soon Jo! Honestly, I would just try to source some volunteer projects when you’re out there. Grassroots stuff is always the best in my opinion. Sorry I couldn’t give you more specific advice, but that’s honestly what I recommend

  14. Catherine says:

    Hey! Great post, I really enjoyed it super helpful for my upcoming adventure! I wanted to ask your opinion. I am really tying to figure out where to stay on LCI. Heading there in May. I think I should stay at Three Brothers – did you find the atmosphere sociable and that it was a good place to meet other travelers but also have the privacy and solitude of your own room? Or since it is mostly private rooms people keep to themselves kind of like a hotel? (I know this is all very subjective and depends on the people haha) I will be there solo and just dont know where to stay at all. LCI is the only place I want to pre reserve as I will be arriving on the late panga and dont want to be walking around trying to find a place to stay. I also dont want everything to be booked up and have to switch room or accommodation a few nights in (going for a week) Any feedback on the private rooms or atmosphere would be so helpful. Thank you in advance! Greatly appreciated 🙂

    • Steph says:

      Hey Catherine, thanks for your message. I found the atmosphere at 3 Brothers super socialable! I actually still keep in touch with at least 4 people I met there and have caught up with a few of them in different parts of the world too. There is a communal kitchen and eating space, which makes for a great place to meet people and some of the rooms have shared bathrooms too. Personally I loved the combination of hostel atmosphere with an affordable private room. Hope you do too 🙂

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