Several years ago, for our checkout dives, we decided we wanted to get certified in the Corn Islands. We did all of our classes and little dives with American Divers in Merritt Island, Florida but thought things would be so much more memorable making a huge excursion out of the process and seeing some new parts of the world.
So, this is the story of how Richard and I got our open water certification.
After researching several central America countries, we thought we may want to eventually settle and buy some land in the Corn Islands. My all time dream to retire is on a tropical island somewhere that caters to water enthusiasts. It is why I work everyday in retail and why I am opening several new stores this year. Get the Benjamin’s to live the life I want.
I have split this into sections, you could click on for info.
Basic Facts about the Corn Islands
Fifty miles northeast of the Atlantic Coast city of Bluefields, lies the Corn Islands(Las Islas del Maíz). A little forgotten bit of paradise that has not been over commercialized. There are two Islands with about 5 square miles between them. The larger being Big Corn at 3.3 miles with a population in 2009 of 6,626 and the smaller being Little Corn Island at 1.1 square miles with a population of 1200 people. The tourism and hospitality industry is in its infancy! Here you can still get a room for less than $10 in a family run place and buy an excellent dinner from street vendors for $1.50. The local beer is Tona and Victoria and is always super cold. You buy rum (FDC)by the bottle at the restaurants.
The islanders are English-speaking Creole people of mixed black heritage. In the 17th century, both islands were a haven for pirates and buccaneers and supposedly there are untold numbers of shipwrecks and treasures still lay scattered along the turquoise shores of The Corn Islands. “Islanders” are very proud of their distinct heritage do not like to not to be confused with the “Spaniards” from mainland Nicaragua! In recent years, there has been an influx of Mestizos from the Pacific side of Nica. The people of the Corn islands are considered “Islanders” and are descendant from the original British settlers. Some of the family surnames predominant on the island today are: Quinn, Downs, Morgan( yes Captain Morgan!), Campbell, Taylor, Forbes, Nickolson & Bowden. English is spoken here as well as Spanish and Miskito. I had no issue with the limited Spanish I can speak.
The local Islanders, descendant from the original British prospectors and freed slaves, make their living from harvesting lobster and fish from the prolific, offshore fishing banks. This is one of the saddest stories. We chatted with Albert, a local lobsterman. He told us of the trials and tribulations of these divers. The equipment that many of them use is archaic and in terrible condition. They can dive deep depths up to 10 dives a day. Needless to say, any one reading this with an open water cert knows about the nitrous issues. More about this later.
Average year-round temperature is 85 degrees with fresh Easterly breezes. Many visitors find it unnecessary to have air conditioning when staying at hotels on the windward side of either island. US Dollars are accepted everywhere on The Corn Islands. Please note: if your dollar bill has even the slightest rip or is defaced in any way, such as having some writing on it, it will not be accepted. Check all of your bills before you travel. Bring lots of 1’s and $5’s. I called my bank ahead and had them have $100 crisp ones ready for me and $200 in fives. You will find a couple of ATM’s on island but they don’t always work. There is internet access on both islands. I brought my laptop back in the days when I couldn’t leave it all behind. I would not bother if I went again. There are several places you can use computers and connect if you need to.
There were not any vaccinations required for us. I would highly recommend taking a lot insect repellent and immodium.
These islands have a very laid back atmosphere with islanders rising early to the crow of a rooster. When you order a meal, be prepared to wait an hour. Everything we had was prepared fresh and takes a while. Get some fruit for the room and some empanadas for snack time.
There are several things you must do during your stay. Drum Roll Please….
Danielle’s top MUST DO’s while you are in the Corn Islands
1. Go Sunday night at “Nico’s” (bar/disco) on Big Corn. It is hopping and you will have a blast.
2. Eating a “RunDown,” the official meal of Corn Island usually served for special occasions, which is a stew consisting of local seafood (or meat) and “bread kind” (breadfruit, cassava,plantains, coco, banana, dasheen & sweet potato.) It is cooked down in coconut milk and fresh, local herbs. This usually has to be ordered the day before.
3. Go for a hike to the highest point on either island. I am not as much of a walker, like a good book and a cocktail but Rich hiked Little Corn and saw a local flavor you don’t see at the hotel and found us some good fruit and cocoa bread. He walked through on a Sunday morning while everyone was opening up the doors and getting ready for church. Everyone waves and says hello. You will walk right through some backyards. Tom has a spot he was just starting to work on when we were there but I am sure by now he has his little slice of paradise all carved out.
4. Buying hot patties and coco bread. On Big Corn we found several locals who sold then from little stands. On both islands, there are some clever young ones, who walk the tourist spots and hotel beached making top dollar for these tasty treats in mid afternoon.
5. Attend a baseball game. Baseball is a big deal hear and the whole town comes out to celebrate.
6. Find a local and learn the culture, flavor and history from their perspective.
7. Taking a dive or snorkeling trip. This goes without saying. I used Los Delphines (Dolphin Hotel) when I was there. I was going to do Nautilus on Big Corn but didn’t like the vibe. I heard good things about them but again, I went with my gut and it seemed dodgy. We did shore dive right in front of Morgans. There is a staircase that leads in the water. That was a blast.
8. Try all the various mangos. 13 different types on the island.
9. Drink coconut water from a fresh coconut. Any islander will do this for you. We had Albert on Little Corn and our diving buddy on Big Corn.
10. Eat the lobster. Lobster C$150 or about $10 for a full meal that included salad and dessert at Maria’s on Big Corn. Comedor Maris serves up local island hospitality and home cooked food on her veranda of Dannette’s house at the edge of North End. Walking distance from Anastasia’s.
Soup each Sunday and Rundown with 24 hour notice.
11. Lobster and Shrimp Ceviche from Morgans – to die for. Fresh, succulent and tangy. Portion was huge and in my humble opinion it was the best dang ceviche I have ever had in my life.
12. Take a Panga boat ride – see how the rest of the world travels. It will truly make you appreciate the fine things in life a little more
13. I left this one for last..try the FDC. Fleur de Cana is one of the finest rums I have experienced. You pay a pittance for this rum on the islands. There is a gold 4, grand reserve 7 and a 18 year rum. I stayed with the 7. It was about $10 for a .75 liter when I was there. It has a well rounded dried fruit and smoky oak barrel flavor. It also has some nice mahogany undertones. Most people enjoy FDC with coke or diet coke and lime. It was awesome with fresh coconut water and lime. I also enjoyed it with mango juice. Rich liked his straight with a few ice cubes and a slice of lime.